Chronicles: Volume One

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Chronicles, Volume One
Hardcover jacket
AuthorBob Dylan
CountryUnited States
SubjectBob Dylan
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
October 5, 2004
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages304 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN0-7432-2815-4 (first edition, hardcover)
782.42164/092 B 22
LC ClassML420.D98 A3 2004

Chronicles: Volume One is a memoir written by American musician Bob Dylan. The book was published on October 5, 2004, by Simon & Schuster.

The 304-page book covers three selected points from Dylan's long career: 1961, 1970, and 1989, while he was writing and recording Bob Dylan, New Morning and Oh Mercy, respectively. Chronicles is allegedly the first part of a planned 3-volume collection.

The book spent 19 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover nonfiction books.[1] Chronicles: Volume One was one of five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the Biography/Autobiography category for the 2004 publishing year.


Chronicles began as Dylan's attempt at writing liner notes for reissues of Bob Dylan, New Morning and Oh Mercy, but expanded into a larger project: "I got completely carried away in the process of... I guess call it, 'novelistic writing'".[2] Dylan claimed to work without an editor or collaborator while creating the book.[3]


Defying expectations,[4] Dylan wrote three chapters about the year between his arrival in New York City in 1961 and recording his first album, focusing on a brief period of relative obscurity, while virtually ignoring the mid-1960s when his fame was at its height.

He also devoted chapters to two lesser-known albums, New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989), which contained insights into his collaborations with poet Archibald MacLeish and producer Daniel Lanois. In the New Morning chapter, Dylan expresses distaste for the "spokesman of a generation" label bestowed upon him, and evinces disgust with his more fanatical followers.

At the end of the book, Dylan describes with great passion the moment when he listened to the Brecht/Weill song "Pirate Jenny", and the moment when he first heard Robert Johnson's recordings. In these passages, Dylan suggests that the process ignited his own songwriting.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Chronicles received many positive reviews, with The Telegraph remarking that the book had "garnered unanimous critical acclaim in the press".[5] The New York Times said that the book "is lucid without being linear, swirling through time without losing its strong storytelling thread".[6]

A review in New York magazine pointed out that many had speculated Dylan would write a "revenge memoir" and noted that "no doubt such a book would have been darkly fun, but the one Dylan’s written instead is superior—both less palatable and more worthwhile. He’s written a portrait of the artist as a young artist, foregrounding the evolution of his music. In doing so, he’s gone back and reconstructed not what the rest of us have found fascinating about his career but what he found fascinating, so fascinating that he’s been willing for 40-plus years to put up with the frequent and, by his own telling, sometimes nightmarish misfortune of being a cultural icon".[7]

In an interview conducted by Jonathan Lethem, published in Rolling Stone,[8] Dylan said he was very moved by the book's reception. "Most people who write about music, they have no idea what it feels like to play it. But with the book I wrote, I thought, 'The people who are writing reviews of this book, man, they know what the hell they're talking about.' It spoils you … they know more about it than me. The reviews of this book, some of 'em almost made me cry—in a good way. I'd never felt that from a music critic ever".

In 2019, Chronicles was ranked 95th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.[9]

A 2020 Rolling Stone list of the "50 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time" placed Chronicles first, noting that "[I]t’s safe to say that nobody expected [Dylan's] autobiography to be this intense. He rambles from one fragment of his life to another, with crazed characters and weird scenes in every chapter. It all hangs together, from his Minnesota boyhood (who knew Dylan started out as such a big wrestling fan?) to the 'deserted orchards and dead grass' of his Eighties bottoming-out phase".[10]

Accusations of inaccuracy[edit]

Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin has shown skepticism concerning the factualness of the book: "Jesus Christ, as far as I can tell almost everything in the Oh Mercy section of Chronicles is a work of fiction. I enjoy Chronicles as a work of literature, but it has a[s] much basis in reality as Masked And Anonymous, and why shouldn't it? He's not the first guy to write a biography that's a pack of lies".[11] Tom Carson of The New York Times Book Review also called the Oh Mercy chapter "a fairly fishy self-justification, but a good short story", and added: "The book is an act, but a splendid one – his sense of strategy vis-à-vis his audience hasn't been this keen in 30 years -- and it's a zesty, nugget-filled read".[12] Dylan had been upfront, however, about his memoir's tenuous relationship to the truth. He discussed his strategy for writing it in a Time magazine interview in 2001: "I’ll take some of the stuff that people think is true and I’ll build a story around that".[13]

Intertextual Appropriation[edit]

Some Dylan fans, like New Mexico disc jockey Scott Warmuth and Catholic University scholar Edward Cook, have deeply researched the unique language used throughout Chronicles: Volume One, and discovered that the book appropriates phrases, anecdotes, and descriptions from numerous authors.[14] Dylan incorporated unique phrases from books by Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Mezz Mezzrow, Marcel Proust, Henry Rollins and Mark Twain into his narrative. Dylan also cribbed phrases from less-likely sources, such as a TIME article from 1961, and a travel guide to New Orleans.[2]

A number of these instances of intertextual appropriation were detailed in David Kinney's book about hard-core fans of the artist, titled The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, as well as The Daily Beast.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The book contains a passage where the young Dylan meets and receives encouragement from the professional wrestler Gorgeous George. This passage is dramatized in the Marcus Carl Franklin-starring "Woody Guthrie" section of the film I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' unconventional 2007 biopic of Dylan. According to Haynes, it was the last scene he wrote for the film and the only one directly inspired by Chronicles: Volume One.[15]


Simon & Schuster have said that Dylan was expected to have begun working on Chronicles Vol. 2 while on a break from the Never Ending Tour in May 2008.[16] According to the book A Simple Twist of Fate, the sequel may feature a section detailing the making of Blood on the Tracks.[17] In August 2010, a source close to Dylan told Rolling Stone that there were no current plans to publish Chronicles Vol. 2: "I hope there's another one. That's all I can say. If it was planned I'd tell you".[18]

In September 2012, Dylan told Rolling Stone that he is working on Volume 2.[3] Dylan was quoted as saying that he had already completed chapters concerning The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Another Side of Bob Dylan, and that the book may focus primarily on the early years of his recording career.[3] During the interview, he claimed that the biggest holdup in the process was not the writing itself, but rather the editing: "I don't mind writing it, but it's the rereading it and the time it takes to reread it – that for me is difficult. The last Chronicles I did all myself".[3]

Audiobook and Promotional CD[edit]

Simon & Schuster released two audio versions of the book. The abridged version of the book is read by Sean Penn (a performance for which the actor was nominated for a Grammy Award[19]). The unabridged version is read by Nick Landrum.[20]

Columbia Records released a Chronicles promotional CD sampler featuring 6 songs that corresponded to the three main time periods covered in the book: a previously unreleased live 1962 version of "The Cuckoo", the New Morning tracks "New Morning" and "Father of Night", the Oh Mercy tracks "Political World" and "Man in the Long Black Coat" and a previously unreleased demo version of the song "Dignity" from 1989.[21]


  1. ^ Barton, Laura (2005-09-26). "All you can eat – Arts". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  2. ^ a b Kinney, David (2015). The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob. Simon & Schuster. p. 162. ISBN 978-1451626933.
  3. ^ a b c d The Guardian article: "Bob Dylan working on Chronicles sequel."
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (2004-10-05). "So You Thought You Knew Dylan? Hah!". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 2008-09-07.
  5. ^ The Telegraph article: "Bob Dylan's Chronicles: what the critics said".
  6. ^ The New York Times book review: "So You Thought You Knew Dylan? Hah!"
  7. ^ "Chronicles Volume One - New York Magazine Book Review - Nymag". New York Magazine. 7 October 2004. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  8. ^ "The Modern Times of Bob Dylan: A Legend Comes to Grips With His Iconic Status : RS 1008". Rolling Stone. 2006-09-07. Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  9. ^ "The 100 best books of the 21st century". The Guardian. 21 September 2019. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  10. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2020-12-19). "Rob Sheffield Picks 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2021-06-15.
  11. ^ Greene, Andy (May 23, 2011). "Questions About Bob Dylan's Claim That He was Once a Heroin Addict". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on February 19, 2018. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  12. ^ Carson, Tom (October 24, 2004). "'Chronicles': Zimmerman Unbound". The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  13. ^ Farley, Christopher John (2001-09-09). "Legend Of Dylan". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  14. ^ a b Francescani, Chris (18 May 2014). "Bob Dylan's 'Da Vinci Code' Revealed". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  15. ^ "No Matter How Many You See, Only 1 the Real Dylan". Chicago Tribune. 24 November 2007.
  16. ^ "News". Archived from the original on 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  17. ^ Boudreau, Mark (2008-06-12). "Cover Story Interview – Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks", with photography by Paul Till". The Rock and Roll Report. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  18. ^ Rolling Stone article: "Dylan's New 'Bootleg' to Feature Unearthed Live Show."
  19. ^ Retrieved 2022-02-11. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ "CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan Read by Nick Landrum | Audiobook Review". AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved 2022-08-10.
  21. ^ "2004". Retrieved 2022-02-11.

External links[edit]