….It’s almost like I heard it as a voice. It wasn’t like it was even me thinking it… I’m determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not…
Although Bob Dylan’s music of the 1960s and 70s was highly acclaimed and vastly influential, by the mid 1980s his creativity had dipped so low that he was seriously thinking of retiring. Yet from the late ‘90s onwards he began to produce work that was comparable in quality to that of his heyday. The action in these extraordinary songs appears to take place in an indeterminate historical period, sometime between the American Civil War and the present day; in a mythic landscape of noisy, smoky honky tonks and juke joints; haunted by the ghosts of the great blues and country music legends, along with various long-lost crooners and torch singers. The songs reference a vast number of literary texts, ranging from Ancient Greek epics and the King James Bible to Shakespeare, the Romantic and Symbolist poets. They tell the story of Dylan’s personal battle to reclaim contact with his poetic muse.
In Determined to Stand Chris Gregory traces the way in which Dylan, by focusing on his roots in folk, blues, country and gospel music, was able to reinvent his art and his persona from the 1990s onward to create a new and unique body of work. The book is an in depth study of Bob Dylan’s songs from 1997’s Time Out of Mind to 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways. It also focuses on the crucial role that the live performances on Dylan’s Never Ending Tour (1988 to the present) played in his battle to find ways of remaining creative despite the onset of ageing.
I’ve read most of the usual suspects – Greil Marcus, Michael Gray, Sean Wilentz, Paul Williams, Christopher Ricks, Timothy Hampton et al, and I would put this bookup there with them.
I really liked the way the book was structured, grouping the songs thematically rather than trudging through each album chronologically. The short pieces on live performances broke up the text superbly. (I particularly liked the Melbourne entry). Very good also on lyric variations at different shows.
Painstaking research throughout, and many perceptive comments on rather slippery and complex songs.
If one discounted the first 35 years of Dylan’s career, you’d still be left with a major major artist. Extraordinary really.
I do hope the book gets the recognition it deserves when it’s officially published, it’s a superb achievement.
i am enjoying this book for the main reason that it is so thoughtful and easy to read written by someone who understands Dylan and poetry but does not come across as an intellectual snob the way many of the best Dylan writers sometimes sound…..
How refreshing to have a new Bob Dylan Book which is both new in relation to the subject matter, it’s style and is penned by a different author.
Determined To Stand explores the songs, from the time when Bob Dylan suddenly “shifted gears and released some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late ’90s” and bringing us up to date through Tempest and concluding with Rough and Rowdy Ways and of note the tour-de-force which is Murder Most Foul.
Thorough; weighing in at 336 pages the text is considered and provides lyrical overlaps with Keats, Poe, Dickens, Shakespeare and the like. In addition, clarity is provided throughout for some of those unfamiliar references which at times appear within the artist’s verses such as St Herman’s Church, A Sharkskin Suit, A Rootless Tree and which so often, all to easily go unquestioned.
This is a book to savour, to inform and to enjoy as it takes what you thought you knew, adds depth and breadth and directs you back to the songs once again to listen and to enjoy afresh with a deeper perspective. Inciteful, visionary and highly recommended.