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Chronicles Volume One, Bob Dylan

Simon & Schuster, October 5, 2004

It’s not easy being born of the gods. Not easy at all. Especially when it scares the living shit out of you. Like seeing the dead rise. Or hearing folk-saviors speaking in tongues. You can listen to the black ships blowing their dull horns at night outside—way outside—way out beyond the slashing fog and frosty damp of darkness. There are ghosts so close you can smell them. You can touch their deadhead bones, their dirty and disaffected youth-skeletons. How they claw and scratch up above your rooftop, slash your art, your memory. How the mouths foam, eyes rabid and on fire. They scrape hungrily at the hollow legend that is you. Perhaps you’ve just touched softly the sad-eyed spirits? Finally caught the blinding beyond with a simple melody? A lyric? A lost song on the long and fated vagabond highway? You along with all the other dusty, destitute balladeers of yesteryear.

Sometimes you see things in life that make your heart turn rotten and your gut sick and nauseous and you try to capture that feeling without naming the specifics.

Dylan knew what he was doing from day one. Nobody was kidding anybody. He threw on the blue shirt. The cigarette. The guitar and harp. He gave up the corporate world long before it was even corporate. Slept on floors in Greenwich Village. Ate hot dogs with Tiny Tim, Fred Neil. Learned the bible of folk and blues and then one day heard the black freighter calling outside again (the one from his childhood). It cried out ineluctably during a Brecht play in New York. He suddenly found the meaning of it all. The black keys. What he wrote afterwards was history, and he just knew how powerful and holy it was. That’s why he avoids it now like the plague: the surreal lyrics that cry out, that ache. Songs that call up the devil, the Zeitgeist of a nation, a world. It just scarred the poor kid to death. He was far too young to deal with it all. He never wanted to be a prophet, a messiah. He just wanted to play songs, to plug in, to have some kicks and then have a family and live like the rest of us. Instead he became the greatest songwriter that ever was. It all blew up in his face. Blew up on his motorcycle. He’s never been the same ever since and just won’t go back there again thank you.

This is his chronicle. His life told by the one who knows, and he only puts in the important parts so please listen closely. The people who moved him: Dave Van Ronk, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Joan Baez, and of course Woody Guthrie. His gods. His heroes. He’s just another sad hobo on the long, long road. Please forgive him for he does not know what he do. The writing? Just as good as any lyric he’s ever written. Is he human? Certainly. Fragile? Of course. But he has always had the hunger and the knowledge. The hunger keeps him alive. It gnaws and bites. It will see him to his grave along with the rest of a thousand sad generations. The knowledge is just beyond on the black wave. He’s not a god but he’s certainly kissed one smack dab in the glorious face.

“Masters of War”, “Hard Rain”, “Gates of Eden” … those kinds of songs were written under different circumstances, and circumstances never repeat themselves. I couldn’t get to those songs for him or anybody else. To do it, you’ve got to have power and dominion over the spirits. I had done it once, and once was enough. Someone would come along eventually who would have it againsomeone who could see into things, the truth of thingsnot metaphorically, eitherbut really see, like seeing into metal and making it melt, see it for what it was and reveal it for what it was with hard words and vicious insight.