Bob Dylan In America
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One of America’s finest historians shows us how Bob Dylan, one of the country’s greatest and most enduring artists, still surprises and moves us after all these years.
Growing up in Greenwich Village, Sean Wilentz discovered the music of Bob Dylan as a young teenager; almost half a century later, he revisits Dylan’s work with the skills of an eminent American historian as well as the passion of a fan. Drawn in part from Wilentz’s essays as “historian in residence” of Dylan’s official website, Bob Dylan in America is a unique blend of fact, interpretation, and affinity—a book that, much like its subject, shifts gears and changes shape as the occasion warrants.
Beginning with his explosion onto the scene in 1961, this book follows Dylan as he continues to develop a body of musical and literary work unique in our cultural history. Wilentz’s approach places Dylan’s music in the context of its time, including the early influences of Popular Front ideology and Beat aesthetics, and offers a larger critical appreciation of Dylan as both a songwriter and performer down to the present. Wilentz has had unprecedented access to studio tapes, recording notes, rare photographs, and other materials, all of which allow him to tell Dylan’s story and that of such masterpieces as Blonde on Blonde with an unprecedented authenticity and richness.
Bob Dylan in America—groundbreaking, comprehensive, totally absorbing—is the result of an author and a subject brilliantly met.
“The White Pilgrim,” circa 1835. (photo credit 8.3) Thomas was one of the more interesting seekers and holy men of the awakening. Born in the North Carolina backcountry shortly after the American Revolution, he was orphaned at age seven, then raised by an older brother who lived in Virginia and who arranged for his schooling. At age sixteen, after a camp-meeting revival caused him to undertake a year of intense private prayer, Thomas was convinced of his salvation and received the Lord’s call to
in Dylan’s career—although explaining all of that in the film would have taken the focus off Dylan and, in any case, would have taken too long. Instead, the camera records the hippest of 1960s friendships—and makes possible a clever piece of image making, joining the singer as poet in the same documentary frame with the poet as cultural hero. Allen Ginsberg as the King of May (Kral Majales) in Prague, May 1, 1965. (photo credit 2.11) Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at the Savoy Hotel in
her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls” was one example out of dozens of how Dylan, in the studio and in his Nashville hotel room, improved the timbre of the songs’ lyrics as well as their imagery. And Dylan’s voice, as ever an evolving invention, was one of the album’s touchstones, a smooth, even sweet surprise to listeners who had gotten used to him sounding harsh and raspy. By turns sibilant, sibylline, injured, cocky, sardonic, and wry, Dylan’s voice on Blonde on Blonde more than made up in
basketballs around at McGuinn’s home in Malibu. Dylan suddenly paused, grabbed a ball, stared out at the ocean, and said that he wanted to do “something different.”7 Knowing that “different” could mean just about anything to Dylan, McGuinn asked what he had in mind. “I don’t know … something like a circus.” At the Rolling Thunder concert in New Haven, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” opened the show, booming and stately, with Dylan and Bob Neuwirth singing a duo that was a little ragged but
lullabies are being sung” (from “T.V. Talkin’ Song”) sounded risible. In fact, though, the detractors went overboard. Listened to as the children’s song that it is, “Wiggle Wiggle” is not silly but charming. (Dylan had dedicated the album to “Gabby Goo Goo,” his playful nickname for his four-year-old daughter.) The album’s title track, written in the style of a fairy tale, is an equally charming evocation of Dylan’s own childhood in Hibbing. On “Unbelievable,” Dylan conjured up an abiding outrage