(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

After more than forty years in the public eye, Bob Dylan remains one of the United States’ most enigmatic public figures. The number of articles written about him runs into the thousands, the number of books about him is certainly more than a hundred, and in the age of the World Wide Web, Dylan fans have created more than a million Web sites devoted to him. His influence as a songwriter cannot be overestimated.

Chronicles is divided into five chapters. In the first two chapters, “Markin’ Up the Score” and “The Lost Land,” Dylan attempts to make his way in New York City. In the third chapter, “New Morning,” he and his family are living in Woodstock, New York. The fourth chapter, “Oh Mercy,” finds Dylan recording a new album and struggling to rekindle the creative process. The fifth and last chapter, “River of Ice,” returns to Dylan's early days in New York City.

In Chronicles, Dylan dismisses the thought of his being the voice of a generation. It can be surmised that his uneasiness with such a label is not merely because it is such a lofty—almost unattainable—position but also because Dylan wishes to be considered more than merely a celebrity frozen in time. Rightly, he should be considered one of America's greatest singer-songwriters.

Chronicles has a relaxed feel, unrushed and unforced. Dylan is allowed to ramble; no editor has perceptibly molded the memoir's shape. On one page Dylan describes a party or encounter with other musicians, and on the next he references the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This is a glimpse at how Dylan's mind connects seemingly disparate thoughts. The creative process, the ability to make a whole out of the ether, is on display.

Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. In the late 1940's, the Zimmerman family moved to Hibbing, Minnesota. Hibbing was a middle-class community located not too far from Duluth. By the time young Bobby Zimmerman was a teenager, he had taught himself how to play acoustic guitar. During the mid-1950's, he was listening to rhythm and blues and early rock music. He had visions of escaping from small-town America and making a life for himself outside the Midwest. Years later, Dylan would tell his father that he considered New York City to be the capital of the world. After high school, he attended the University of Minnesota for a short period of time. While at college, Dylan began listening to American folk music.

Dylan is known for keeping his personal life shrouded in mystery. For that reason, critics and fans alike were curious about how Dylan's Chronicles would turn out. With the publication of this work, fans and critics got out their lists of questions they wanted to see Dylan address, as if his memoir was to be his final exam and, to receive a passing grade, he must touch on all the crucial issues. It is true that over the years Dylan has, in interview after interview, protected his own privacy. Remarkably, then, throughout this first volume he has exposed himself on several fronts.

The memoir primarily covers his early years in New York City while he was trying to establish himself as an artist who mattered, an artist who broke all the rules. Three of the five chapters are devoted to the early Dylan, to a time when he was molding himself into the figure who changed American popular music. One chapter is devoted to the late 1960's, during which time he stepped away from the spotlight. Living in Woodstock, New York, Dylan took his time to recover from a 1966 motorcycle crash. He states in Chronicles that he wished to retreat from the “rat race.” Married and the father of three children, Dylan felt that he needed time to find his bearings again, to build a more normal life for both himself and his family. The fourth chapter finds Dylan floundering in the late 1980's. Each of the periods covered in Chronicles has Dylan searching for inspiration, for a fresh way to...

(The entire section is 1630 words.)