Culture & Criticism Since 2003
From the Editor: These selections mark the best of the music books we saw in 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.
SOUND OF THE BEAST (THE COMPLETE HEADBANGING HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL). Ian Christe. Harper Collins. This study by Ian Christe covers the history of the heavy metal movement in music from 1970 through 2002. Well written, and augmented by countless new photos, Sound of The Beast seeks to shed light on this often misunderstood genre, the prose delivered in a crisp ‘reportage’ style: “On September 19, 1985, The Senate Commerce Committee convened hearings at the insistence of Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Gore to advance their belief that record albums should be rated and restricted in the same manner as movies. As Tipper Gore told the mostly Republican panel, ‘We’re asking the recording industry to voluntarily assist parents who are concerned by placing a warning label on music products inappropriate for younger children due to explicit sexual or violent content.’ Meanwhile, religious protesters outside the congressional offices waved placards for the TV cameras readingROCK MUSIC DESTROYS KIDS and WE’VE HAD ENOUGH.” (Page 120).
Sound of the Beast is, without a doubt, the most detailed account of the Heavy Metal movement to date. In his analysis, Christe uses interviews with members of the break-through bands (including Black Sabbath, Metallica and Megadeth) to show step-by-step how Heavy Metal assumed the torch from Sixties Rock and Roll bad-boys like the Doors and Rolling Stones (taking their mission to the next level): From its onset, this was music on the edge — musicians in the role of circus performers and hedonist healers, at once testing the bounds of the acceptable and the rational, questioning the standards of plastic 1970s morality, banging down the walls.
In the role of rock journalist, Ian Christe tells the story of the Heavy Metal through the perceptions of the men who made the music, offering head bangers and casual music fans alike the most definitive account of this riveting American sound.
Order this book from amazon.com.
BOB DYLAN: BEHIND THE SHADES (REVISITED). Clinton Heylin. Harper Collins. This is the revised edition of Heylin’s 1991 biography of the legendary folk-rocker. This edition’s of note because it brings the story current and includes material about Dylan from the late 1990s, complete with much information on Dylan’s “never-ending tour.”
The first edition of Heylin’s bio was billed as the “definitive” study on the musician; however, in retrospect, it seems less stylistically elegant than the Anthony Scaduto books that predate it. Yet, this is not to say that Heylin’s work is flawed; to the contrary, his vast knowledge of Dylan shows through on every page, and he tells us many new tidbits about the reclusive star and his music:
“In late June 1975, Dylan seemed to be on a scouting mission, looking for a new sound. Driving around the village, he ran across an exotic-looking violinist by the name of Scarlet Rivera, and invited her to his rehearsal studio to run through some songs. Perhaps he wanted to explore a guitar-violin blend, perhaps he just wanted to get to know this particular gypsy soul…There was a mantralike quality to Rivera’s violin playing …[and]…there was an obvious chemistry between her and Dylan.”
(From Page 392 of Paperback edition)
Heylin’s prose is easy to read and easy to comprehend, and the interviews with Dylan’s contemporaries that pepper each chapter are absolutely captivating (Heylin, a veteran music writer from England, has written several other Dylan studies; he also serves as the general editor of Schrimer’s Classic Rock Album series). In the end, Behind The Shades proves to be a well-paced and well-plotted rock and roll biography with strong appeal to both hard-core Dylanites and younger fans looking to discover what all the fuss was about. Also worthwhile because of the fine photos and detailed discography. At $15.95 for the paperback, this book is a necessity for anyone with 2 or more Dylan albums in their collection.
Order this book from amazon.com.
Bob Dylan’s website is bobdylan.com.