Dylan’s Vision of Sin
By Christopher Ricks
Canongate – £14.99
”It ain’t the melodies that’re important, it’s the words.”
Who else but Bob Dylan could profess to such an execution of open and honest thinking? Funny thing is though, Dylan’s melodies are in many instances, as equally memorable and powerful as his words.
Alas, to each his own, but whenever I hear the opening chords to say ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ or ‘Hurricane’ or any number of his songs, I am immediately transported unto another place before Dylan even popens his mouth. Might this be because I know what’s coming? Or might this be because of the sheer finesse and briliance of his musicality?
Either way, it just is; but betwixt said uncertainty/curiosity, there does lurk a hunger to delve ever further. That is, to investigate the initial kernel of what may have sparked whatever song it is I am listening to; which, given Dylan’s colossal catalogue, is no mean feat.
This may go someway into explaining why there are so many Bob Dylan books available. Books about Dylan himself, if not certain aspects of his nigh unstoppable writing. Books about his time spent in New York City, if not his religious endeavours.
In this instance, we have Christopher Ricks’s Dylan’s Vision of Sin, which, to all intents and poetic purposes, may be more justified than others. Depending on your point of view. According to The Sunday Times’ Bryan Appleyard: ”Everything Ricks has to say about Dylan is original. He is a critic who seems to be talking to you from within the work. He can turn the smallest niche in a poem into a vast cathedral of resonance and implication.”
”A vast cathedral of resonance and implication,” now there’s a description. Although this reviewer cannot help but agree with him!
Compartmenalized into three distinct sections (‘The Sins,’ The Virtues’ and ‘The Heavenly Graces’), each of this book’s sixteen chapters will make most followers of Dylan sit-up, read ever further and take note. Even if just momentarily. Even if they don’t agree. A facet of writing, which to my mind at least, can only be a good thing: ”[…] rhyme is itself one of the forms that metaphor may take, since rhyme is a perception of agreement and disagreement, of similitude and dissimilitude. Simultaneously, a spark. Long, long ago, Aristotle said in the Poetics that the greatest thing by far is to be master of metaphor, for it is upon our being able to learn from the perception of similitude and dissimilitude that human learning of all kinds depends. One form that mastery of metaphor may take is mastery of rhyme.”
This in itself, shows a quintessential depth of analysis that’ll no doubt trigger many a Dylan head into revisiting many a track of the artist’s work. One of the prime reasons being, much of the analysis herein comes from a whole different angle; which, apart from anything else, suggests a certain credo that is and remains refreshing to say the very least: ”I think it’s true that women in Dylan’s vicinity sometimes have as their mission being rhymed into submission, but that isn’t battering, it’s bantering. Still, the rhyming can be fierce. Take the force of the couplet in ‘Idiot Wind,’ ”Blowing like a circle round my skull/From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.””
Dylan’s Vision of Sin is a wonderfully written, inspired and more than compelling read. In the words of The Guardian’s Andrew Motion: ”The rewards are just as one would expect: a bracing attention to artfulness, a wonderful sensitivity to nuance, and a particularly brilliant sympathy with the purpose and effect of Dylan’s rhymes.”