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Mark Polizzotti | Highway 61 Revisited (Continuum)

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highwayMembers of the Dylan cult desire revelation, commandments brought down from the mountain. Until then, another book will have to stand in.

 

 

 

If you ask Dave Eggers, we listen to music to figure it out. If you ask Bob Dylan about his songs, you are likely to learn more about Vaudeville than Dylan. If you ask a Bob Dylan fan about a Bob Dylan song, you will get an Honest to God Opinion. Fans will read this book because Highway 61 Revisited is as unknowable an album ever laid to acetate, yet the listener understands that there is much knowledge contained in its confines still left to speculation. Members of the Dylan cult desire revelation, commandments brought down from the mountain. Until then, another book will have to stand in.

Continuum's 33 1/3 series is tailor-made for those albums riddled with mystery in equal measure to beauty, whether it be a contemporary classic (Ok Computer) or holy grail (Pet Sounds). In Highway 61 Revisited, we have the greatest songwriter delivering one of the most complex and dystopic visions ever written. Anyone who has ever listened to "Desolation Row" knows it requires Cliff's Notes as in depth as my high school copy of The Sound and the Fury.

Mark Polizzotti does his best to capture the album in its epochal glory, but falls into the same well-tread terrain as most books involving Dylan. It is penitent. It tries its best to be exhaustive in its detailed explanations, then confess that it is this very impulse to grasp and package that Dylan sneered at in lines like "something is happening here/ But you don't know what it is/ Do you, Mister Jones?" from "Ballad of a Thin Man." Dylan's critique on Highway 61 is universal.

Forty years later, we still feel his eyes staring us down and no amount of professional research will alleviate it. Yet, I read on. Partially because books about Dylan are the next best thing we can get to Dylan. Fact is, I would rather read about Dylan than listen to Conor Oberst. Or Donovan. Or the next new Dylan. Does anyone know when the 33 1/3 take on Blood on the Tracks comes out? | James McAnally

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