Christmas was wonderful. All the family at home, although the word has a special meaning here; as a location it was never home to anybody except two old people. But to their kids gathered around together (very rarely) from three other states it's sort of like home.
Many books exchanged (very informal, very little or no wrapping paper). One that has really grabbed me is called Chronicles (Vol 1). We've always known that Dylan was one of the most intelligent people of his generation, although he went to great lengths to disguise it. Just to read his lyrics you perceive the magnitude of his vocabulary.
Chronicles, the little bit that I've read so far, seems like an honest confession, what every great man is tempted to do in his latter years. "my grandmother, who lived with us, my one and only confidante" and many similarly revealing comments.
His description of the library of the apartment where he lived with a couple of other alternatives is worth the price of the book. He described in detail numerous of them: Balzac, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Thucydides, Thaddeus Stevens, Clausewitz ("he didn't look like Von Hindenberg, but Robert Burns, or Montgomery Clift" approximate quotation!).
With my limited intellectual background, I've never know anybody with that kind of intimate familiarity with such a broad spectrum of literature. In everything he was a cut above those around him.
He especially liked Balzac and Clausewitz. The first was a riot, and the second seemed to have been seriously influential in forming his values. I'll have to read Clausewitze, not from any great interest in him per se, but to help me understand Dylan.
Dylan has always led to much ambivalence, and ambiguity in my mind; my kids used to sing his songs (and those of his disciples). As pure music he's atrocious, about the poorest vocalist I ever heard-- if you're interested in serious music.
The book has a reasonable explanation of that. As a struggling young song writer he used to assemble bands to do gigs anywhere there was any money. And his bands always got stolen by somebody with more wampum. On page 44 he wrote, "it was beginning to dawn on me that I would have to play and sing by myself until I could afford to pay a band." There it is! he never saw himself as a singer, but sang in desperation-- the world's worse singer.
His atrocious voice was like a poke in the eye to serious musicians. I don't think that was his intention, but it just happened as he described it here. Of course since the forties someone has always made a hit with the teens with what amounts to a good jeer at polite society, in this case music. All too many people maintain that attitude for life, and stunt their careers (and their creativity) thereby.
It came to me that Dylan was for his generation something like Henry Miller was for mine. He liberated us from some of the chains of conventional stupidity that constantly surround us.
Reading it from the 80 year old perspective I found the book uniformly entertaining-- and enlightening. His chapter on New Orleans meant a lot to me, going over places that still haunt my youth.
For the last forty years Dylan has understood that he was a former prophet. He's always been a sad figure to me. Why can't all my heroes live good proper (and happy) lives?
I wonder who is today's Bob Dylan?