THE BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA by MICHAEL GRAY: More song and dance

 |   |  2 min read

THE BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA by MICHAEL GRAY: More song and dance

Writer Michael Gray is not backward about coming forward: he includes an entry on himself in this massive tome published in 2006 which is alternately illuminating, absurdly amusing, opinionated or a trainspotter’s delight depending on which of the more than 2000 entries you pick.

The author of the seminal Song and Dance Man study of Dylan and his lyrics published the mid 70s (updated in 2000 to considerable critical acclaim), Gray is an obsessive Dylanologist as he illustrates here in entries such as “Jesus v Springsteen” in which Dylan’s comments on stage during his born-again period are quoted.

He is also sharp and witty: under “Keats v Dylan” -- about a debate over cultural lines -- the writer A.S. Byatt suffers a brutal dismissal. She popped up on television to discuss the qualitative difference between Keats and Dylan but announced she knew little about Dylan, “as if indeed her very unfamiliarity with Dylan’s work affirms the loftiness that justifies dismissing his work. Anyone not under a moonie spell of this clerisy might feel that if they were as uniformed about Keats as A.S. Byatt was about Dylan they wouldn’t rush onto TV to discuss his work”.

Elsewhere he skewers those whose careers or music he dislikes (rapper Kurtis Blow, Elvis Costello who he says has “become one of the old farts he used to rage against“), devotes five pages to an analysis of Dylan’s use of nursery rhymes on the album Under the Red Sky (the worst album under Dylan’s name other than his outing with the Grateful Dead), yet only gives scant attention to Dylan’s masterpiece Blonde on Blonde.

Many of Dylan’s most interesting songs are ignored, but Norah Jones gets an entry on the basis of dueting with Dylan at a private concert.

Yet it is because of its wilful and idiosyncratic nature that this brick of a book is so fascinating: Gray offers a penetrating analysis of recent songs like Highlands (from 97’s Time Out of Mind album) and Angelina recorded in 81 but only appearing a decade later, makes the case for a reconsideration of the often ignored 70 album New Morning, and makes you want to return to Slow Train Coming -- one of the born again albums -- to listen to When He Returns which the writer makes a strong case for in Dylan’s use of Biblical text and the vengeful tone.

Gray is not a blind devotee however and nails Dylan’s famous Hurricane about imprisoned boxer Rubin Carter as being factually wrong in almost every line. Even the much published photo of their encounter was faked.

Love it or hate it, this book (which comes with a searchable  CD-ROM) is certainly interesting reading, and possibly even a good -- if selective -- reference text.

This is the place to come for entries such as “pre-war blues and post-structuralism”, “book endorsements, unfortunate” and “co-option of real music by advertising”.

And potted biographies of characters as diverse as T.S Eliot, Nashville session player Wayne Moss, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Franz Kafka -- all of whom have some real or tenuous link with Dylan or his work.

Strange, but strangely compelling.

Interested in more about Bob Dylan at Elsewhere? There is plenty right here.


Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Writing articles index

SET THE BOY FREE, the autobiography by JOHNNY MARR

SET THE BOY FREE, the autobiography by JOHNNY MARR

Sometimes a simple, bare fact can make you stop dead. Like this one: Johnny Marr was 23 when the Smiths broke up. As he writes in this unadorned and often flatly emotionless autobiography,... > Read more

I, ME, MINE; THE EXTENDED EDITION by GEORGE HARRISON

I, ME, MINE; THE EXTENDED EDITION by GEORGE HARRISON

When George Harrison's slight autobiography I, Me Mine was first published in 1980 as a limited edition hardback his onetime friend John Lennon was livid. He said George had barely mentioned... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Sue and Horst's Famous Persimmon Cream Pie

Sue and Horst's Famous Persimmon Cream Pie

When you've got in-laws who have a large persimmon orchard you tend to learn all kinds of things that can be done with the underrated persimmon. My father-in-law Horst slices ripe ones and... > Read more

Taylor Swift To Drop Massive Xmas Box Set For Fans

Taylor Swift To Drop Massive Xmas Box Set For Fans

Nashville, NYC – Pop star Taylor Swift has surprised fans twice this year with unexpected albums, Folklorica and Evergreen, but she has one more surprise in store: a 30 CD box set released... > Read more