Bob Dylan achieved immortality before he was 25. That was almost 40 years ago.
Granted, he has as much to do with cloaking himself in myth as anyone. People need stories, he provides them. Go figure.
Dylan introduced rock to folk, poetry to rock and weed to the Beatles. He is a rambler with antagonizing precision, a blind man who sees lightning, an aristocrat in beggar's boots. Never about following orders or amassing hit records, he defines contradiction, humility and vision-all marks of mastery.
Chronicles: Volume 1 christens a trilogy of upcoming memoirs. You know immediately it's Dylan, the way you knew Miles Davis' voice in his autobiography. Unmistakable.
Other biographers reported Dylan into myth-Chronicles brings it all back home, as if Mona Lisa herself came to life and stopped smiling.
Chronicles enlivens drab, overdrawn facts as if to say, "Yeah, this is what ya'll missed" with a knowing smile. You see Grandpa Bob rocking in his chair, doing what he does best, telling stories about telling stories, all rolling and flowing into and through the others.
What makes Dylan unique is how he expresses himself. A gloriously meandering navigator through his own history, Dylan writes like an asexual Henry Miller minus the exclamation points. Filled with candor, metaphysics and joie de vive, Chronicles is an historical jambalaya of proper nouns, colloquial aphorisms and legendary hows and whys. The only thing missing is the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
A self-admitted anachronism, Dylan's creativity rests in the years surrounding the Civil War:
"Back there, America was put on the cross, died and was resurrected. There was nothing synthetic about it. The godawful truth of that would be the all-encompassing template behind everything that I would write."
In hindsight, watching him transform his myth and music is as enlightening as watching the world follow. He makes it all matter.
When you speak of Dylan, don't use inaccurate crutches like "enigma" or "messiah." He owes you nothing, least of all an explanation.
When you see him walking down the street, don't expect, praise or think twice-it's alright. Thank him with a nod or wink. Then go home and crank up Blonde On Blonde, loud, until your ears bleed.
Forty years ago Bob Dylan built himself a myth. Chronicles brings him back to humanity. B
Bob Dylan plays at Cox Arena, 8 p.m. on Oct. 22. $29.50-$38.50. 619-220-8497.
Bob Dylan: Lyrics: 1962-2002
by Bob Dylan
Simon & Schuster, 2004
Michael Jackson has fans. Bob Dylan has lyrics.
You don't just listen to Dylan's lyrics-you feel them. They are announcements of conviction and rascally celebration, reviewing the past and foretelling the future. They are restless and audacious, daring the listener to participate. They're all there, whimsical romps to wise ballads.
There is a Dylan lyric for every mood, day, fool or relationship, from the ultimate kiss-off "Like A Rolling Stone" to the frank indictment "Masters Of War" to the unsentimental rumination "Not Dark Yet."
Dylan succeeds in expressing himself lyrically from topical and self-revelatory to evangelical Christian and straight-ahead rock 'n' roll.
Like love or mathematics, they seem to work even when translated into another language, as heard on the recent soundtrack to Masked and Anonymous. Turkish, Jamaican patois or Italian rap, they clock in.
They jive because his lyrics adapt, like Shakespeare's sonnets or Whitman's verse, to the mode and situation. Electric words never burn out.
They twist and dive through history, myth and religion, human longing, deceit and conceit, the need for more love and sometimes less. They suck the vanity from our blood and the starch from our shirts.
We listen and live forever.