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Bob Dylan: The Biography [Kindle Edition]

Dennis McDougal
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

The ultimate biography of the musical icon.


Bob Dylan is a music hero to generations. He’s also an international bestselling artist, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, and an Oscar winner for “Things Have Changed.” His career is stronger and more influential than ever. How did this happen, given the road to oblivion he seemed to choose more than two decades ago?

Dylan’s 72, and this final act of his career is more interesting than ever—yet the classic biographies like Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades (first published 1991, updated 2001) and even his own Chronicles: Volume One (published 2005) came too soon to cover this act.

Now this groundbreaking biography digs deep into Bob Dylan lore—including subjects Dylan himself left out of Chronicles: Volume OneDylan: The Biography moves beyond analysis of lyrics or well-worn biographical facts to focus on why this beloved artist’s American odyssey has touched so many souls—and how both Dylan and his audience have changed along the way. What happened during the past two decades to transform a heroin addict into one of the most astonishing literary and musical icons in American history?

Through extensive interviews and connections with Dylan’s friends, family, sidemen, and fans, Los Angeles Times journalist Dennis McDougal builds a new understanding of Dylan, as well as the real story behind the myths. Was his romantic life, especially with Sara Dylan, much more complicated than it appears? Was his motorcycle accident a cover for drug rehab? What really happened to Dylan when his career fell apart, and how did he find his way back? To what does he attribute his astonishing success? McDougal’s interviews and meticulous research offer a revealing new understanding of these older questions—and of the new chapter Dylan is writing in his life and career.

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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Scurrilous tabloid rubbish. 23 Jun. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As pointed out in the latest version of ISIS Magazine, this excuse for a book is packed with too many factual and grammatical errors to list here, but suffice it to say on one page he says Hendrix and Clapton's guitars have fetched $1million dollars, and on the very next page says Bob's $965000 Newport guitar was the most expensive ever. Full of pointless polemic and dirt-dug rumour, this makes Spitz's biography look like a panygeric. Avoid.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply insightful, wildly entertaining eye-opener 23 May 2014
By Lee Gruenfeld - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is not the first biography of Bob Dylan but it is quite likely to be the last. Surely we'll see more works focusing narrowly on specific facets of the superstar's life, or, in the grand but dubious tradition of Dylanology, parsing to death his endlessly confounding (and sometimes utterly nonsensical lyrics), but it's hard to imagine any further need to examine the totality of the man's life now that Dennis McDougal's Dylan has entered the canon. Exhaustively researched, much of it from primary sources, Dylan is not a rehash of prior works but a freshly considered, de novo examination of one of the towering figures of American musical culture. And while McDougal certainly adopts a point of view, he clearly is not pushing an agenda for which he cherry-picked evidence but appears to have developed his understandings as he processed the information he unearthed. This "telling it like it is" feel permeates the book and leaves us feeling that McDougal's work is destined to be canonical.

But let me not give the impression that Dylan is a scholarly tome to be slogged through. To the contrary, the book is a fast-paced, ever-fascinating roller-coaster romp not just through a life but through an era. Dylan's musical evolution sometimes reflects, sometime refracts and often leads the evolution of music over the last half century. Iconic figures we grew up with wafted in and out of his life, "out" being especially relevant since he left a horde of discarded friends and acquaintances in the dust of his towering and unapologetic, even gleeful, contempt. That Dylan made full use of celebrity license to be a nasty sonofabitch is only one of the inescapable conclusions to be drawn from this book.

Part of the author's brilliance is in being able to effortless juggle seemingly contradictory ideas, in much the same way that he describes Dylan as doing. McDougal is transparently admiring of Dylan's musical genius even as he demonstrates that some portion of the work derives directly from that of others. (Not outright plagiarism, necessarily, but more towards what Shakespeare meant when he called himself "a borrower of the trifles of others.") Dylan sees no troubling contradiction in sneering at commercial striving while he himself aggressively pursues the accumulation of wealth, with the rationalization that it's okay for a singer-songwriter to sell records, but not Coca-Cola. There's also no reticence about pointing out that, like many geniuses in a variety of fields of human endeavor, Dylan put out a lot of junk along with the gems.

For anyone who might be thinking that you need to be a Dylan fan to enjoy this book, let me tell you, you don't. And if, like I, you've always enjoyed the man's music but couldn't have cared less about his life, this book will change your mind. I can't remember ever using "biography" and "page-turner" in the same sentence but Dylan had me riveted from the first chapter. The only times I paused were when I reached for the headset to re-hear his vintage songs, this time knowing the context in which they were written and recorded. What a revelation.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Same Old Story From Another Point Of View 7 Jun. 2014
By Alias - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having just completed the Kindle version of this book I couldn't help but think throughout my reading that I've heard and read most of this before. If you've ever read other Dylan biographies, Chronicles, interviews or keep up with Dylan on, etc. then there won't be too many surprises for you coming from McDougal's research and perspective. Sure, he does share a few new detailed tidbits from behind the scenes concerning Dylan's women, friends and family, albums, personal life, management team, money and investments, but for the most part I'd say that about 75% of this book has already been told before. Not too many surprises and Dylan still remains elusive and private even for MdDougal. Now having said that, if you're new to Dylan or don't know much about his life and want to know more then I'd give this book a five-star rating and say that it's a must read, one of the best as far as other Dylan biographies go and there would be no reason to read any other biography of Dylan.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the key to enlightenment 22 May 2014
By katam road records - Published on
the true unwrapping of the dylan mystique, as best one can do it. through research and words that fly off the page, mcdougal gives us a real high definition view of what possibly can make bob tick, and the stories and interviews all make it so.
truly a luscious read and one that leaves the reader with a lot more to chew on than ever before...and mcdougal's story telling is just top notch
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Kind of Dylan Biography 3 Aug. 2014
By Lawrence J. Epstein - Published on
Here is a review I wrote of this book for The Best American Poetry Blog:

There are a thousand doors that lead into the House of Dylan. Dennis McDougal has managed to open a new door. Applying a muckraking sensibility to Dylan’s life, McDougal has opened the door of snarky biography. His book is chock full of revealing and sometimes unflattering incidents, gossip, and well-researched facts. There are nuggets of juicy information on every page.

This constantly entertaining approach has, however, some built-in limitations. To focus so exclusively on Dylan’s life means McDougal has to strain out extended discussions of the lyrics and the music. It might be argued that such efforts already exist or that they are unhelpful since so many of Dylan’s best lyrics are private to the point of being inexplicable. McDougal inherently argues that the life is so jam-packed, so quivering with meaning, so curious with its parade of characters, so endlessly fascinating to legions of obsessed fans, that trying to decipher the lyrics is best left to the professors who like Dylan’s poetic looks. Still, some readers will be disappointed. All biographies of Dylan have the same big problem. We know a lot about Dylan, but we also don’t know a lot. Dylan’s life is marked by interiority. No one has access to his thought dreams. No one can unpack all the lies, all the deceptions. It should be noted that McDougal’s book is particularly valuable because he emphasizes Dylan’s many false identities, “borrowing” lines, and misleading stories.

With all the facts, it would have been interesting for McDougal to pause and reflect more. He has a very insightful understanding of Dylan’s audience, and I’d like to have read more of his thoughts about them. He writes in an eye-opening way about Dylan’s mother and her ability to make up stories or invent new lines for Mother Goose rhymes. I wonder to what extent Dylan’s linguistic skills, evident early to his Hibbing friends, were
inherited. And do Dylan’s misdirections to everyone indicate a manipulative personality
or is there another explanation? Allen Ginsberg said of Dylan in 1976, "I don't know him because I don't think there is any him. I don't think he's got a self."

McDougal is a talented journalist, and he includes material not found elsewhere. I’m impressed, for example, at how intelligently he describes the privately-printed memoir of B.J. Rolfzen, Dylan’s influential high school English teacher. But the very inclusion of such interesting material brings up a wider question. What is amazing is that even with the heft of the book, even with McDougal’s impressive research, there are compelling stories that are not included. For example, Rolfzen told me that he used to go to a local cemetery jotting down epitaphs, connecting them together, and reading that list to Dylan’s class. For the effect of this, see “11 Outlined Epitaphs” in the liner notes to The Times They Are A-Changin’. In a way, McDougal’s book makes it abundantly clear that an artist like Dylan ultimately needs a very long multi-volume biography.

The writing, crisp and always readable, is untainted by jargon or unnecessarily dense prose. Still, McDougal does have an odd locution or two. For instance, he refers to Greenwich Village as “Greenwich” which no resident there does; they always call it the Village.

The book, though, is valuable for its unmatched approach to Dylan’s life and his providing an important corrective by focusing so much on Dylan’s later life bringing his story up-to-date and offering an appreciation of Dylan’s many later achievements.

Dylan: The Biography displays a jaw-dropping amount of tales told in admirable prose. The book is very suitable for Dylan fans and those who wonder why so many people keep knocking on one of Dylan’s doors.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing 4 July 2014
By Bookworm - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I found this book mostly mean-spirited and petty. It seemed that the author did have an axe to grind regarding Bob Dylan and that colored the writing. Had McDougal presented a more balanced view of the man, I would have enjoyed it so much more. But the book was just too negative.
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