Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reading as a Writer

Bob Dylan, in Chronicles, commenting on how he learned from Robert Johnson:

I listened to it repeatedly, cut after cut, one song after another, sitting staring at the record player. Whenever I did, it felt like a ghost had come into the room, a fearsome apparition. The songs were layered with a startling economy of lines... I started meditating on the construction of the verses, seeing how different they were from Woody's. Johnson's words made my nerves quiver like piano wires. They were so elemental in meaning and feeling and gave you so much of the inside picture. It's not that you could sort out every moment carefully, because you can't. There are too many missing terms and too much dual existence. Johnson bypasses tedious decriptions that other blues writers would have written whole songs about. There's no guarantee that any of his lines either happened, were said, or even imagined. When he sings about icicles hanging on a tree it gives me the chills, or about milk turning made me nauseous and I wondered how he did that...I copied Johnson's words down on scraps of paper so I could examine more closely the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction—themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease. I didn't have any of those dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them.

No comments: