Cover image for Dylan's visions of sin
Dylan's visions of sin
Ricks, Christopher, 1933-
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New York : Ecco, 2004.
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517 pages ; 25 cm
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ML420.D98 R53 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Bob Dylan's ways with words are a wonder, matched as they are with his music and verified by those voices of his. In response to the whole range of Dylan early and late (his songs of social conscience, of earthly love, of divine love, and of contemplation), this critical appreciation listens to Dylan's attentive genius, alive in the very words and their rewards.

"Fools they made a mock of sin." Dylan's is an art in which sins are laid bare (and resisted), virtues are valued (and manifested), and the graces brought home. The seven deadly sins, the four cardinal virtues (harder to remember?), and the three heavenly graces: these make up everybody's world -- but Dylan's in particular. Or rather, his worlds, since human dealings of every kind are his for the artistic seizing. Pride is anatomized in "Like a Rolling Stone," Envy in "Positively 4th Street," Anger in "Only a Pawn in Their Game" ... But, hearteningly, Justice reclaims "Hattie Carroll," Fortitude "Blowin' in the Wind," Faith "Precious Angel," Hope "Forever Young," and Charity "Watered-Down Love."

In The New Yorker, Alex Ross wrote that "Ricks's writing on Dylan is the best there is. Unlike most rock critics -- 'forty-year-olds talking to ten-year-olds,' Dylan has called them -- he writes for adults." In the Times (London), Bryan Appleyard maintained that "Ricks, one of the most distinguished literary critics of our time, is almost the only writer to have applied serious literary intelligence to Dylan ... "

Dylan's countless listeners (and even the artist himself, who knows?) may agree with W.H. Auden that Ricks "is exactly the kind of critic every poet dreams of finding."

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ricks, a professor of humanities at Boston University, allows his own musings about Bob Dylan to go "blowin' in the wind" in this love letter to the enigmatic bard. Focusing on the centrality of the seven deadly sins (pride, anger, lust, envy, sloth, greed, covetousness), the four virtues (justice, temperance, fortitude, prudence) and the three graces (faith, hope, love) in Dylan's writings, Ricks confirms Dylan's poetic genius and elevates the poet of the north country to canonical status alongside Tennyson, Shakespeare and Milton. Through a series of closely engaged readings of selected songs, Ricks demonstrates how each reflects a concern with sin, virtue or grace. Thus, "Lay, Lady, Lay" becomes an anthem of lust, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" a paean to fortitude and "If Not for You" a tribute to love. In every reading of the songs, he compares Dylan's poetry to the work of other poets, often finding either explicit correspondence or structural echoes of earlier works. For example, Ricks contends that the structure of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" mimics the structure of the early Scottish ballad "Lord Randal." Sometimes Ricks strives to be too hip and precious as when he characterizes "Lay, Lady, Lay" as "erotolayladylaylia," and when he concludes that there are similarities between other poems and Dylan's by providing a list of one word correspondences, as he does with "Lay, Lady, Lay" and Donne's "To His Mistress Going to Bed." Nevertheless, Ricks's affectionate critical tour-de-force reminds readers why Dylan continues to encourage our "hearts always to be joyful" and our "songs always to be sung" as we remain "forever young." (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Literally hundreds of books have been written about Bob Dylan and his music, but very few have considered his lyrics as works of literature. One notable exception is John Hinchey's fine Like a Complete Unknown: The Poetry of Bob Dylan's Songs 1961-1969 (2002). Ricks (humanities, Boston Coll.; formerly English, Cambridge) takes things a step further with his scholarly approach to over three decades of Dylan's music. Ricks, who has previously written about Keats, Browning, Milton, and Eliot, is an old-school literary critic more interested in understanding and appreciating the works at hand than in deconstructing them. His criticism is erudite and incisive, his writing witty and enjoyable, and his analysis broadened by comparisons to the poetry of canonical writers such as Eliot, Hopkins, and Larkin. The title is, however, a bit of a misnomer. While the book takes a thematic approach based on the seven deadly sins, it also covers the four virtues and the three graces. Highly recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries with strong literature or music collections.-Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Dylan's Visions of Sin Songs, Poems, Rhymes Songs, Poems Dylan has always had a way with words. He does not simply have his way with them, since a true comprehender of words is no more their master, than he or she is their servant. The triangle of Dylan's music, his voice and his unpropitiatory words: this is still his equilateral thinking. One day a critic may do justice not just to all three of these independent powers, but to their interdependence in Dylan's art. The interdependence doesn't have to be a competition, it is a culmination -- the word chosen by Allen Ginsberg, who could bean awe-inspiring poet and was an endearing awful music-maker, for whom Dylan's songs were "the culmination of Poetry-music as dreamt of in the '50s & early 60s". Dylan himself has answered when asked: Why are you doing what you're doing? [Pause] "Because I don't know anything else to do. I'm good at it." How would you describe "it"? "I'm an an artist. I try to create art." What follows this clarity, or follows from it, has been differently put by him over the forty years, finding itself crediting the words and the music variously at various times. The point of juxtaposing his utterances isn't to catch him out, it is to see him catching different emphases in all this, undulating and diverse. WORDS RULE, OKAY? "I consider myself a poet first and a musician second." "It ain't the melodies that're important man, it's the words." MUSIC RULES, OKAY? "Anyway it's the song itself that matters, not the sound of the song. I only look at them musically. I only look at them as things to sing. It's the music that the words are sung to that's important. I write the songs because I need something to sing. It's the difference between the words on paper and the song. The song disappears into the air, the paper stays." NEITHER ACOUSTIC NOR ELECTRIC RULES, OKAY? Do you prefer playing acoustic over electric? "They're pretty much equal to use. I try not to deface the song with electricity or non-electricity. I'd rather get something out of the song verbally and phonetically than depend on tonality of instruments. JOINT RULE, OKAY? Would you say that the words are more important than the music? "The words are just as important as the music. There would be no music without the words." "It's not just pretty words to a tune or putting tunes to words, there's nothing that's exploited. The words and the music, I can hear the sound of what I want to say." "The lyrics to the songs ... just so happens that it might be a little stranger than in most songs. I find it easy to write songs. I have been writing songs for a long time and the words to the songs aren't written out for just the paper, they're written as you can read it, you dig? If you take whatever there is to the song away -- the beat, the melody -- I could still recite it. I see nothing wrong with songs you can't do that with either -- songs that, if you took the beat and melody away, they wouldn't stand up. Because they're not supposed to do that you know. Songs are songs." Dylan's Visions of Sin . Copyright © by Christopher Ricks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Dylan's Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.