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Lyrics: 1962-2001

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Bob Dylan

As a concrete--and hefty--reminder of what has made Dylan such a revered figure in popular music, a new collection of the lyrics of the songs on the 28 albums fromBob Dylan(1962) toLove and Theft(2001) and additional unreleased works has been published … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Bob Dylan
Genre: Entertainment
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
1 review about Lyrics: 1962-2001

He opened up a book of poems and handed it to me

  • Nov 15, 2009
Lyrics runs counter to the usually printed collections of lyrics which contain lots of glossy pictures of the "artist" in action (at least this was a recognizable genre in my youth; I wonder is it still?), perhaps with printed chord changes, musician/producer/video credits, or even printed music. Lyrics consists of nothing but album covers in chronological order, and lyrics from songs (and outtakes later released) on the albums, printed in black text on white pages. So if you are interested enough in this book to be reading reviews and considering spending $45 list price (discounted at Amazon and other sites) for something that is available freely on the internet song by song, the question this review really should answer is: why should you buy this book?

Christopher Ricks, in his seminal Dylan's Visions of Sin, makes the point that music consists of three components (words, set to music, performed) and must be considered in this context, as Dylan has been a master of all three components and the synergisms they offer. But the graphic layout and typography of Lyrics challenges us to view these lyrics as poems. There is no attempt to associate the lyrics with the music to which they are set, and to the many performances of the music and lyrics.

The challenge is faced and answered. This is poetry of a quantity, quality, humor, passion, and depth that is an embarrassment of riches. Consider, for example "Long Ago, Far Away", written in 1962 when Dylan was a just-noticed 20-year-old newcomer to New York.

One man had much money
One man had not enough to eat
One man he lived just like a king
The other man begged on the street
Long ago, far away
Things like that don't happen
No more, nowadays

Notice the wisdom of the restraint displayed in "much money", not the normative "too much money" that could be easily pointed down an accusatory finger at the reader, and the ending lines "Things like that don't happen no more, nowadays" which would find an echo later in the amazing "Red River Shore" of the mature poet--which isn't in this edition because it was released on an official bootleg after this volume was published. Note also that, as befits a poetry anthology, this book consists only of songs for which Dylan has the writing credits not other songs he later made his own in performance like "The Water is Wide" duet with Joan Baez from the Rolling Thunder tour.

For another example, lets look briefly at his most famous word poem "Like a Rolling Stone" In performance, particularly in the searing live performance in the 1965 England tour documented in C. P. Lee's Bob Dylan: Like the Night, it is easy to miss the difference between the first chorus:

To be without a home

and the subsequent choruses:

To be on your own
with no direction home.

In the difference lies the poetry in the words printed in black and white on paper separate from the music and the performance.

Another evidence of the poetry on the page is the way that reading these words echos inside the mind's ear apart from the music. Sometimes the tune comes naturally to mind, but more often, even for the poems set to the best known tunes, the mind searches for how to map the words to the music without the performance. The poetry stands alone.

The poet also grows through cycles, an effect that is noticeable by reading through the collection chronologically front to back. The first nine albums show an outpouring of passion and emotion as words express emotion as if tumbling freeform from the mind of the poet. Then in the early 70's during the first downturn in Dylan's never ending career, there is a dropoff in the quality and quantity of the poetry that included even the critically acclaimed Basement Tapes. Yes, you heard right. These are rightly considered classics of American music, but reading the poetry of the lyrics reveals a profound truth--the classic quality of the Tapes are in the music and performance, not the poetry.

With 1975's Planet Waves Dylan began another nine-album cycle of high-quality poetic outburst that shows the mature poet in full control of his artistry and passion. After a second decline in the early 90s (Empire Burleque, Knocked Out Loaded, and Down in the Groove), Dylan the poet re-emerged yet again this time with poetry of wisdom that matched and transcended his early poetry of passion and his middle poetry of maturity. This period continues today in several albums beyond the publication date of Lyrics.

So yes, I think you should, if you are a fan of Dylan, purchase Lyrics, even though you, like me, may already have pulled the lyrics down from [...] and other sites and added them to your iTunes library and your iPod. Separating the poetry from the performance will enhance your appreciation of this classic book of poems.

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