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Best Books About Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has always been one of the most perplexing artists of our age – a guitar-slinging cryptogram as elusive as the meaning of his finest songs. And the best doorway into Dylan has always been a good, solid book. From standard music biographies to books hamming him up as a cultural messiah, there are dozens of volumes aimed at cracking Dylan’s impenetrable shroud of obscurity. Sweeping the bulk aside, though, what follows are the crème of what’s out there, geared for anyone from the new fan to the seasoned aficionado.

1. Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010, by Greil Marcus (2010)


Wrote Greil Marcus in 1978: “Who is this man? you ask. Where did he come from? He’s a visitation, not a singer.” No other American writer has followed Dylan as closely, extensively, and for as long as Marcus, whose forthcoming (Oct. 26) anthology contains his finest Dylan writing covering four decades, including reviews and essays written for Rolling Stone, Creem, the Village Voice, and the New York Times. With his thoughtful style anchored in personal reflections and rich analysis, Marcus peels back the layers, revealing Dylan at critical junctures of an ever-evolving career.

2. Bob Dylan in America, by Sean Wilentz (2010)


With all the media hype, you’d think they just released Dylan’s Dead Sea Scrolls. While a book putting Dylan in the context of American cultural history—his influences and legacy—is one that needed written, Wilentz hasn’t necessarily delivered it. The book is disjointed, and the author connects Dylan to purported key influences with the vaguest of threads. However, there are moments of greatness throughout (along with the very real danger of slipping into a morass of nostalgia). Giving readers a fresh frame of reference, Wilentz’s examination of Dylan as a torch-bearer of the Beat Generation is especially thorough. Overall, excellent reading. But not necessarily the book Wilentz was trying to write.

3. Positively 4th Street, by David Hajdu (2001)

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

More than Dylan’s lover, Joan Baez was also his biggest promoter. As the author points out, when he was still unknown, a smitten Joan would bring Dylan onstage for duets, even sacrificing her time slots for him to showcase his music. Without the Queen of Folk’s initial support, Hadju hints, Dylan may have likely never enjoyed his early rise to success. Also explored is the underplayed story of Mimi Fariña (Baez’s sister) and her husband Richard, author of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Prominent folk musicians in their own right, the Fariñas were on the fast track to fame when Richard died in a motorcycle crash just after this debut novel was published. One of the most important, obscure chapters in Beat and folk revival history.

4. Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-73, by Clinton Heylin (2009)

Chicago Review Press

Heylin is the go-to guy on all matters Dylan, and he’s carved out a fine career focusing on one man and his music. Revolution in the Air is the first volume in a two-part encyclopedia-style series that examines the first half of Dylan’s massive 600-plus song catalog. A mammoth undertaking, Heylin’s book is as biographical as it is analytical, and a necessary companion for any serious fan who wants to understand Dylan’s songs more than skin deep. The just-released Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006 (2010) is the sequel covering the second half of Dylan’s song catalog, the combined books totaling 1,000-plus pages of pure unadulterated Dylan.

5. Shelter from the Storm: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Years, by Sid Griffin (2010)

Jawbone Press

The author of Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and the Basement Tapes now takes on the cumulative peak of Dylan’s long journey home: the 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue. With a cast of characters that included Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Bobby Neuwirth, Jacques Levy, poet Allen Ginsberg, playwright Sam Shepard, Rolling Stone magazine’s Larry Sloman, et alia, Dylan’s gypsy road show was one of those seminal 1970s events that defined an age. Beginning in Greenwich Village in 1975, Griffin chronicles the tour from inception to finale, leaping from bus to stage, state to state, while fully exploring Dylan’s rarely seen four-hour film spawned from the tour, Renaldo and Clara.


September 23, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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