Book Review: "Essays on Dylan" by John Hyldgaard
5/5 - Written like a true fan...
Since receiving it this morning, I have been immersed in a fan’s perspective of Dylan in the essays published by John Hyldgaard. Since then, as an avid Bob Dylan fan, I have been looking deep into my own knowledge and I think I might have just accidentally reignited my love affair with books written about Bob Dylan by fans of Bob Dylan. Thanks a lot, John, now I can get back to spending god knows how much money on this stuff.
The introduction to Hyldgaard’s book definitely gives us a perspective on Dylan. It is an overview, not overtly analytically written, but written in a way that everyone may listen and understand who Bob Dylan is and what he means to various people. Briefly, Hyldgaard goes through how Bob Dylan was called the “Spokesperson of a Generation” and yet was unresponsive to the claim of it, often subverting his opinions from it. Hyldgaard all in all, writes a book as a fan, for fans. And that is what I like to see out of the world of Bob Dylan.
The book starts off by looking at how Bob Dylan changed songwriting from the perspective of comparing Elvis Presley’s hit “Always on My Mind” that was written by three other people, to Bob Dylan’s song “Ballad in Plain D” - the song that we all know Dylan wrote about Suze Rotolo, but nobody wants to say it. Fortunately enough, as he stated that he wanted to look at the songs as if he did not know the author, Hyldgaard leaves this detail out of his analysis. This makes the analysis all the more interesting. If we do not link in all this biographical detail about Bob Dylan’s messy relationship with Rotolo’s family, we get a clean sweep of poetic analysis that honestly, I have never really read before.
My personal favourite chapter has to be on the social criticism in which Bob Dylan’s big folk songs such as “Masters of War”, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” are put under the microscope of the darkness of his time and filled with again, a fan’s perspective. Not concentrating so much on Dylan himself, but on the songs as pieces of music meant to be performed, Hyldgaard emphasises the importance of listening to the songs as well as reading them on a piece of paper. This is something I hardly ever see from other analyses. Other analyses often tell us to read the songs from the paper and that it is what Dylan says and not the way he says it. In Hyldgaard’s book, it is the exact opposite. It does not expel either, but emphasises the importance of the way Dylan says something.
One other thing I love about this book is that it actually goes through the way certain songs are sung. I try to do that in my own analyses of Bob Dylan as well, because I too, think that it matters way more than what we give it credit for. In the analysis for the song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, the writer Hyldgaard takes note of the way the different verses are sung and the way in which we have to listen to the different emotions of the song through the way in which they come out.
Through and through, I have thoroughly enjoyed this book on Bob Dylan. I know, it is not by Clinton Heylin, it is not by Ian Bell, it is not by Bob Dylan himself and it is not by Robert Zimmerman, whoever that is. You can laugh now.
But I think that the most important thing about this book is that it comes in at all angles whilst not trying to be presumptuous in any way. It does not just assume things about Bob Dylan’s life, it does not theorise things about his songs. It is a perspective that we can all understand. It comes in at an angle of poetics and voice, which not only is very Aristotelian of the writer but also offers the regular Bob Dylan fan who perhaps, does not want all the jargon in the middle, to read about Dylan and feel a true connection to the songs. And yes, it does help to listen to the songs whilst reading this book.