Saturday, August 27, 2005

A rebel's chronicles

“I'd come from a long ways off and had started from a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.”

You may call him Bobby, you may call him Zimmy. To a lot of people he’s the most iconic songwriter and singer of the 20th Century, if not the greatest. He’s been called a visionary, poet, genius, and fellow protest singer/former lover Joan Baez agrees. He claimed that he wrote “Blowing in the Wind” in 10 minutes - when he was 21 - a song that’s become the anthem of the cultural shift of the 60s. Talk about manifest destiny. In 1965 at 24, he wrote what he called his best song - “Like a Rolling Stone” – which 40 years later has been voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as Number 1 among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. That’s Bob Dylan.


I came upon Dylan late myself, in Art College as the seventies came to a close, through a friend Lai, a walking encyclopaedia on all things Dylan. Lai would mimic his songs, pointing out the threads of his hero's enigmatic lyrics, so rich with imageries and stories woven from politics, history, and the Bible. Mention Dylan, and it's his jagged snarls and folkie nasal inflection people remember. Or mock. Love him or hate him, his was the voice of an entire generation. "It’s a foreign sound," he says in It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). You know he wants his listeners to take him as he is, or just shove it.

When I picked up his autobiography from a visiting book vendor, a twentysomething in the office asked, “Who’s Dylan?” Indeed the times they are a-changing. Chronicles is a rambling book that’s put together in no particular order, intriguing in what he reveals (would you believe the man loves Moon River, and wants nothing more than to live in a house with a white picket fence and to tend his garden?) and what he’s left out (what, no infamous motorbike accident? nothing on his ‘saved’ period?). His story begins with his meeting with music publisher Lou Levy, and ends on the cusp of the 60s revolution, a strange world described by Dylan as "a thunderhead of a world with jagged lightning edges."

But Chronicles is only the first volume covering Dylan's formative years and hinting at his most fecund period. So we wait. Regrettably there are no photos - nada. All the same it pulled me into a fascinating era that was at once so long ago although it felt like only yesterday. I remember listening to his music in the car as I was reading the book, you know, to get into the mood of the times.

Martin Scorcese’s 4-hour documentary on Bob Dylan NO DIRECTION HOME airs on PBS in September 26,27 – a week after the release of the DVD. I don’t have to tell you that’s on my wishlist.

Related stories:
I had an interesting time wading through the hugh amount of writings on Bob Dylan online. Bob Dylan's American Journey 1956~1966 is one great read. The site is part of an ongoing interactive music museum project featuring musicians of influence, and this one on Dylan started last year and ends September 5.
Expecting Rain is a site that lists all things Dylan - appearances, publications, stories - to satiate every Dylanophile craving. Of course you don't want to miss BobDylan.com which is the man's official site.
If it's lyrics you want, stop by Book of Bob. Not shabby at all, with more links.
LA Times' occasional feature on songwriters and their art takes a look at Bob Dylan in a piece aptly titled, 'Rock's enigmatic poet opens a long-private door.' If you don't think you're up to reading a 300-pg autobiography, this is a more than competent overview on Dylan's craft and a nice entree for when you're ready.

1 comment:

Kay H Khoo said...

Well David,
One day a couple walked into my bangsar shop - a dad and a 5-year-old kid. The dad walked around, and was smiling knowingly. The kid looked at dad and with a twinkle in his eyes said "Dad, that's Jokerman". I was in my Dylan mood that day, and Dylan was the CD spinning.

I'm amazed. Most of my peers wouldn't care about Dylan. Or wouldn't know about Dylan. Or wouldn't know which song starts with "once upon a time..."

And here's a little boy who knew Jokerman.