I've been reading a lot of Nick Hornby over the past year. Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy have all been turned into films, but Fever Pitch the movie has nothing to do with the book, except that the main characters are sports obsessed. The movie turns the London football club Arsenal into the Boston Red Sox and turns a memoir into a romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore. Not much in common really. I also read A Long Way Down and The Polysyllabic Spree. As you might guess since I've read so much of his stuff over such a short span, I recommend Nick Hornby.
The thing is, you spot patterns when you read one writer enough, and with Hornby, it's easy to come to the conclusion that nice guys with no ambition are really jerks underneath it all. As an antidote to that feeling, I recommend Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan. With Chronicles, you come away with the view that a very ambitious young man who often looked like a jerk in public was really very gracious underneath it all.
Young Bob Dylan was famous for giving journalists and publicists massive amounts of grief. He tells a story on himself about lying to a Columbia representative when he was first signed to the label. But also among the stories he tells on himself is his love for music of all kinds. Of course he loved folk music. His love and respect for Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk and Harry Belafonte will surprise nobody. It's not completely surprising he could recognize genius that didn't look that much his own talent, so when he speaks of his love for the songs of Harold Arlen or the voice of Judy Garland or the combination of both talents in Roy Orbison, you see someone who understands music on many levels, even on paths he will not choose to take himself.
The surprise of the book is his empathy and respect for a lot of artists you might think he wouldn't know or wouldn't notice or just have contempt for, remembering his withering treatment of the starstruck Donovan in the documentary Don't Look Back. Bob Dylan loved Johnny Rivers, says Rivers' cover of Positively Fourth Street is his favorite cover of any of his tunes. Minnesota native Bob Dylan loved Bobby Vee, who also grew up in the frozen north in Fargo. In New York without much money, he made time to see Bobby Vee and go backstage. Reading his name in the paper felt like being back home. Bob Dylan feels a real kinship for Ricky Nelson, especially when Nelson gets grief for changing his musical direction. He remembers when he started in New York City, playing little clubs and getting paid in free hot dogs, waiting on line with other performers like Tiny Tim.
Dylan's memories are sharp, and though they are of course written by an older man looking back, the sharpness of the memories gives the feeling that he is remembering the emotions of the young man, not sugar coating them to make himself look better. It's a hell of a memoir, and I know I'll buy the second volume if he ever decides to publish it.
Nick Hornby. Bob Dylan. Matty Boy says check 'em out.
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