Author Chris Morris, who penned the excellent Los Lobos biography “Dream in Blue” in 2015, is back with a new book, this effort chronicling both the work of Bob Dylan and how that work intersected with the author’s personal life. Originally, the Dylan pieces were presented as a series of online posts, a helpful diversion to assist Morris in overcoming his writer’s block on the Los Lobos book. Morris is brave enough to reveal less flattering parts of his personal life and also rejects much of the common conventional wisdom regarding Dylan’s catalogue. In the latter category, Morris not only pans “The Basement Tapes,” but also dismisses the majority of Dylan’s topical songs – the type of material that gave lazy observers an easy way to peg an indefinable artist. Morris serves as neither a Dylan apologist nor a cheerleader and his ability to convey both the technical and emotional elements of music make him one of the most talented individuals in the field of rock criticism.
While it’s a short book, it’s not one to be wolfed down in a quick setting – that would do an injustice to the writing and the subject matter. The best way to think of this book is as a companion piece to the Dylan music catalogue, taking the time to listen to the albums while reading each chapter will reinforce the opinions being presented. Since Dylan has been recording since 1962, Morris reflects back to his pre-teen years, living in a “good Commie household” which had a strong affection for the folk music of their time. Morris takes the reader on a personal journey through college, a mental breakdown, several romantic relationships, and overindulgences with drugs and alcohol. At the same time, he’s narrating the unfathomable/culture changing highs and bewildering lows of Dylan’s career (check out the production sound of 1985’s “Empire Burlesque” album if you need a good laugh today). Morris understands our collective limitations when it comes to Cipher Bob by starting his introduction with, “Bob Dylan will never be solved, and I am not here to solve him.”
This is perhaps somewhat of a niche book, the target audience being readers who are fans of the work of both Dylan and Morris. It’s one that I will most likely always keep, as an idiosyncratic consumer guide and a reminder that good writing about music is just as valuable art as the subject matter being discussed.