Arts & Entertainment

The Rolling Stone Gathers Moss

New York Review of Books

“It is surprising to find the bratty sneer of ‘My Generation’ (‘I hope I die before I get old’) moved to an assisted-living facility,” writes Dan Chiasson in the most recent issue of the Review. What motivates Chiasson’s surprise is The Philosophy of Modern Song, a new book by Bob Dylan—the only Nobel laureate with a Never Ending Tour that has been playing live shows around the world for more than thirty years—that offers Dylan’s thoughts on sixty-six songs from the last seventy-five years, “a kind of music-appreciation course open to auditors and members of the general public.”

Dylan’s meandering syllabus—which jumps from The Who to “Mack the Knife” to the Yale “Whiffenpoof Song” to the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” (“‘Way leads on to way,’ as Robert Frost wrote,” Chiasson observes)—also provides a glimpse into his own art: “The motley canon of 1950s songs that make up the nucleus of The Philosophy of Modern Song are best thought of as Dylan’s happenstance musical autobiography, off-kilter, even a bit absent-minded.”

Below we have collected, alongside Chiasson’s article, a motley canon from the Review’s archives: five essays about singers and songwriters who inspired, toured with, covered, or were otherwise influenced by Bob Dylan.

Dan Chiasson
Road Maps for the Soul

The Philosophy of Modern Song can be read as a tour journal, refracted through one lonely song after another.

Ned Rorem
The Music of the Beatles

“Most of the literary copy devoted to the Beatles extols the timely daring of the group’s lyrics while skirting the essential quality, the music. Poetry may be the egg from which the nightingale is hatched, though in the last analysis that nightingale must come first.”

Margot Hentoff
Notes from a Plague Year

“Guthrie’s was the kind of life Bob Dylan dreamed of: leaving home for hard traveling, on the road with migrant workers and hobos, singing for nickels and dimes in boom towns, hunting odd jobs in towns that had gone dry, and always putting his songs to work, in railroad jungles, in Hoovervilles, on picket lines.”

James Wolcott
Honest Floozies

“There’s a sweet comic moment when Stones drummer Charlie Watts (who emerges as the most likable character in both books) finds himself left on the curb after the other Stones have driven off in a turquoise Continental. ‘Really,’ he says, ‘they are the rudest people.’”

Adam Shatz
The Beautiful Sounds of Jimi Hendrix

“Before he learned to play a single note on his guitar, he seems to have been fascinated by the science of sound: he tied strings and rubber bands to his bed to see what sort of tonal vibrations he could produce.”

Mark Ford
She Shampooed & Renewed Us

“Joni Mitchell’s own self-figurations in these songs often radiate melancholy and indecision, a longing to find the key that will set her free. The intimacy of her revelations on the songs of Blue is enhanced by the subtlety and originality of her phrasing, and by her discovery of a new melodic range and intensity.”

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