Chronicles: A Historical Monument: Book Review by Sushant Thapa

Too much individualistic behaviour makes you a conformist. Bob Dylan says this in Volume one of his autobiography “Chronicles.” Being a conformist can mean being rigid and always having an aura to win the argument, instead of making proper meaning and holding the truth close. For those of us who are introverted, this saying from Dylan’s book can bring us out of our personal closet and mix with society. This evokes a call for metamorphosis from individuality to commonality, a social need.

I do not think I need to introduce Bob Dylan. He is an American singer-songwriter with a poetic soul who won the Nobel prize in Literature in 2016 for his songs that told stories. He is a folk musician. He defines song in the book as “A song is like a dream, and you try to make it come true.” He also defines what folk music does. He says, “Folk music, if nothing else, makes a believer out of you.”

All of Dylan’s songs depict the world, they are not much abstract and can simply make meanings. They have told human stories with a poetic touch. His songs rhyme and that is also one old conventionality of poetry. I say it is old because modern poets have abandoned rhyme. Dylan however is brutally contemporary. His songs “Everything is Broken” and “Political World” are contemporary. War has devasted the modern world, things lie broken. This is the reality.

I would like to talk more about the song “Everything is broken.” The music of it is also good and it has carefree representation. He talks about how everything like objects is broken. I feel that everything can be in a broken state. It is good to talk about that state of things when things can be underrepresented. Even broken things are valued by Dylan. Like they can be joined. After all, things are made of pieces. The present-day wars and pandemics have created brokenness. People can have broken hearts. Bob says in the autobiography that the critics did not like this song because they did not find it autobiographical.

I did not know that in America slavery and the civil war were related. I did not know that Bertolt Brecht was banned in Germany, in his own country, for being an antifascist German Marxist poet-playwright. I have learned new things from Dylan’s autobiography. I would love to read Volume two of Chronicles too. Dylan’s autobiography is informative. Not only it contains people whom Dylan met during his music career, and songs that he heard, the studios where he recorded his songs in; it is also a historical monument in itself.

Bob Dylan says towards the end of the autobiography that the song that he was leaning towards singing did not exist and he began playing with the form, trying to grasp it- trying to make the kind of song that transcended the information in it, the character and form. I am not sure but it sounds like saying that sometimes similes and metaphors alone make a poem. They are the form that provides some shape to your poem. Going too much out of form does not shape the artwork unless you are doing something groundbreaking.

Sinclair Lewis was the first American to get Nobel Prize in Literature. Author of Elmer Gantry. Master of Absolute Realism. He had invented it. I came to know about him through this autobiography by Dylan.

Dylan says he was not getting influenced by good or bad comments by people on his songs. He says he did not have preconditioned audience. This is what we can learn from the Nobel laureate. Artists and even writers should be able to not be influenced by any comments and the measure of the work lies in the dedication with which they do it. Recognition is the aftermath, it is not the main target. Having no preconditioned audience made Dylan more focused on his songs. He loved Woody Guthrie and his songs. Bob Dylan sang songs by Guthree although he received feedback like “you will never turn into Guthree.” Well, I am sure Dylan made his own image. Dylan liked the diction and repertoire in Guthree’s song. Dylan even went on to change his own musical image. He changed the way his songs sounded from when he started. I appreciate the changes in his singing style. I can listen to that in his songs. He says in the book that he even started singing in a different voice. Bob Dylan has written a blurb in Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road.” He mentions Jack Kerouac in this autobiography and says that Kerouac had retired and the travelling spirit of “On the Road” has been diminished now. He makes a short critique on the book “On the Road” in this autobiography.

When Bob Dylan says that in New Orleans there is only one day at a time here, then it’s tonight and then there will be tomorrow again. I think here Bob is talking about the slow passage of time and like postponing everything for later attitude of New Orleans. His next sentences in the book are: “Chronic melancholia hanging from the trees. You never get tired of it. After a while, you feel like you start to feel like a ghost from one of the tombs, like you are in a wax museum below crimson cloud.” When Dylan says that you feel like a ghost from one of the tombs, I feel he is talking about getting things done slow attitude. He also says one day at a time. Despite everything he praises New Orleans and says it’s a good place to record music. I am writing about this because I can view America through Dylan’s eyes although I am a foreign man in America.

This has been my experience with the first Volume of Chronicles, an autobiography written by the legendary Bob Dylan. I hope to read Volume two soon and write a review on it. I learned many things and the lesson from this autobiography has brought me close to one of the best-appreciated musicians of the current time who will always have a literary aura around him, no matter the passage of time.

Sushant Thapa
M.A. English, Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi, India


Sushant Thapa (1993) is from Biratnagar, Nepal. He is an M.A. in English literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. His fourth and upcoming book of poems titled “Love’s Cradle” is going to be published by World Inkers Printing and Publishing, New York, USA. He teaches Business English to undergraduate students in Biratnagar, Nepal.