American singer-songwriter and the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Bob Dylan’s new book The Philosophy of Modern Song, was released this November, and it has garnered great attention from pop music fans, culture aficionados, and literature enthusiasts alike.
Dylan had been working on the book since 2010, and this is his first release since he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Published by Simon & Schuster, they launched the book on 1st November 2022. Simon & Schuster also published Dylan’s previous book, Chronicles: Volume One, in 2004.
A Journey Through 66 Songs
The work consists of sixty-six essays breaking down classic songs such as “Saturday Night at the Movies” by The Drifters, “Come Rain or Come Shine” by Judy Garland, “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” In incredibly rich poetic language and wonderful imagery, Dylan performs an intricate dissection of each of these musical masterpieces and examines what makes them unforgettable.
Bob Dylan’s style and tone oscillate throughout the work, from laugh-out-loud moments to dreamy poetic sequences around characters of certain songs. At times, the work brings to mind his elusive and enigmatic poetry collection, Tarantula, which was published in 1971.
The best way to read the book would be to take your time with it – to listen to the songs and then read what Dylan has to say about them. Chances are you would not listen to the song the same way again for he will bring to your attention aspects of the song that didn’t occur to you and at the same time, articulate your exact sentiments about the song.
A Masterclass in Song craft and Songwriting
The selection of songs in the book can be used to trace the various influences on Dylan’s own music. The songs mostly feature those that Dylan must have heard in his youth and therefore, the reader would find the stark absence of any recent music. Nevertheless, the choices are honest and interesting, since Dylan finds something in them that is ageless.
The book, aptly named, is an exposition on ‘the philosophy of the modern song.’ While occasionally Dylan would dwell on melody, arrangement, and other technical aspects of music, he never sounded pedantic. In fact, what he hints at is much more essential to the human heart.
Some Points of Criticism
Rolling stone has accused Bob Dylan of being a “master gaslighter” in his new book and indeed, Dylan himself seems anxious about feminist critics running after him “through the village with torches”.
Very few songs by women singers have been touched upon by Dylan throughout the book and certain statements lean towards misogyny, especially in his comments on “Pump It Up”, a song by Elvis Costello.
Despite its flaws, Dylan’s new book is quite an interesting read. Littered with vintage photographs of record stores, album covers, and postcards, the book evokes a nostalgic mood that engulfs the reader in the world it conjures. The book definitely has a vibe!