Book Reviews
Oct 30, 2004, 00:23

STUDIO A: THE BOB DYLAN READER edited by Benjamin Hedin; W.W. Norton, 2004

Intriguingly detailing the tracking of the Zimmerman Sasquatch, this motley but shiny collection of criticism, speech, and a Johnny Cash letter to the editor historically illustrates how difficult it will always be to pin down such a creature quite likely only defined in his movement.

Twenty-seven years before he laid down the otherworldly prose of The Old, Weird America, Greil Marcus queried, in his infamous Rolling Stone review of Self Portrait, “What is this shit?” Like so many other young, excitable, and earnest aesthetes, the believer felt betrayed by the Messiah's old clothes. Quite possibly the first subject of serious rock criticism, it would be inevitable that Dylan wasn't permitted to be quite so fallible and human. Clive James in Creem was practically foaming at the mouth over what he assumed was Dylan's lack of discipline and economy. It's as much a denial of pop and folk music. That the improvised, accidental, and determinedly contextual nature of Dylan's hoary and unpredictable catalogue exists largely in context of action illustrates the thoughtful thoughtlessness and whimsical whims of rock's cruelty.

The 20th century has log-rolled on his inner flap into our digital 21st. Is he not now the nexus of American music? Live, tonight: somewhere on the Earth, Dylan is arthritically perched over his keyboard, vulture picking at his own remains; the voice croaking public secrets at least as sincere as Burroughs's. But it's that Oral Tradition thing again. The subject and object of so much recent print (Chronicles, Vol. 1; the Marcus “Like a Rolling Stone” rabbit hole) to the contrary, he's certainly never been for your eyes only. He's an oracle, magician, and conduit. Studio A is proof that but for the eternally intuitive and empathetic Lester Bangs, the first generation of Rock Journos, their influence diminishing, will never get over the fact that he's not kin, in kind or spirit. He can't and won't be judged as a journalist, poet, or novelist. Again, the point is lost: the exception is the rule, the small is big, and it can't be seen. It's heard.

-Dave Rick

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