Monday, November 21, 2022

Dylan in Winter, Part I: The Philosophy of Modern Song

Bob Dylan performing in stage in Los Angeles in 2012. (Photo: Chris Pizzello)


Each of the 66 chapters in Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy of Modern Song (Simon & Schuster; 339 pp.) is devoted to a single musical composition, and almost all are split into two parts—a second-person monologue, which reviewers are calling a “riff,” inspired by the song; and a slightly more sober and pedantic critical-historical essay. The playlist (obscure Fifties rock, some R&B and soul, a lot of country, some European imports, pages from the Great American Songbook) is various and appears whimsical. Many songs seem selected as the excuse for some tangent—on money, drugs, women, crime, divorce, our treatment of the elderly—that Dylan has been wanting to deliver. Everyone knows his head is stuffed with songs, and these only scratch the surface of the surface. On a different day he’d surely list other songs, launch other tangents.