Archive for January, 2009

Series Of Dreams: a stimulating new study of Dylan the songwriter

January 7, 2009
By Anne Ritchie

Listeners who enjoy dissecting Dylan’s lyrics will be stimulated by Series Of Dreams, the new critical study by John Burns.

Compared with the heavyweight classics of Dylan Lit (notably Gray and Ricks), Burns’ book might be slight, but it’s an accessible way into a study of Dylan’s art – which can be as daunting as starting to study Shakespeare.

Burns applies his well-honed critical insight by focusing on what he calls “vision songs” – a couple of dozen classics from across the catalogue.

His antennae are mostly well-tuned – I particularly like his appreciation of the imagery in Chimes Of Freedom. And his comments on TOOM, especially Not Dark Yet, are revelatory. His discussion of Highlands made me reassess it – I’d always switched off half way through what I heard as a tedious shaggy dog story. And Burns’ appreciation of Dylan’s voice and his performance art, throughout the book, is right on the money.

I have a few misgivings. The author struggles to justify his “visionary songs” theme – “songs which open our eyes and help us to see” – for example when discussing Isis.

Burns can also be dogmatic, at times committing the cardinal sin of deciding what Dylan means or is trying to say. On a few occasions, he misses the obvious – for example, the nuances of the looks on Dylan’s face during the musical jousting with Donovan in the hotel room jamming scene in Don’t Look Back. And familiar rock hack prejudices crop up in the author’s ignoring of the achievements of great pre-Dylan pop writers such as Cole Porter.

But I combed Burns’ text closely enough to unearth such reservations, which suggests that he successfully engaged me in a serious discussion about Dylan’s art.

Series Of Dreams is a stimulating new study: recommended.

A round of applause for Glen Murray Publishing, too – this handsome, well-designed volume is a pleasure to handle.

DETAILS: Series Of Dreams: The Vision Songs Of Bob Dylan, by John Burns, published by Glen Murray Publishing, November 2008, 136pp, £12.99, pbk, ISBN 9780955318351.

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Yet more new Dylan books in 2009

January 5, 2009

With the Dylan bookshelves already groaning, many more new titles are scheduled for 2009. I’ll be buying (probably from Amazon): 

* The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan (Cambridge Companions to American Studies) by Kevin J. H. Dettmar (hbk/pbk – 31 Jan)

* The Political Art of Bob Dylan by David Boucher and Gary Browning (pbk)

* Bob Dylan: The Illustrated Biography (Classic Rare & Unseen) by Chris Rushby (hbk, 1 Mar)

* Bob Dylan (Music Icons) by Luke Crampton and Dafydd Rees (pbk, 25 Mar)

* Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973 by Clinton Heylin (hbk)

* Dylan: 100 Songs and Pictures by Bob Dylan (pbk)

* Bargainin’ for Salvation: Bob Dylan, a Zen Master? by Steven Heine (pbk)

* Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan’s Road from Minnesota to the World by Colleen J. Sheehy and Thomas Swiss (pbk)

* Real Moments: The Photographs of Bob Dylan by Barry Feinstein (pbk)

Gerry Smith