66 Songs – 66 meditations – 66 idiosyncratic choices – Here’s the table of contents
For some early notes on the background of the book and the themes in the book – see here
“His (Dylan’s) whole body of work is largely concerned with the question, “Who really made this?” The answer to that may be “Who cares?” And the answer to that is – Bob Dylan cares. The nature, the mechanics, and the meaning of creativity, especially as it pertains to music, matter a lot to him, as he makes abundantly clear with his new book…”
“..By the time one finishes the deliriously readable book, which is also beautifully designed and includes gorgeous artwork and photography, the cumulative impact of Dylan’s thoughts and reflections on the songs themselves, the performers and recordings, the stories and emotions these songs express, and the tangents and anecdotes that expand upon the songs like so much Talmudic commentary, is that of having immersed oneself in the philosophy, indeed, of one of the greatest practitioners of songwriting in the second-half of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st.”
“All of my kneejerk superiority over the Swedes awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature now stands as errant judgement awaiting triumphant correction via intelligence and common sense.”
“This is one terrific book. It is unexpected in every way. It is nothing less than an attempt to wrestle with popular music in the English language since the ’50s. It is a magnificent book of music criticism disguised as a memoir and a set of off-the-cuff fantasies and confidences.
That’s its genius. It is not framed as a work of music criticism; it is a lifelong performer’s attempt to get deeply into a pop song panorama and a lifelong consumer of other singers’ takes as a member of their audiences.
He is talking to the reader in a way that is unique and immediate and familiar to us. He is saying things that are fresh – even wild and radical – on every other page of the book but he is doing it in the second person with intellectual heft disguised as first person testimony of the sort we Americans love so much, whether it is on Oprah or in a speaker meeting of a 12-step program or a class at the Actor’s Studio”.
Some controversy (well, with Bob Dylan, how could there not be?). Jody Rosen in the LA Times entitles his review, “Bob Dylan’s new book is revealing, misogynistic and a special kind of bonkers” (Denise Sullivan, in the San Francisco Chronicle (sub-titled “Tangled Up and Skewed”), hits (necessarily) some of these same notes)
from Denise Sullivan:
“Far more concerning than any possible slights or absences is an excess of off-color commentaries on women, particularly an unholy trinity of essays, “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “Black Magic Woman” and “Witchy Woman.” Dylan writes that “women’s rights crusaders and women’s lib lobbyists take turns putting man back on his heels until he is pinned behind the eight ball dodging the shrapnel from the glass ceiling.” It’s too much and he appears to know it – “You can almost hear the gnashing of teeth and snarls from the crusaders and lobbyists.”
Sullivan, at this point, wisely remarks:
“It seems reasonable to hope that an artist of Dylan’s magnitude would publish words in solidarity with half of humankind in this critical hour of rights rescinded, rather, he chooses demeaning stereotypes. There are also several admonishments on “political correctness” that, given the current moment of extreme polarization, are disappointing, especially coming from an artist who is known for his care with language.”
and from Jody Rosen:
“You have to plow through 46 chapters before encountering a song by a female artist…There are only four songs by women in the book. That’s Dylan’s prerogative, of course, he’s writing about his record collection, not mine or yours. Yet women loom large in his consciousness and are omnipresent in his pages – appearing in such monstrous form, evoked in language so marinated in misogyny, that, reading The Philosophy of Modern Song, I began to feel like a therapist, sneaking glances at my watch while the crackpot on the couch blurts one creepy fantasy after another.”
Sullivan generously provides him with an out – “But don’t confuse the narrator with the song,” Dylan writes.” Perhaps the same holds true for the author and the book”.
Elizabeth Nelson in The Washington Post
Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian
Jon Bream in The Minneapolis Star Tribune
Doug Collette in All About Jazz
George Varga in The San Diego Union Tribune
Alan Light in Esquire
Chris Willman in Variety
Damien Love for Uncut
Carl Wilson in Slate
David Browne in Rolling Stone
& check out Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday (2021) – celebrations last year on The Allen Ginsberg Project