I will admit, I am a slight music snob. Blame my dad, he introduced me to good music at a young age (“Shooting Star” was my favorite bath time song as a child, I often requested my dad sing me “Eleanor Rigby” instead of reading bedtime stories, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to my dad tell the history of Pink Floyd on long drives). I love many different styles of music including jazz, blues, big band, classic rock, punk and country. Until you really understand an artist and his/her music, I don’t think you can properly appreciate their music, so I always research my favorite artists through documentaries, music reviews in magazines and news papers, and books. While I had always liked Bob Dylan, it wasn’t until I met the boy’s family (many of whom are die-hard Dylan fans) and read No Direction Home that I truly understood Dylan’s music.

 

No Direction Home

 

No Direction Home is written by Robert Shelton, a music critic who is often credited for helping to launch Bob Dylan’s music career. Due to his close relationship with Dylan, the book includes many intimate conversations and scenes from Dylan’s private life. He also interviewed many friends of Dylan’s, his family, and the many artists he worked with. I really enjoyed the personal nature of this book, and how much effort Shelton put into making this more than a “Bob Dylan’s music is awesome!” book.

The book did, however, talk a ton about his music. For all Dylan’s major albums he included a song-by-song review. These often included how the song related to the theme of the album, or other songs on previous albums by expanding on a theme, or how they foreshadowed a change in style that was soon to come. He also gave his personal interpretations of many songs, and when possible, Dylan’s explanation. Some of these were paragraphs or pages long, while others were a few sentences. The song reviews, and album overviews were some of my favorite parts of the book, as my issue with most Dylan music has been my lack of understanding.

The other aspect of this book that I totally loved was the amount of research into the philosophers, authors, and poets that influenced Dylan. There were allusions to Dante in some songs that I had never noticed, and I’m usually great at recognizing references to stuff that I’ve read so many times! I was surprised at how many of the books that Dylan read and referenced that I had also read, including many books by Sartre and Camus that I studied in college. Shelton provided many different interpretations of Dylan’s music from other music critics and journalists, and these often included different thoughts of exactly which authors or poets influenced which songs. It was interesting to see how different people could come away from the same song or album with vastly different thoughts.

One thing I did not like about the book was the lack of a strict chronological progression through Dylan’s early years breaking into the music business. Shelton would introduce a new character, then explain their relationship with Dylan for the next ten years over several pages…and then go back to where he was in the story when the character entered, as if finally realizing he had gone off on a major tangent. I like things to go in order, and was often impatient for Shelton to get back to the original story instead of these meandering (although often funny) interruptions.

I am glad that I read this book, and have gained a better appreciation for Bob Dylan’s music and influence. This book, while annoying in some parts due to my OCD about organization, provides a great overview of Dylan’s young life and struggle to become an established artists. The book was published in 1986, so at times Shelton makes guesses about what Dylan will do in the future, or what his influence will be, and we know that already! This book is a good read for anyone who likes music or likes to understand the impact that music can have on American society.

Advertisements