by Luke Baumgarten & r & Dylan to English Dictionary by A.L. Weberman & r & A.J. Weberman's Dylan to English Dictionary is an unbelievably strange read. It has the veneer of a scholarly text, but the substance of personal infatuation and scorned love. He offers detailed, near-religious analysis of Dylan's songs and poetry, claiming to have found 600-odd words that mean the same thing throughout all of the singer's work (rain equals, roughly, heroin, for example).
It's the kind of treatment given to things like the Talmud and other religious works of supreme significance; here, however, it carries a personal taint. "Bob Dylan is the poet laureate of his generation; however. he is over-rated as a human being," says Weberman on his publisher's Web site. In the volume's preface, entitled "Where It All Began" -- and before explaining the significance of academic terms like "least ambiguous usage" and "lesser-used meanings" -- Weberman admits that the idea of performing exegesis on Dylan originally came to him after scoring "an unlimited supply of LSD." Weberman then offers a warning: "If you think [Dylan's] poetry is just a surreal stream-of-consciousness abstraction, put this dictionary back on the shelf where you and it belong." If you're not as smart as Weberman is, in other words, he doesn't want you reading his book. And in Weberman's mind, there's no one as smart as Weberman.
That no one has yet recognized Weberman's genius after nearly 40 years of rhapsodizing about Dylan -- least of all Dylan himself, who once beat up Weberman for digging through his garbage -- is ultimately the injustice the Dylan to English Dictionary seeks to rectify. Despite what Weberman says about the book's radical new deciphering of "Dylan's secret language," this is Weberman's intellectual coming-out.
These personal threads are woven throughout, and if you read the book with an ear for Weberman's secret language, it slowly turns what should be a clinical analysis into something more significant, sad and, ultimately, perversely touching. Behind his painstaking cross-analyses whisper the ravages of age and, after 40 years of sifting through trash, utter futility. Ideally, this would have been a dialogue between Weberman and his subject, but the chances of that happening died probably around the time Dylan pounded his face into the sidewalk at Elizabeth Street 30 years ago. The substitute for that is this, a work of profound and unrequited love that, like most such works, will be read by very few and hold meaning for almost no one besides the author.