Gray's Anatomy



The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia by Michael Gray (Continuum)

Like a bloody train wreck, some books just have an inevitable likelihood of being written. They are labors of twisted love and devotion holding a virtually pornographic fascination for both the writer and his audience. Dense and devotional, it is no coincidence that this weighty tome resembles a cross between a dictionary, a Bible, and a pathology manual. Everything you needed to know -- or didn't need or want to know -- about Bob Dylan is slavishly annotated. No rolling stone that once whizzed past or near the Simmerman is left unturned. It is the perfect rock coffee table book, ideal for a casual browse, but infinitely depressing in totality; it reads like a stalker's compendium.

Popular culture once lacked serious consideration, but now it begets too much seriousness, and the most trivial moments are expanded and expounded upon. Songs are dissected, bit part players are listed, and the downside of information is that you can have too much of it. Turning art into academia drains it of life. Music for pleasure is always best when remembered.

Michael Gray has turned himself into Dylan's Boswell of the clippings and detritus. His is a book that can at best bemuse his hero, but is more likely to worry him.

In a recent interview with The Observer, Dylan joked that the Sixties were his and the interviewer could have them back. I imagine that this obese, obsessive trawl through his past would merit the same kind of sentiment. It should bear the subtitle A Scribe's Folly.

Being a fan should be fun, not a career. There is much here that the curious devotee will find illuminating, but that is merely a byproduct of Gray's obsession. Proceed with caution, for it might be contagious. Trees were felled for better, less contrived volumes than this. Fascinating, but not for all the reasons that Michael Gray believes.

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