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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars lots of desk research, useful background and sane opinion make for an interesting read, 31 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan (Paperback)
Ian Bell has clearly read very extensively before writing his biography of Dylan - who is clearly a tricky subject for a biography, much protective of his privacy, given to telling tall tales about most things, and very used to being misunderstood. His approach, once you get used to it, yields dividends as you read through the book - if not new blinding flashes of illumination.

Others have gone out an interviewed his family and friends - Harold Sounes' biography of a few years ago discovered Dylan's second marriage, and was enormously convincing about how awful everyone thought he was (at playing etc) when he first arrive in New York. It also shed light on Dylan's financial affairs - and just how uncomfortable he could find life when even Robbie Robertson was asking him in Woodstock what direction he was going to set for the future of music.

Ian Bell has a different approach. HIs knowledge of Dylan's interviews is comprehensive and he has read the work of other biographers and the recollections of Suze Rotolo etc. He's also very impressive in his understanding of the background, politically in the US (though an even better view emerges from Robert Caro's work on Lyndon Johnson), and in terms of contemporary developments in music. He also is in a position to muse extensively on Dylan's relation to the work of the poets, what other musicians have found it like to tour etc.

What emerges is a very rounded picture. Not always persuasive in its judgements on the music or the lyrics (Christopher Ricks' books is a better guide there). And faced with mysteries - what happened in 1963 to stop Dylan writing protest songs, what enabled the flowering of 1965-6, and what brought that flowering to an end - he leaves them as mysteries, just asking a series of rhetorical questions. Sometimes his historical judgement is awry (Dylan surely wrote far more 'protest' songs than Bell believes - Bell says that he seems to have written 41 songs in 1962 alone, and many of those were protest songs). But overall, it's very well worth reading.
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