The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan. Simon & Schuster. 338 pages. 2022
This is an interesting book, beginning with the title (which doesn’t really tell you anything about the book), and the cover (Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and the little-known Alis Lesley “the female Elvis”). The book, which Dylan began working on in 2010, before he was presented with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, features sixty-six short chapters about songs recorded by other artists, ranging from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Little Richard, to the Eagles, Santana, Willie Nelson, the Who, and Dion. The song selection seems odd – just four by women, many that I’d never heard of, with the highest percentage being songs released in the 1950’s, with nine being released in 1956 when Dylan was fifteen years old. Dylan never says why he selected the songs, whether they are favorites, songs that influenced him, etc. There is no introduction to the book. Instead, Dylan goes right into a chapter on “Detroit City”, a 1963 hit by Bobby Bare. Many have compared Dylan’s writing in the book to his Theme Time Radio Hour satellite radio show he hosted from 2006 to 2009.
Each chapter includes photographs – nearly 150 are included, but none have captions, leading the reader to guess at times why the photo is included. Dylan writes a rambling riff/essay based on the lyrics of the song, and then adds comments about the artist.
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