by Robert Allen Zimmerman

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Robert Allen Zimmerman, known to the world as Bob Dylan, had the first volume of Chronicles, his autobiography, published in 2004. In it he recounts three periods of his life--the early days of a struggling singer/songwriter in New York City, his recording the album New Morning, and recording the album Oh Mercy. Because it is an autobiography, it does not have "characters" of a conventional fictional sort, but instead features people that Dylan met in his lifetime.

It's in the New York sections that Dylan talks most about the people he met there, and other musicians who've influenced him. He thinks back on life in Minnesota, talks of his father, Abe, a businessman who didn't really understand Dylan. Woody Guthrie was Dylan's mentor and spiritual father when Dylan was forming as a young singer/songwriter. Some of the people from the Greenwich Village music scene who influenced Dylan musically were Odetta, Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin' Jack Eliot, Paul Clayton, Fred Neil. He also talks about hanging out with musical oddity Tiny Tim, and mentions the flamboyant wrestler, Gorgeous George.

Producer John Hammond was a seminal force in Dylan's career, as the first to record Dylan, and for standing behind the young singer when the first album sold poorly. The second album, with "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" was a huge success and confirmed Hammond's belief in Dylan.

Dylan also talks about musicians who he listened to and admired, such as Cisco Houston, blues great Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and surprisingly, Ricky Nelson, who was not considered 'cool' at the time. He loved Roy Orbison and Harry Belafonte, singers who's style was nothing like Dylan's own.

While writing the songs for New Morning, Dylan met poet Archibald MacLeish, who was writing a play, and wanted Dylan to compose songs for it. Their meeting was less than fruitful, and the project never happened.

Daniel Lanois, producer of Oh Mercy, figures strongly in that chapter of the book. Lanois helped coax a creatively stuck Dylan into making a record that would be heralded as a significant return to form.

There are others who Dylan mentions in Chronicles, always with astute observation and personal reflection.

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