Dylan, who began working on the book in 2010, offers his extraordinary insight into the nature of popular music. He writes over sixty essays focusing on songs by other artists, spanning from Stephen Foster to Elvis Costello, and in between ranging from Hank Williams to Nina Simone. He analyzes what he calls the trap of easy rhymes, breaks down how the addition of a single syllable can diminish a song, and even explains how bluegrass relates to heavy metal.
It is filled with songs and hyperbole and views on love and lust even darker than Blood on the Tracks ... There are 66 songs discussed here ... Only four are by women, which is ridiculous, but he never asked us ... Nothing is proved, but everything is experienced—one really weird and brilliant person’s experience, someone who changed the world many times ... Part of the pleasure of the book, even exceeding the delectable Chronicles: Volume One, is that you feel liberated from Being Bob Dylan. He’s not telling you what you got wrong about him. The prose is so vivid and fecund, it was useless to underline, because I just would have underlined the whole book. Dylan’s pulpy, noir imagination is not always for the squeamish. If your idea of art is affirmation of acceptable values, Bob Dylan doesn’t need you ... The writing here is at turns vivid, hilarious, and will awaken you to songs you thought you knew ... The prose brims everywhere you turn. It is almost disturbing. Bob Dylan got his Nobel and all the other accolades, and now he’s doing my job, and he’s so damn good at it.
Some of the analyses, which can already be loose, are accompanied by brief pieces that treat the songs as creative writing prompts ... In keeping with the theme of his omniscient zeal for songcraft, Dylan betrays no sense there is anything remotely odd about zigzagging among Jimmy Reed, Rosemary Clooney and Santana, itself a meaningful insight into the wide open apertures of his powers of expression ... Boy, are these essays weird. Longtime Dylan followers are accustomed to the peculiar cast that haunts his songs...and they festoon these pages as well ... These essays are not all terrifying verdicts on the fate of a corrupted humanity. There are history lessons, too! Charmingly, Dylan appears to have done a great deal of research on the material covered, and maybe even breaks a little news here and there.