Like a Rolling Stone (2005) Review

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I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan. Like anyone else, I enjoy his work from the 1960s the most. This period is the basis for not only my affection, but millions of others. I don’t get into the albums from his religious phases or the 1980s and early 1990s that tarnish his legacy. Bob Dylan is one of my key inspirations in writing poetry. He can say what he means, say nothing at all, and do both at the same time. I like to learn about the people who influence me, and there are many books about this enigmatic figure. This was on a shelf at my local library and I thought it would help me in discovering more. I’m sure some of those books about Dylan could help me, but this isn’t one of them.

A few reviews on goodreads.com weren’t glowing. I thought I’d judge for myself. If it was as bad as some of the reviews said I’d stop reading and take it back, which is what happened. If you want to learn about Bob Dylan this isn’t the book to study. This is a book written for the sake of the author, and pretentious from the outset.

The purpose of this book is to write about a single song in depth. The song is “Like a Rolling Stone” from the 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. How pretentious is that? An essay I could see devoted to a single song, but not an entire book close to 300 pages. One might expect a lot of unneeded and unwanted filler. There’s a lot of it. At least as far as I able to read. I grew tired of wading through the muck and walked back out of this mess before I got sucked in too deep.

I made it through the first two chapters. Bob Dylan was never the focus in a book about him and one of his songs. In fact, Joan Baez gets highlighted more. The writer, Greil Marcus, talks about a song Baez sings. He doesn’t tell us what the song is, but tells us it’s probably a 17th Century folk ballad. Marcus couldn’t bother to do the research and find out for certain. Fifteen pages in and his credibility ruined.

Marcus keeps referring to this song being about the band The Rolling Stones. It isn’t, and I’ve never heard anyone ever say it is. He would write a few lines on this idea, then move on to another subject. He made his way back to this a few different times. I couldn’t understand the reason. It confused me. I don’t know why he bothered to even mention it once other than he had quite a lot of space to fill.

Marcus goes on and on writing vague generalities and analogies that lose the reader. Often I had no idea what he was trying to convey. The first chapter, “The Day Kennedy Was Shot,” covers various Civil Rights issues and the Watts riot without even mentioning Kennedy. Again, this is about a single song. However, Marcus refers to Dylan’s work from 1997, 2001, and earlier songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War.” The main topic lays hidden or ignored. The writing is like the worst type of folk song. It goes on and on, saying nothing important, nothing about the main subject, nothing at all. In a way it’s more about the writer showing, or trying to show, how smart they think they are.

I’ve learned my lesson and will be avoiding anything by Greil Marcus. I understand he once wrote for Rolling Stone. Perhaps his work in those pages is better than his work in these. The editors, guidelines, and vast of amount of overseers kept him focused. Without the higher structure over him as he wrote his own books, he ignores the reader and the subject at hand. He writes for himself, to show he is the witty intellect he perceives himself to be. Instead, the only thing he shows is that he is the worst form of writer, and in all aspects his style is pretentious.

Copyright © Drew Martin 2016

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