Thursday, July 18, 2019

Decoding Dylan: Making Sense of the Songs That Changed Modern Culture

Decoding Dylan: Making Sense of the Songs That Changed Modern Culture
By Jim Curtis
  • File Size: 3865 KB
  • Print Length: 177 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (April 11, 2019)
  • Publication Date: April 11, 2019
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English

Taking readers behind Bob Dylan’s familiar image as the enigmatic rebel of the 1960s, this book reveals a different view—that of a careful craftsman and student of the art of songwriting. Drawing on revelations from Dylan’s memoir Chronicles and a variety of other sources, the author arrives at a radically new interpretation of his body of work, which revolutionized American music and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. Dylan’s songs are viewed as collages, ingeniously combining themes and images from American popular culture and European high culture.

My Thoughts

I admit I was pretty excited to see a book with the words  Decoding Dylan in the title.  I've long thought of Bob Dylan as a lyrical genius in using a cadence to engage us with simple repetitive words that paint a story. So, studying this book by Jim Curtis which analyses Dylan's life and work utilizing procedures cryptographers typically use I found intriguing.

We know Dylan was a chronicler of social issues in the 1960s.  This book provides readers with a series of contexts. It begins with a look at a film that depicts Dylan's concert tour in England in 1965 and transports us back to his childhood and up through his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition" and goes on to mention his work in sculpting iron.

I might start this review by explaining that my early childhood memories were not of Bob Dylan. Rather, I grew up listening to my dad pick and sing Hank Williams's songs while my mom played Elvis Presley's album, 'His Hand in Mine', over and over. 

This book does detail both of these men being influential in Dylan's life and analyzes his song,  'Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again'.

I recall many years ago listening to an interview where Dylan said there would be no music without the words and this stuck with me as the first time I heard 'Blowin' In The Wind' was when Peter, Paul, and Mary sang it. And this would have never been possible without Dylan's lyrics. 

If you'd ask my husband his favorite  Bob Dylan song he would definitely state, 'All Along the Watchtower'.  And when asked why, he would surely state because Jimi Hendrix saw Dylan's brilliance and electrified it.

Perhaps those of us who listen to Bob Dylan are drawn to his reclusiveness much as we are lured to writers like Hemingway or perhaps we recognize Dylan being a keen observer to the world around him- a world we are all a part of.

Either way, Jim Curtis does an outstanding job of taking readers back in time to characters and scenes that provide the atmosphere. You learn some of the obstacles Dylan faced and recognize he survived when many other entertainers didn't. 

If one were to sit down with Bob Dylan one might think of a zillion possible questions to ask about him about his creative methods and love of ballads and blues. But I rather think we would just like to listen...listen to him speak or listen to him to sing another song that changed modern culture.

I received this book through the generosity of Jim Curtis' publisher McFarland (

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