11th December, 2011

Bob Dylan: Alias Anything You Please

Ty Silkman (© 2011, Titan Books) 

Biography book review by Cato Barend van Schalwyk‘‘

Bob Dylan: Alias Anything You Please’ is a book of photographs. It’s not a biography, and it is emphatically not a critique of Dylan’s songs, lyrics and music. However the text and captions of this book do attempt to perform a kind of critique of Dylan as a subject of the photographer’s camera.

’This is the opening of the preface and perhaps a summing-up of the key likes and issues I have with this book. This is most certainly a book of photographs. And whilst haphazard in its lack of chronology, it captures the life of Bob Dylan through an interesting mix of shots, from iconic poses in professional portraits to the more opportunistic images gleaned by the paparazzi.

It would be unnecessary to argue Bob Dylan’s status as an iconic figure and in this respect, ‘Alias Anything You Please’ does little to detract or further the case. The photographs, by and large, are stunning and engaging to look at, and not just as moments captured either, but for the stories and no doubt nostalgia they hold as well.

And yet there is something insubstantial. ‘Alias Anything You Please’: the title of this collection is taken from one of Robert Zimmerman’s [Bob Dylan] lines in Pat Garrett’s film ‘Billy The Kid’ where he played the role of Alias and it is used here to convey the theme of Dylan’s rebellious and erratic character plays over the course of his career.

However, while this could potentially make for an interesting subject matter, as the opening paragraph of the preface suggests, ‘Alias Anything You Please’ is too noncommittal to arrive meaningfully at its intended narrative and so comes off flimsy as a whole.

Although the photographs are in fact genuinely wonderful, they seem interrupted rather than supported by Silkman’s surrounding text. The book seems more of a waiting room distraction than an informative piece and yet that’s not right either?!

The book ultimately seems to dangle hopelessly between the dentist reception, the living room table and the fans’ paraphernalia and yet seems equally incomplete in all of these spaces. But perhaps I’m taking it too seriously. Ultimately, this is an average piece, which serves nicely as a casual distraction. Perhaps a stocking filler but definitely not a flagship work.

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