I was wrong about Bob Dylan,

And not just slightly wrong, but almost completely wrong. It’s also not for a few hours, days or months, but in fact for 59 years. September 1963 to be exact. Dylan’s album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was released in May. In November of that year, Dylan came to Syracuse to do a benefit for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) at the Regent Theater. This is now believed to be the concert where he unveiled his song ‘The Times They Are A Changin”.

I was walking through a motel parking lot with the woman I would marry four years later when he arrived. We were on our way to lunch.

A huge black Cadillac limo pulled up a few yards away. Three guys came out of the back seat dressed in jeans and Army-Navy store duds like Dylan on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” None of them were actually Dylan.

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He came out last. He was dressed in a dark suit and tie. My father, who worked his whole life in the men’s and boys’ clothing business, always believed that men, young and old, should “dress well”. He would have warmly approved of Dylan’s travel threads.

The irony was too great for my primitive, still adolescent (18 year old) brain to handle properly. If you want to know the truth, it helped cloud my judgment of Dylan for the next 59 years.

No more. I read what I consider to be THE great book of 2022: “The Philosophy of Modern Song” by Bob Dylan, richly illustrated (Simon and Schuster, 340 pages, $45). It officially releases on November 1, some 59 years after that. Syracuse CORE Benefit Concert. There is already enthusiasm for early release.

Somehow I had gotten it into my head at the time that the image of scruffy, Boho Bob of Greenwich Village – the composer of “protest songs” and heir to Woody Guthrie – was a commercial fraud, and the real guy was a careerist who preferred a suit and tie.

I had effectively imprisoned myself in adolescent irony by convincing myself that I had seen a secret truth that was contrary to the image sold by the record labels and music journalists (and eventually by the dylanologists and the Swedes of the committee who awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature).

You’d have to be deaf not to like bushels of Dylan songs. I even liked his crass “I’m-too-nasal-to-be-Woody-Guthrie” voice. And I always loved it when he found a perverse way to confuse his fans, worshipers, and image-makers — which he often did.

But he never seemed to me as important as to so many others for whom I had great esteem.

And then I read that in Dylan’s absolutely amazing new book. Back when Elvis Costello appeared in a suit and tie and wrote “Pump It Up”, Dylan writes “The English appeared in a suit and tie, no matter how poor they were. With the way they dressed, every Englishman was equal. Unlike the United States of America, where people wore jeans and work boots and all types of clothing, projecting glaring inequality, the British, if nothing else had dignity and pride and they didn’t dress like tramps. Money or no money. The dress code equalized one and all in old Britain.”

And in Bob Dylan’s seat in a limo on the New York State highway in 1963, too. Suddenly, I understood why, in his perversity, a man doing a performance for CORE, dressed like a client of my father. Dylan gave me a new way to understand him.

So let me reaffirm that “The Philosophy of Modern Song” is not just one of the great books of the year, but of the past decade.

All my instinctive superiority over the Swedes who awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature now presents itself as an errant judgment awaiting a triumphant correction via intelligence and common sense.

It’s a terrific book. It’s unexpected in every way. It is nothing less than an attempt to struggle with popular music in the English language since the 1950s. It is a magnificent book of music criticism disguised as a memoir and a collection of improvised fantasies and confidences.

It’s his genius. It is not intended as a work of music criticism; it’s a lifelong performer’s attempt to penetrate deep into a panorama of pop songs and a lifelong consumer of other singers’ outlets as a member of their audience.

It speaks to the reader in a way that is unique to us, immediate and familiar. He says things that are fresh – even wild and radical – on every other page of the book, but he does it in the second person with an intellectual weight disguised as first-person testimony to the genre that we Americans love so much. , whether it’s on Oprah or at a speaker’s meeting of a 12-step program or a class at the Actor’s Studio.

The book stunned me, to use a word we sometimes come across these days. His tone is extraordinary. Just as much, if not more, is its object.

Don’t look for old Dylan friends like Joan Baez or Woody Guthrie among the songs.

Instead, look for “The Little White Cloud Who Wept” by Johnny Ray. And Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” (which turns into Dylan’s meditation on modern traffic.) and Lerner and Lowe’s “On the Street Where You Live.” And “Volare” by Domenico Modugno. And Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”, Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Crying Mercy”, Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (i.e. Jimmy Webb), as well as Rosemary Clooney “Come-On-a-My-House” (written by Ross Bagdasarian – that is, David Seville – and, yes, William Saroyan.)

He dives so deeply into this wildly eccentric collection of songs that he can’t help but offend. But he does it as an extremely creative actor learning the method of, say, Stella Adler. Or maybe like a great novelist and poet giving songs stories they never imagined.

I kept driving myself around a bit thinking “where have I come across that quirky tone before?” And then it struck me: in one of the greatest works of American literary criticism, DH Lawrence’s “Studies in Classic American Literature” where it is still perfectly evident that these founding books of American civilization are considered by a writer who is himself a great novelist and poet – that is, a magic storyteller.

Believe me, you never imagined these songs would get plays like this. How about “Come-On-A-My-House” imagined as the song of a “deviant” or “mass murderer… The guy who has thirty corpses under the basement and human skulls in the fridge” ? Dylan imagines this nightmare, indeed, singing “I’ve got pomegranates for you and figs, dates and cakes. It’s a thug song disguised as a happy pop hit. It’s just a song from the little riding hood red sung by a spirit scrapper, a wizard.”

It’s an eminently Dylanesque black joke that enthusiastically goes over the line. But in doing so, it shows you a dark underside where we’re convinced no such thing exists. He does it with the irony of the hammer and pliers of a great Dylan standard.

The invigorating shock of this book is even greater than Joni Mitchell’s 2000 record “Both Sides Now,” in which Dylan’s female counterpart as a singer-songwriter suddenly decided to transform into a performer. deep and brilliant songs from others, classics such as “Finally”, “You are my thrill” and “Comes Love”.

I have, for years, read my colleague Jeff Miers about Bob Dylan without passing through the wrought iron gates of irony that I recorded 60 years ago. When Jeff reviewed Dylan’s “Chronicles Vol. 1”, he called Dylan the Writer “an utterly compelling, unique, and sometimes transcendent writer whose … voice shares the same vernacular found by so many characters in his songs”.

In these pieces of unique music criticism, he does something with his voice that few of us ever imagined he would do.

That’s all for me. I finally admit how far from Dylan’s imaginary realm I ended up landing when my own imaginative doors closed.

If the Swedes want to go ahead and give him yet another Nobel Prize in Literature, for my part, I will applaud vigorously.

Let any possible objectors read this book first.