‘100 Songs’ fails to capture scope of Bob Dylan’s workWritten by Ben Konop | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Dylan, 100 Songs and Pictures” (Omnibus Press, $49.95) is a book that falls well short of living up to the legacy of the book’s namesake, Bob Dylan.
Recently, I was fortunate to be able to watch Dylan and his band perform in concert at the majestic Fox Theatre in Detroit. This was anywhere from the 30th to the 50th time I have seen him perform live, and the Fox was probably one of his more distinguished stops on his “Never Ending Tour” and my never-ending following of the “Never Ending Tour.”
I lost track of my Dylan concert count somewhere in the early part of this decade, around the time I saw him play a steamy outdoor matinee at a Harley Davidson festival hosted by the Preakness Race Track in Baltimore. Dylan was nearly shirtless by the end of that set and his guitarist, Charlie Sexton, at one point vomited stage left, probably due to the 100-degree temperatures engulfing the band and the thousands of leather-wearing patrons.
The Harley show was a far more raucous affair than the first time I saw Dylan play in 1994 in the poultry capital of America — Gainesville, Georgia. As it was my first taste of live Dylan, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for processed chicken and “Tangled up in Blue,” the first song I heard Dylan perform as I walked in to the show at the quaint Georgia Mountains Center.
Along the way, I’ve seen him and his band play run-down minor league baseball stadiums, massive summer music festivals, the beautiful amphitheater of the Toledo Zoo, and a small, decrepit former Catholic church. Perhaps the only constant at these shows is the crowd reaction. There are people who leave the concerts bewildered, thrilled, disappointed, inspired, haunted, too wasted to care, and pretty much everything in between.
One of the intangible qualities that has always drawn me to Dylan as an artist is his mercurial independence.
No matter what one thinks of his voice, his guitar playing, writing or politics (or lack thereof), one has to acknowledge that Dylan pretty much does what is in his heart, follows his instincts, holds no grudges and lets the rest take care of itself.
Not only is this a good lesson for some of my colleagues in local government, but his would be a good lesson for Omnibus Press. The publishers of “Dylan, 100 Songs and Pictures” produced a rather tedious and mundane collection of sheet music, pictures and assorted brief commentary on Dylan that takes no chances, has no soul and delivers no results.
The coffee-table sized tome, measuring in at 495 over-sized pages, adds nothing new to even a casual Dylan fan’s understanding of his work.
As far as my Dylan-trained eye can tell, very few of the pictures (all in black and white) are particularly rare, and often times the date of the picture doesn’t correlate to the date or even decade of the song that it is placed next to in the text. As far as the commentary interspersed throughout, it rarely is controversial, insightful or unexpected — the exact opposite of the artist it seeks to define.
And while the rather odd choice of adding hundreds of pages of Dylan’s sheet music to the mix does literally add some weight to the work, one would be better off just buying a book of sheet music for a quarter of the price, and avoid the clutter that is “Dylan, 100 Songs and Pictures.”
Speaking of price, according to Amazon this book retails for $49.95. Dear Toledoans, even if you disagree with every vote I have ever cast as a commissioner, please invest your hard-earned Dylan holiday funds elsewhere.
For example, for the same price as this book, you could buy the landmark Dylan albums “The Times They are a Changin’,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blood on the Track,” and “Love and Theft.” These would give you the breadth and depth, despair and hope, and insight and humor that “100 Songs and Pictures” sorely lacks. Plus, you would actually get to hear Dylan himself ask, “How does it feeeeeeeeel?”
Or best yet, $49.95 could buy you a pretty good seat at Dylan’s next Midwestern tour stop (maybe at our new Lucas County Arena, God willing). Perhaps you will go, complain that you can’t understand anything Dylan is singing, and leave midway through the show like the folks who sat to my left at Dylan’s recent Fox Theatre gig.
Or perhaps you will literally end up in tears during Dylan’s encore rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone” just like the baby boomer couple that sat in front of me at the Fox. Or maybe you will walk out of the show, like me, a little perplexed, a tad frustrated, but a lot alive, knowing that you just witnessed a genius, in his element, creating something that will be remembered for centuries.
Ben Konop is a Lucas County Commissioner.
Tags: Bob Dylan