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Bob Dylan: American Poet

Resources on Bob Dylan as a poet and literary phenomenon. Sponsored by Jeff Harrison and the LCC class "Bob Dylan, American poet" (ENG 270).

A Bob Dylan Annotated Bibliography by Jeff Harrison

Bowden, BetsyPerformed Literature: Words and Music by Bob Dylan.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. Print.

Bowden first drafted this book as a Ph.D. dissertation in the English department at UC Berkeley in the '70s.  It's a useful and generally interesting discussion of individual songs as performances on record and on stage; a central thesis is that neither sociological nor literary ("These lyrics . . . are not poems.  They are songs: words and music combined for oral performance.") nor musicological analyses, alone, can approach the richness of Dylan's art.  So she examines elements of performance such as vocal inflection, instrumentation, tempo, phrasing, sliding pitches, pauses, and "voice-forced rhyme."  Her work is largely informed by folklorists' studies of oral performance, as well as her own experience with Dylan's songs on record and on stage.  As a matter of fact, the presence of her own experience as Dylan fan and ex-pseudo-hippie ("Haight-Ashbury, summer of '67, University of Wisconsin at Madison '66-'70, down and out in London, '68," etc.) creates a pretty strong persona in the book-sometimes interesting and sometimes not.

Sometimes Bowden just describes what she hears on a tape: "Then the song fades abruptly into a splash of shaken bells, a drumroll, and a piano run upward.  The last sounds to fade are a high-pitched chord on the same piano that has played low chords throughout, and the not-quite-stilled bells" (album version of "Isis," 48).  Then she might add commentary such as "The uneasiness created by unaccustomed and unpredictable instrumentation affects the listener's understanding of the narrative" ("Isis").  And then she'll often go several steps further in her analysis of  a song's meanings, as in "The two uses of 'it' in the couplet reinforce sexual overtones: 'ain't it hard' refers to the theft but also suggests an erect penis, and 'where it's at' suggests the glamour of movie stars and jet-setters" ("Like a Rolling Stone," 90).

Appendices:

1. Texts and recording information for performances discussed.
2. Album discography through Saved.
3. Practical suggestions for technical analysis of performance.
4. Bibliography.

Corcoran, Neil, ed.  Do You, Mr. Jones? Bob Dylan with the Poets and Professors.  London: Pimlico/Random House, 2003. Print.

Is the cleverly self-referential title a shield against accusations that this might just be one more book full of writers and critics prophesizing with their pens, or sycophantic professors hovering about the even-more-clueless Mr. Jones?  Well, it could be-but the professors and poets whose essays are gathered here are not sycophants or prophets-and they do have something to offer in the scholarly, somewhat academic way we might expect professors of English (9 of them) and of history (2), and professional poets (4) to contribute.  Their allusions include mostly the typical: e.g., Ovid, Shakespeare, Whitman, Emerson, Jesus, Milton, Burns.  They offer readings ("The closing stanza of 'A Hard Rain' brings matters to a climax, but it also, in a manner typical of some of Dylan's best work, endorses a position at odds with the implications of the preceding stanzas" [314]), autobiography ("He taped me Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on Blonde . . .  and suddenly it all made sense" [116]), critical theory ("It may well be that it is post-Derridean theory that allows the academic critic to see such metaphoric excess as liberating a polymorphously perverse identity.  I think it just makes Dylan, like so many in the Sixties, into a not quite Maileresque absurdist-existentialist hipster" [56])-and much more.  It really does present a variety of approaches and styles, and I think any reader is bound to find something in it that satisfies.  I'm especially pleased to see some direct engagement with the frequent charges of sexism in Dylan's work.  It's worth noting that the editor and all contributors are British, while their discussions often address the "Americanness" of Dylan's work.

 Cott, Jonathan, ed.  Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews.  New York: Wenner Books, 2006. Print.

Man, what a treasure.  An essential book for Dylan studies.  It could make a lot of sense to have this be required reading for the course.  It starts with transcripts of the Cynthia Gooding ’62 radio interview and Studs Terkel ’63 radio interview (both of which I’ve had on disc for years but never read) and ends with a relatively long interview with Robert Hilburn from the L.A. Times in 2004 (“It doesn’t really matter where a song comes from; it just matters where it takes you.”).  In between come classics such as the Playboy interviews, the Rolling Stone interviews, the KQED ’65 press conference, John Cohen & Happy Traum with Dylan for Sing Out! in ’68, Weberman ‘71—etc., etc.  This collection is the most complete published record of one of the 4 legs of primary Dylan studies (the interviews, the songs, the other writings [liner notes, Tarantula, Chronicles, etc.], and the films).

For students, fortunately, an on-line (searchable) version of the interviews will be available (maybe).  But this book is a must for those of us without lap-tops linked to our bodies.

I just wish it had an index.  (There’s a project for someone!)

Crowe, CameronNotes for Biograph (Booklet included with the album set Biograph).  Columbia Records, 1985. Print.

This is perhaps the best short introduction to Dylan’s life and work available—even though it is part of a commercial release.  (You might know Crowe as the kid who got to write for Rolling Stone when he was 17—covered a tour with Led Zeppelin, or something—tells his story in the film Almost Famous.)  Best of all, the package includes a set of loose sheets with commentary on several specific songs—often by the writer.  This might be the best collection of comments on the songs from Dylan himself.  Of course, one must take them all with a big grain of salt: on the one hand, D could just be putting us on; on another, why should we assume he knows more about the songs than we do?  Of course, anyone’s comments on the songs can add to the range of possible meanings; we don’t have to ask if they’re “right” or not.

Day, AidanJokerman: Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan.  London: Blackwell, 1990. Print.

Interesting, and relatively short, commentary on selected songs, organized thematically.  It’s rather scholarly—or at least academic; it could be a revision of Day’s doctoral dissertation.  The argument is, to quote Dylan’s own comment on Renaldo and Clara, “It is mostly about identity,” and Day’s method is to provide “close readings of individual lyrics selected principally from that side of Dylan’s lyrical writing which takes up questions of identity.”  Some of those songs are “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Desolation Row,” “Brownsville Girl,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Isis,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Jokerman,” “I and I”—a total of 19 songs.  References to Shelley, Rossetti, Ginsberg, Tennyson, and other poets enrich Day’s readings of these songs.
Appendix includes a useful “Chronology of Dylan’s Life and Recordings.”

Gill, Andy, and Kevin Odegard A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks.  Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2004. Print.

This pleasant and informative little book examines both the New York sessions from September '74 and the Minneapolis sessions from late December--with a clear purpose of giving the "unknown Minneapolis studio musicians" (Robert Christgau, Jan. 27 Village Voice review) their long-overdue due.  Odegard was one of them, playing guitar in the sessions arranged by Dylan's brother David; his memories and insights are enriched through contemporary interviews with other members of "that wonderful, anonymous band" (Rolling Stone, Feb. 27).  Two chapters (4 and 5) focus on the New York sessions, with special attention on Buddy Cage and producer Phil Ramone--though the other participants are helpfully quoted, and a rich picture of the experience emerges.  Most of the rest of the 10-chapter book either directly describes the Minneapolis sessions or indirectly emphasizes them in the discussions of the album's 10 songs, the reviews, and the album's legacy.  The context of Dylan's relationship with Sara is established in chapter 1 and remains palpable throughout the book.

Gray, MichaelSong and Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan.  London: Abacus, 1981. Print.

Highly reputed, and thorough; a broad analysis of lyrics and performance: "This is not a biography of Bob Dylan but a critical study of his work. . . .  It is more about [his] words than his music, though it tries to take a proper account of both.  After all, . . . his words are presented not as poems but as parts of songs" (7). 

Broad background in pop culture and literary tradition, but sometimes downright ignorant: incorrect words to Chuck Berry's "Promised Land," misspelling of  Suze Rotolo's name, frequent mis-guesses about recording and biographical information that was readily available by '81.  (This book was first published in '74, and some such mistakes might have been excusable then, but for the second edition in '81 they should have been cleared up.)   Combined with the brash, presumptuous attitude of comments like "Bill Haley is utterly unimportant," and supercilious interpolations like "as everyone must know," these cavalier errors create a rather infuriating tone.  I begin to dislike the writer and suspect the value of his opinions and his book.  I should have read it myself before trusting the opinion of others (esp. on-line reviews) when I put this book on the class reading list.
A third edition came out in 2002, and I'm curious whether it does a better job of revising the earlier editions.  If it's just an update, and not an improvement on the earlier sections, I need to re-think my decision to use it in class.


Gray does offer interesting and insightful readings of songs, with plenty of context and interconnection.  He never hesitates, though, to "explain" them, and this, to Bowden, is a problem.  Still, it's another valuable perspective for students examining songs.  And Gray's reading of the overall arc of Dylan's ouevre--the relationships of the albums within the bigger picture--is well-developed and consistent.

---.  Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan.  New York: Continuum, 2000. Print.

918 pages!  No pictures! The first seven chapters are the same (but edited): "Dylan and the Folk Tradition," "Dylan and the Literary Tradition," "Dylan and Rock Music," "Dylan's Use of Language," etc.  After page 249, it's all new, and is organized more chronologically than thematically, with analysis of all Dylan's work in the '80s and '90s.  One of its best offerings is its scholarly examination of the growing body of literature on Dylan in those decades.

Having never before seen a copy of this, I was shocked by its size when I got my free desk copy from the publisher-and I cringe to imagine its price.  I think Gray could serve us well by producing a scaled-down version of this book that would be much more practical as a teaching tool.

Griffin, Sid Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and The Basement Tapes.  London: Jawbone Press, 2007. Print.

 The definitive study of the summer of ’67, in great detail.  Griffin worked hard to figure it all out; he admits that some of his “facts” simply could not get beyond deep conjecture, but we’re rarely left thinking he got it wrong.  He examines every song for instrumentation, source, place of recording (I never knew there were 3 different “basements” around Woodstock that summer!); he’s figured out the mic set-ups, and sometimes the “when” is based on the drums: Levon Helm didn’t arrive from the oil fields until the fall, so Griffin figures the songs without drums, or with the more rudimentary skills of Manuel, Danko, or Robertson, were done before then.  I found out why some Tiny Tim songs appear in the tapes, and discovered that the voice over poetry stuff, which I had argued was Kesey (clearly not Ginsberg, as labels often say) is Hudson.  And now I know why Todd Haynes had to go to Neil Young to get the master of “I’m Not There.”

Griffin’s voice is comfortable and excited; he’s as thrilled about these details as I am, so the book feels more like a shared sense of discovery than an academic learning experience.

If you have the tapes, the book is a fantastic guide to follow as you listen to all those songs.  The problem is, Garth Hudson’s reels are a mess, with no clear chronology and no helpful labels—so collections appear in various form; you end up using the index a lot, and marking pages with sticky tabs. This book makes a nice companion to Greil Marcus’s essay on the Basement Tapes, Invisible Republic.

Guthrie, WoodyBound for Glory.  New York: Penguin/Dutton, 1943. Print.

Classic.  Dylan’s reading of this book in Minneapolis in ’59 was a major factor in creating “Bob Dylan.”  It’s a fast, fun, powerful, informative, and important book.

Gutman, David, ed.  The Dylan Companion. New York : Da Capo Press, 2001. Print.

This wonderful anthology of articles, essays, and reviews was first published in 1990, and up-dated in 2001.  The introduction offers a thoughtful discussion of historicizing rock music, and an explanation of the principles guiding the editor's selection process.  The list includes many expected names: Shelton, Mellers, Marcus, Ricks, Christgau; recognizable names: Rotolo, Farina, Baez, Stookey; and welcome comments from thoughtful fans and readers of Dylan's work who are less known.  To me, as an English teacher, one of the most valuable is the essay on Dylan's use of metaphor by Frank Kermode and Stephen Spender, both of whom are known in the literary world for their poetry (Spender) and scholarship (Kermode on Shakespeare et al.).  Ricks' examination of Dylan's use of cliché is similarly useful, and I will include both these pieces in the course packet.

Appendices: Bibliography and Discography.

Hajdu, DavidPositively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of  Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. Print.

Well, I managed to avoid reading this for a long time; somehow I’d developed an attitude toward it with no first-hand knowledge.  But Christmas break offered the opportunity to read the unread, and I started here.  I won’t be referring to it often, but I am glad I’ve read it.  It offers lots of interesting insight into the lives of the Baez sisters; I guess more than anything it’s their biography.  The Dylan presented here is about as ugly a picture of our guy as you’ll find anywhere—and unfortunately, I think nothing Hajdu says is untrue, he just doesn’t seem to like Dylan much so he shows us just those parts that make us cringe; of course, the relationship with Joan Baez is full of cringeable matter, as recorded clearly enough elsewhere.  Especially interesting is the geographical/cultural relationship of NYC, Cambridge, Carmel, and Woodstock, which I’d never pictured quite so clearly before.  The depiction of Richard Fariña, and the story of his life, took me far beyond the bits I already had.

Harvey, ToddThe Formative Dylan: Transmission and Stylistic Influences, 1961-1963.  Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2001. Print.

This is a useful examination of Dylan's first 70 recorded songs, song by song in alphabetical order.  Each analysis is one to three pages long, and follows a basic template: date of composition, known performances, available recordings, history of the song (if it's not original to Dylan), melody antecedents, related traditional stories and songs, review of scholarly information, technical analysis of the song structure, variations in performance, and comment on the song's place in Dylan's changing relationship to the folk tradition.  Besides quoting authorities such as Heylin and Krogsgaard, Harvey offers some original research which enriches the analyses.  The technical analysis often sounds like this: "Harmonically, the guitar chords fall into the conventional I-IV-V progression with a few passing iii and vi chords.  Melodically, the A phrases center around scale degrees 1, 2, and 3 with cadence points on 3 and 1, respectively. The B phrases outline the tonic triad, again cadencing on the 3rd and 1st scale degrees" ("When the Ship Comes In").  Though Harvey doesn't often develop any commentary on themes and meanings, he will work to point out possible influences, as he does with "When the Ship Comes In": he notes that Dylan attended Suze Rotolo's rehearsals for Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and there heard the song "Pirate Jenny," which has clear thematic parallels to his own song.

Appendices:

1. Set and Session Lists; all known recorded performances and studio sessions, with songs, from May 1960 (St. Paul) through 6/1/65 BBC.
2. Master Style List of songs in the book; a song-by-song chart showing phrase structure, meter, tuning, etc.
3. Bibliography: Written References and Recorded References.

Herdman, JohnVoice Without Restraint: Bob Dylan's Lyrics and Their Background.  New York: Delilah Books, 1982. Print.

Herdman is a highly regarded Scottish writer who has held numerous academic fellowships and residences.  His study of Dylan's work is pretty academic-similar to, but a bit drier than, Gray's Song and Dance Man.  I find his commentaries intriguing and insightful, though.  The 12-page introduction is one of the best general overviews of Dylan's art, and the current state of Dylan criticism (ca. 1982) that I've seen.  Herdman announces that his "concern with Dylan's lyrics will be with how they work rather than with what they mean."  That's a tough line to maintain.

The book has a roughly chronological structure, but fortuitously follows themes and Herdman's own structural notions to a large degree.  Chapter 3, "Telling the Story," examines narrative structure in a range of songs, including "The Ballad of Hollis Brown," "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream," and "Clothesline Saga"-but focusing finally on the albums Blood on the Tracks and Desire.  Chapter 4, "Hard Rain and Slow Trains," opens with Nietzsche's observation that "every conviction has a history" and proceeds to trace the history of Dylan's religious ideas, through the lyrics.

Heylin, ClintonBob Dylan: Behind the Shades (Revisited).  New York: William Morrow, 2001. Print.

Ostensibly (and yes, mainly) a biography, this book looks at Dylan largely through albums and recording sessions.  It's a good read, and offers helpful large quotations on nearly every page from participants in the Dylan experience and from Dylan himself.  Heylin has dug up more information on Dylan's women than most writers have-for what it's worth.  But with so much energy going into that and the recording history (which Heylin has covered elsewhere), the balance of the book seems a bit off.  One extreme seems too distant from "the life," while the other is too much of it.  This just reveals, again, the problem the Dylan biographer faces when so little clear information about "the life" is available.

What I think I'm going to find most useful here is the passages quoted from Dylan, Stoner, Lanois, David Was, and others, about the writing and recording process.  The information about all the musicians in all the sessions is interesting (as are the revelations about women), but it detracts from the book's force as biography.

Appendices:

    1. "Dramatis Personae," a long alphabetical list of people involved in Dylan's life, with brief identifications.

    2. Discography of all recorded songs and their locations and first know live performances.

    3. Bibliography.


  ---.  Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1994.  New York: St. Martins, 1995. Print.

Heylin's study of Dylan's recording sessions starts in 1960 with the period immediately preceding his signing with Columbia and ends in 1993 with World Gone Wrong (clearly an update is needed). Each chapter, starting with a sessionography, is dedicated to one of Dylan's official studio releases. Four chapters cover sessions that did not lead to official releases and one chapter is dedicated to soundtrack and tribute recordings Dylan contributed to. An appendix listing bootlegs that might have been available at the time of the book's release closes the book.  It's a very useful book, but frustratingly incomplete.

Hinchey, JohnLike a Complete Unknown: The Poetry of Bob Dylan's Songs 1961-1969.  Ann Arbor: Stealing Home, 2002. Print.

Though this is at times poorly written and carelessly edited, it offers valuable readings of the songs it covers.  Hinchey combines poetic analysis with contextual and thematic discussions, and he's not reserved about describing his own listening experience.  This lack of scholarly pretentiousness is effective in leading readers to become the same kind of subjective listeners that he is; it invites them to develop their own thoughtful relationships with the songs.  

His introduction lays out his thesis that these works are indeed poems, in a thoughtful and enjoyable manner.  His personal tone, and his sincerity and honesty help create the pleasure one has in his voice.  Paul Williams notes, "Hinchey's thoughtful and clear sharing of what he hears in these songs will offer many readers stimulating reminders of and insights into their own relationships with this songwriter's poetry."

Marcus, GreilThe Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes.  New York: Henry Holt, 1997. Print.

"Laughably tenuous links" and  "pretensious [sic], self-indulgent nonsense," says one pissed-off Amazon.com customer.  But s/he's wrong.  This one's right: "Were the basement tapes created in a vacuum, or were the ghosts of American folk music floating around that basement in Big Pink ? And could this book be more timely with the epochal Smithsonian 1997 re-release of the Harry Smith Anthology ? This is exactly the book I wanted and Marcus was the only one who could do it. Admittedly some of the ideas are far-ranging, perhaps far-fetched, but we have to give the creative critic the same artistic license we give the artist. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but when it does it gives you a lot to think about and really helps to place Dylan within the context of the history of American music."
Example: In his wonderful explication of  "Tears of Rage," two lines into the song Marcus takes off on a fascinating meditation on American history and literature (this is his chief MO), starting with "Independence Day" and the Declaration of Independence and eventually encompassing  John Winthrop, Ahab, The Manchurian Candidate, MLK, Michael Wigglesworth, Reagan, SNCC, Dock Boggs, Justus Township-"America."  His claim that Winthrop's "A Modell of Christian Charity" is, along with Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural and King's address to the March on Washington (at which Dylan performed), one of the most important American political speeches, might sound "pretentious," but it's insightful and quite likely true.

Marcus develops the clear link between the Basement Tapes and Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music at length; it is, after all, the source for the title (each of them).

This book includes the only extended discussion of "I'm not There" you're likely to find-and more on Dock Boggs than is probably even true (it's all part of Marcus's fascination with the myth(s) of America.

Marcus' experience of American culture, history, literature-through his reading, listening, and living-is  indeed vast, and not to refer to it all in a discussion of Dylan would be to suggest that American culture, history, and literature are irrelevant to Dylan's work. 

---.  Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads.  New York: Public Affairs, 2005. Print.

This is the first book I decided I must use in the course.  It's a fun in-depth and in-breadth examination of one song-or, as Marcus claims, one "event"-that largely defined the career and the age.  Whether or not one agrees with the claims Marcus makes about "Like a Rolling Stone," or the references he thinks are important (like the Pet Shop Boys' 1993 version of "Go West," to which he devotes four pages), he certainly shows what one can do with a song.   His understanding of American pop culture and the blues adds rich background, and he makes informed arguments about the place of this song within Dylan's oeuvre.  Marcus has a reputation as one of the best "rock critics," and that brings with it a set of enemies and allies-all well deserved.

Epilogue: Details and transcriptions of the June 15, 1965 recording session at Studio A.
Works Cited.  Lengthy and interesting.

Marqusee, MikeChimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art.  New York: New Press, 2003. Print.

I'm really enjoying this, though it's dry at times.  Marqusee's thoughtful history and analysis of the first and second folk revivals contextualizes Dylan helpfully within the ongoing political, social, and cultural struggles and changes from the '30s through the early '60s-and the role music, folk music, played in those movements.  The book traces movement organizations from the CPA through SNCC and, in the late '60s, SDS.  References to Adorno, Benjamin, and other cultural theorists, though not fully developed, are useful.  The albums and songs of the '60s are discussed always with reference to the events and movements around them; this might limit the range of meanings, but these particular readings do have a place, and Marqusee develops them with clarity and insight.

Nogowski, JohnBob Dylan: A Descriptive, Critical Discography and Filmography, 1961-2007.  2nd Edition.  Jefferson: McFarland, 2008. Print.

This is useful as an introductory guide, with brief comments and subjective ratings on every album, song, and movie. Nogowski’s writing is not great, and his comments rarely go beyond the standard line, sometimes simply grabbing the clichéd attitude out of the air and offering little real critical insight. The song ratings are, as noted, “subjective.”  An interesting introduction raves about “The Big Comeback” since 1997; it’s fun to compare it to Riley’s  discussion of Dylan’s “irrelevance” in the ‘90s.

This is one of the few places to find comments on the material of the last decade, including all the films (Masked and Anonymous, Scorcese, the Newport films, I’m Not There) and Dylan’s work with Theme Time Radio Hour.  Appendixes examine the popularity of all the albums (based on sales), and Nogowski offers a useful annotated bibliography.

Ricks, ChristopherDylan’s Vision of Sin.  London: Ecco, 2004. Print.

I just plum didn’t much like this book, in spite of all the critical acclaim it received (“famous Bit Lit scholar takes on Dylan,” etc.).  Ricks’ attempt to speak in what I suppose he thinks is the language of Dylan fans is downright silly, and I find his determination to make Dylan songs fit his little “7 Deadly Sins” template pretty silly, too.

Riley, TimHard Rain: A Dylan Commentary.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1999. Print.

This book is known for its willingness “to be disparaging”; and Riley is often direct, honest, and cutting in his commentary on Dylan’s career and work.  Obviously he loves Dylan, but he finds the work of the ‘90s to be “irrelevant.”  He first published the book in ’92, and I get the impression that updating it seven years later was a drag; he doesn’t even have anything good to say about the acoustic solo albums of ’92 and ’93.  I wonder what he’d say in a newer update.

After a lengthy and interesting introduction, which examines Dylan’s career in general terms and offers an intelligent discussion of Dylan’s relationship to Woody Guthrie, Riley begins his chronological commentary on Dylan’s work.  It’s telling that in the 305-page book (not counting appendices), Riley covers ’78 on in just 34 pages, the final chapter—and a third of that discusses Dylan’s influence on other musicians.  But what Riley likes (mainly the ‘60s) gets serious and insightful attention, with helpful explanations of the social context of Dylan’s work as well as close readings of the lyrics and sounds of the songs.  Riley knows his stuff.

The epilogue berates Dylan for not coming to Sinead O’Connor’s defense after the audience harassed her at the ’92 Dylan Tribute Concert.  Riley also offers a sharp condemnation of the album Time Out of Mind, D’s newest work at the time.

Scobie, StephenAlias Bob Dylan (Revisited).  Calgary: Red Deer, 2003. Print.

Scobie, a poet and professor in Victoria, BC, presents Dylan as "Prophet" and "Trickster"; his use of coyote (the trickster-thief) is an important aspect of this book.  He describes his work this way: "Chapter 2, 'Glossary,' consists of brief essays introducing a set of key terms, or recurring images and motifs-alias, mask, signature, self-portrait, ghost, quotation-which form the basis of my critical discourse on Dylan.  Chapter 3, 'Contexts,' explicates some of the surrounding issues-the relevance of the author's biography, the status of the published text, whether or not Dylan's lyrics should be regarded as poetry, the nature of performance-which frame my discussion."

Parts of the "Signature" section remind me of my dissertation, with all the Saussurean & Derridean jargon-but it's good to go back there now & then!  It's really quite fascinating (but could also be infuriating, if you're not into that kind of thing).  Scobie's interest in the lyric persona parallels my focus for the course, so I think the book could be very useful to students.  He also brings in Tarantula in insightful ways, offering support for those who want to struggle with that text.

Shelton, RobertNo Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan.  New York: William Morrow, 1986. Print.

Often viewed as the "granddaddy" of Dylan biography and the most authoritative examination of the man's life and work, and published so early in the critical history, this book is referenced and reverenced to a pretty high degree.  Shelton, of course, wrote the New York Times review (September 29, 1961) of a Dylan performance at Gerde's that first brought the "20-Year-Old Folksinger" to the eye of the general public.  The relatively close relationship Shelton developed with Dylan enriches the book; for coverage of Dylan in the '60s, it can't very well be beat.

At the end, Shelton reminds us that "There's so many sides to Dylan, he's round"-and he wonders (remember, it's 1986) whether the Rimbaud side or the Yeats side, or some other(s) will prevail in Dylan's future.  It's kind of fun now (2007) to wonder still.

One of the book's most useful features for students is its thoughtful introductory commentaries on every song on the albums so far. 
Appendices include Notes, "Select [not comprehensive, but pretty darned thorough] Bibliography," "Song Index" (alphabetical list of songs officially recorded or written by Dylan, with brief publishing and recording information), Discography, and Index.  2 batches of b/w photographs, including some not seen elsewhere.

Sloman, Larry "Ratso."  On the Road with Bob Dylan.  New York: Three Rivers, 2002. Print.

Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen, and hear the chronicle of The Journalist on his tenacious quest for the holy interview!  Meet the groupie Lisa, almost as ostracized as the Journalist himself, but on an equally persistent quest.  Meet the manager, Louie (Kemp) and his crew of henchmen, almost equally determined to keep the grail away from Ratso and Lisa.

This autobiographical narrative of life on the '75 Rolling Thunder tour is actually more fun than I thought when I first read it twenty years ago.  Take it as a kind of novel, with fascinating characters and suspenseful plot: will The Journalist ever become more than a handy punching bag, laughed at and shat upon by the musicians and crew, hounded by his ostensible employer (Rolling Stone magazine), and abusing himself pretty thoroughly as well?  Will he ever make it to the inner sanctum?  Is there life outside of (or even inside of ) Rolling Thunder?

I've been calling Dylan a weirdo for years, but I must've forgotten that I might have gotten that from Ronee Blakley's comment on page 364: "I think he's a total weirdo.  I absolutely love him and adore him."  Sloman's description of life on this tour-as he experienced it, at least-is actually pretty interesting, and it offers lots of background into the creation of Renaldo and Clara.   The many interviews with the characters are seamlessly incorporated into the story, as dialogue-and they actually offer a lot of insight into the strange world of Bob Dylan and friends.

Smith, Larry DavidBob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and American Song.  Westport: Praeger, 2002. Print.

Part One of this book is called "Bob Dylan," and it is divided (as is the Springsteen Part Two) into four sections: the artist, the impulse, the oeuvre, and the exemplars.  The writing is excellent-clear, well-informed, committed.  The sections make sense; they are concise, yet full.  A focus of the book is the possibilities of popular commercial music/song, but Smith is fully aware of the role of the literary tradition in producing these modern songs.  Smith has all the previous scholarship available to him, and he is careful to not just repeat and summarize, while he refers frequently and helpfully to them.  He divides Dylan's creative career into chronological sections with telling names: "the folk-posturing period," "the Newport Mod era," "the Americana period," "the crystallization of style period," "the moral period," "American song revisited." (These are the same divisions Smith uses in his later full-length study of Dylan called Writing Dylan.)  In just 120 pages Smith offers a broad and fairly deep introduction to the artist.

Packaging Dylan and Springsteen goes deeper than the 1973 Time cover.  At the transition into Part Two Smith quotes Springsteen's 1988 speech inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in a synthesizing Part Three he develops a convincing and interesting comparison of these two "auteurs." 

---. Writing Dylan : The Songs of a Lonesome Traveler.  Westport: Praeger, 2005. Print.

Somehow I find the short version of this, in Smith's earlier book about Dylan and Springsteen, a better read.

Sounes, HowardDown the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.  New York: Grove, 2001. Print.

This is a genuine biography, presenting a balanced look at the available facts of Dylan's life and his recording history and his music.  One thing that grabbed me is its opening story of a spring night in 1992 when Dylan stopped into a Greenwich Village pub to see his old friend Tommy Makem perform-and the night later that same year when, after the grandiose "Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration" ("Bobfest," as Neil Young called it) the post-concert party gathered at Makem's little pub again, because that's where Dylan felt most comfortable.  Full of drunken confessions and group sing-alongs, this was quite an evening.  The cast of characters, the conversations, and the memories set the stage for the story of Dylan's life, which begins in Duluth in Chapter 1.  The final chapter hurries through the '90s, making concert stops along the way (and sometimes offering too many details, if Sounes was there).  1997 predominates, with "Time Out of Mind" and Dylan's illness.  The last image paints the tour buses as they "snaked out of the Reno Hilton car park, past the Aqua Golf course, and onto the freeway to Pocatello, Idaho, and beyond, through Washington, Montana, and Wyoming, way out into the heart of America and on around the world" (441).

Van Ronk, Dave (with Elijah Wald).  The Mayor of MacDougal Street.  Cambridge: DaCapo, 2005. Print.

What a great book!  Before I was finished, I had turned 2 other folks on to this, one as a gift—and the other I sent to the bookstore to get what I knew was the last copy.  Van Ronk was always one of my favorite singers, so I knew from records (and one live show) what a wit he was—and I knew from Chronicles that Dylan had slept on his couch during that first year in NYC—and I knew about the “’House of the Rising Sun’ controversy”—but I never knew what a master prose stylist he was, nor did I have a clue how fascinating his life was or how truly brilliant he was.  I laughed out loud as if it were a Mark Twain book, and sometimes I just wanted to show someone a sentence that blew me away.

Besides the downright pleasure I had in reading this, I learned more about the “folk scene” in NYC from ’56 (when Van Ronk moved into Greenwich Village from Brooklyn) on through the ‘60s than I’ve gleaned from any other source.  Van Ronk is opinionated and clear, so when he maps out the factions in the political and the musical arenas—and their shared grounds—we never have to wonder where he stands.

And if all that weren’t enough, the book’s worth it for the picture, at Newport ’63, of Van Ronk with John Hammond, Jr., Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry, and John Lee Hooker.

Varesi, AnthonyThe Bob Dylan Albums.  Toronto: Guernica, 2002. Print.

From the weird little painting on the cover to the clichéd final sentence, this book is light-weight.  It is probably useful as an introduction to Dylan for one who doesn't know and doesn't plan to know much-and it's always fun to hear what someone thinks of a song or an album.  The book presents a brief overview (mostly 3 or 4 pages, though some worthies-e.g. Bringing It All Back Home and Blood on the Tracks-get 8 or 9) of every album, in chronological order.  Varesi offers his opinions, which are generally sound, but not profound (of Under the Red Sky: "no number of superstar guests can compensate for the fatuity of the lyrics"). 
The book presents a simple discography with 2 parts: "Officially Released Recordings by Bob Dylan" lists each album, date of release, and songs, through Love and Theft; "Other Albums with Dylan Songs" includes only the works Varesi refers to in his text, so it's a fraction of the total.

Williams, PaulBob Dylan: Performing Artist; the Early Years, 1960-1973.  New York: Omnibus, 1990, 2004. Print.

"My plan for this book is a fairly simple one: I intend to describe and discuss a significant number (though by no means all) of Bob Dylan's performances, in chronological order, from throughout his career so far."  Williams wrote this in late 1986 in an introduction to this first book in the series-an introduction which largely discusses Picasso and the concept of "Great Art," and which Williams calls "I See Why He Had To Keep Going," after a comment Dylan made about a series of images Picasso once made depicting the same bull.

Williams saw 30 of the 41 concerts Dylan did with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the summer of '86-a fact which concerns me, since the show I saw that summer was the worst Dylan performance I've ever seen.  But Williams also saw Dylan in '63, and his examination of Dylan's work is based on dozens more live experiences over the years as well as close attention to the tapes in his massive archive-possibly the largest anywhere outside the legendary master vault.
Williams' style is enjoyable, honest, insightful but pretentious.  His discussion of Dylan's recording style as performance allows him to examine the deliveries of all the songs on the albums; he does the same with Dylan's interviews.  Gradually a rich and compelling picture of Dylan as "performing artist" emerges.

---.  Bob Dylan: Performing Artist; the Middle Years, 1974-1986.  New York: Omnibus, 1992. Print.

---.  Bob Dylan: Performing Artist; Vol. 3, 1986-2000.

---.  Bob Dylan: Watching the River Flow - Observations on his Art-in-progress, 1966-1995.  New York: Omnibus, 1996. Print.

Williams' most important short pieces on Dylan from over the years are collected here-including the full text of "Dylan: What Happened?" which appeared as a small book in the fall of 1979, when many were asking that question.  When Blonde on Blonde appeared in '65, the 18-year-old Williams wrote an amazing review for the little music rag he and his friends had just created, Crawdaddy, and the collection begins with this piece.  In all the essays and reviews collected here, Williams shares helpful insights and ideas; and in all of them he gushes with praise for nearly everything Dylan has ever done.  My friend Deb Trist often complains of "picky Deadheads"-you won't find a "picky Bobhead" in Williams!

Younger Than That Now: The Collected Interviews with Bob Dylan.  New York: Thunder's Mouth, 2004. Print.

This is a handy collection of interviews (and excerpts of interviews) that are not generally anthologized-from publications such as TV Guide (1976), People Magazine (1975), USA Today (1997), as well as NYTimes (1974) and Playboy (1978).  The conversation among Dylan, Bono, and Van Morrison (Hot Press, Ireland, 1984) is mostly about music they like, books they've read, and the recording process, and is a fun read.  With Sheffield University students in May '65, Dylan was straight and pleasant; two months earlier, with The Village Voice, he didn't answer one question straight-nor did any of the questions deserve straight answers; and, also in May, he told Disc Weekly (a British music mag), "the first record I made was in 1935. . . . John Hammond discovered me sitting on a farm."

The more we read these "put-on" interviews, perhaps the better we can understand a song like "I'm Not There": maybe it doesn't really matter what words we use (one of Shakespeare's central cruxes).

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