I picked up Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, thinking that I should have some familiarity with it in time for tonight’s reading. It’s a most goddamn wonderful book, as Hemingway said of Ulysses. The rough magic of the style was to be expected; the novelistic powers of observation are stunning. In one extended sequence, he’s in the library of a friend’s apartment, picking up books, reading parts of them, putting them down, free-associating, evoking the moment he was in and his history between then and now. Maybe he has photographic memory, maybe he took really good notes, maybe he’s making it all up, but who cares when you’re spending time with a mind like this:
I cut the radio off, crisscrossed the room, pausing for a moment to turn on the black-and-white TV. Wagon Train was on. It seemed to be beaming in from some foreign country. I shut that off, too, and went into another room, a windowless one with a painted door — a dark cavern with a floor-to-ceiling library. I switched on the lamps. The place had an overwhelming presence of literature and you couldn’t help but lose your passion for dumbness…
I liked the French writer Balzac a lot, read Luck and Leather, and Le Cousin Pons. Balzac was pretty funny. His philosophy is plain and simple, says basically that pure materialism is a recipe for madness. The only true knowledge for Balzac seems to be in superstition. Everything is subject to analysis. Horde your energy. That’s the secret of life. You can learn a lot from Mr. B. It’s funny to have him as a companion. He wears a monk’s robe and drinks endless cups of coffee. Too much sleep clogs up his mind. One of his teeth falls out, and he says, “What does this mean?” He questions everything. His clothes catch fire on a candle. He wonders if fire is a good sign. Balzac is hilarious.
Then there’s the part where he rides Tolstoy’s bicycle — but enough for now. I'm hoping for a book-on-tape version, and Vol. II before it's too late.
The picture was taken in northern Minnesota, not far from where the Meister grew up, during my endless Bob Dylan expeditions of 1998. Here's the very long article that emerged. More Dylan musings here and here.