Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 379
Chronicles by Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known to the world as Bob Dylan, is the first volume in a three volume autobiography that Dylan is writing. In it, he recalls three periods of his life: his early years in New York city; life with his family in Woodstock, N.Y.; and the time spent recording "Oh Mercy," an album in which he broke through a crippling writer's block.
The themes in Chronicles, especially in the New York City sections, revolve around musical originality and integrity. Dylan recounts many performers whom he met as a young singer that made lasting impacts on him—larger than life figures such as Odetta, Ramblin' Jack Eliot and Dave Van Ronk. As a young singer/songwriter, Dylan absorbed the burgeoning folk music scene around him and incorporated all of it into his own writing and singing. In recounting these musical performers, Dylan writes with a profound respect for their talents and their characters, which is another theme in the book: Dylan is extremely generous in his praise and genuine love for the musicians he admires—those who helped form his own musical persona. The musicians he admires are all examples of the themes of originality and integrity.
In the "Oh Mercy" chapter of the book, we see an older Dylan, weary from constant touring and out of touch with what he was once able to do. However, Dylan finds a spark which he fans, and is once again able to rejuvenate himself creatively with the help of Daniel Lanois, his producer for the record. He writes and records a new set of original songs which are widely praised by critics as a strong return to form. This theme of creativity and how a songwriter keeps it alive is explored in a highly individualistic way by Dylan. He isn't trying to instruct anyone else on how to do it; he's simply recounting his own struggle and the unique and somewhat mysterious ways he was able to reconnect to creativity.
Another overarching theme throughout the book is Dylan's own fierce independent spirit, which is constantly stamped on the pages in ways both strong and relaxed, harsh and humorous. Dylan is truly his own man in every respect. The author's unique personality shines through on every page.
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