Aa a fan, keeping up with an artist as active and prolific as Bob Dylan is no easy feat. It helps to have a guide who sifts through his 50-plus year history, and scrutinize each album in a personal and historical context. Longtime critic Chris Morris has done just that in his new book, Together Through Life - A Personal Journey with the Music of Bob Dylan (Rothco Press), an action painting in literary form that grew out of his “A Dylan A Day” series, posted on his “Wasted Space” blog back in late 2013 into early 2014. 

A few years ago, Morris needed to take a break from writing his Los Lobos: Dream In Blue biography. “I’d hit a wall,” Morris told me recently over the phone.

So when he purchased a new CD box set, The Complete Album Collection Vol. One, containing all of Bob Dylans regular albums from 1962 to 2012, Morris decided to post a personal review of each Dylan album daily “to get myself writing again.”  

Constructing a review every day never felt like a chore, Morris said, “because I love Dylan’s music, and I found myself engaged in writing about the records themselves, but also, very early in the process, this was a way for me to not only look at his career, but my life, from the time I was 13 years old ..."

“People were commenting that they’d never really read anything like this, and that kind of empowered me to go even further with the personal element of the writing. Looking back I thought, ‘Maybe I went too far?’, and exposed myself on a very personal level.”

No second guessing 

While his reviews are clear, smart, and insightful, the real strength of the book comes from Dylan’s music and how it has been interwoven with the ups and downs of Morris’ personal life.

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The writing is intense, given the self-imposed limitations of daily deadlines, and it reveals a naked honesty, with no time to second guess his gut reactions while revisiting album after album, day after day. While Morris was generous in Together Through Life with his praise of Dylan’s greatest work, he wasn’t shy about finding fault in Freewheelin’, or disliking albums Slow Train Coming, Empire Burlesque, and Real Live.

In some instances, his connection with Dylan’s albums were steeped in pivotal points in American history. For Morris, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and “Love & Theft” were the soundtracks for two of the greatest tragedies in American history - the assassination of President Kennedy and the 9/11 attacks. The former was an early, already-wrapped Christmas present from his mother to the young supporter who worked on Kennedy’s campaign as a 10 year-old, to help him get through this difficult time (“I was demolished,” Morris recalled). The latter was not only released on the day of the attacks, when he was Billboard’s lead writer covering the day’s events, but after he arrived home, his wife asked him for a divorce.

Together Through Life’s “bonus tracks”

For those who are already familiar with Morris’ blog, the book contains some exclusive, additional “bonus tracks,” including a forward by author and critic Tosh Berman, a new, expanded introduction by Morris, and lengthy reviews of Dylan’s last two albums of standards, Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels (“Great records,” Morris opined), both of which were recorded after the box set was released. 

Morris doesn’t expect everyone to agree with his views, and admits criticism is subjective. “It strikes me that I’m no different from any other Dylan fan,” Morris said. “I think Dylan fans react to records in very personal ways. Some they just reject outright, some of them they embrace, and some of them have the power to change their lives, or save their lives.

“I’m not always admiring, but I can certainly say, without hesitation, that Bob Dylan is the most important artist in my life.”