Culture & Criticism Since 2003
SONG AND DANCE MAN III (THE ART OF BOB DYLAN). By Michael Gray. Continuum Publishers.This third edition of Michael Gray’s definitive study serves to chart the music and career of Bob Dylan from its beginnings in the late 1950s to the present. Gray, whose work as a journalist and critic is known throughout the world, has devoted much of his life to dissecting Dylan’s music and its impact on popular culture and post-Beat poetics. The first editions of Song/Dance were hailed by Dylan freaks around the globe for their insightful commentary and deft exploration into the surreal lyricism of Dylan’s early work. The new edition continues this journey — and then extends it, slicing through the heart of the mystic master’s more recent poems, analyzing and synthesizing the words and melodies, boiling their essence into the crystals of a sweet and timeless perfume:
“…Both carry through them Dylan’s consciousness that chaos is everywhere, that each of us comes close to barking. It’s a compassionate song and a very open one, with Dylan not just mocking himself for the preaching phase but, far more courageously, examining how the things inside which drive us can drive us to the wrong places. This is strong, complex, intelligent writing – in some ways quite beyond what he could have handled in the 1960s. It comes from the Dylan who is unafraid to stand inside the chaos of passion and vulnerability, unafraid of risk and contradiction, prepared to acknowledge the fragility of each individual’s hold on sanity and strength…”
(From page 515 paperback edition)
What is best about Gray’s writing is the same thing he applauds in Dylan’s work — it’s intelligent and imaginative and layered: even though you won’t always agree with everything Gray says about Dylan’s records, you will never be bored. And you will never feel cheated by the thought that he wrote this book to capitalize on the public’s insatiable hunger to read Dylan biographies in hopes of figuring out the reclusive star. To the contrary, Michael Gray wrote this book because he is driven to understand the impetus behind Dylan’s genius, the same way Dylan was driven to figure out Kerouac and Woody Guthrie, the same way Jack Kerouac was driven towards the fiery cool velvet muse that fed Rimbaud and William Blake. This is a critical study in the truest sense of the term — forcing you to wade waist deep in the bloody and immense morass that comprises the life and times of Bob Dylan.
Obviously, Michael Gray knows Dylan’s work as well as any journalist writing today, and Song/Dance III is a clear and wonderful testament to where his studies have taken him. Highly recommended for college-level poetry classes that examine the impact of popular music in 21st century poetry. Also a perfect and necessary companion to the 15 Dylan albums recently remastered and re-released by Sony . This is your chance: slip “Blonde on Blonde” into your CD player and crack open Song/Dance. Read and listen. It’s a rare opportunity to gain perspective into why these songs were written.