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Once Upon a Time, You Feel So Fine,
This review is from: Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan (Hardcover)
"Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan", the title says a lot about the book Ian Bell has written. A lot. This is a tremendous book in it's research and just plain prose writing; it is critically analytic. It's a pleasure and instructive to read. The historicity seems to be very well researched. As a fan of Dylan who has not even heard all of his music, what I do know Bell gets quite right.
That said: what gets said by Bell as well seems a bit petulant to put it mildly as he slowly berates Dylan for his song pilferage or plagiarism, for Dylan's "expansive" self-histories, the "borrowed" records and Dylan's manipulations of the press that are at once cruel and self-promoting. Dylan reworked a lot of stuff and put his stamp on it; and, perhaps more importantly, he did it at the right place and at the right time.
It's good to be lucky and Dylan made the best of the luck he'd made and stumbled upon; (it feels like Bell thinks this is unjust or unfair). It seems that from about age 19 Dylan just "got it" all very naturally just like Morrison did later when it came to dealing with the press; not many people did. The crushing press and public spotlight doomed many, many more to short public lives. It also seems a little inexcusable when Bell criticizes Dylan on account of his father's death for his lack of creativity in the 70's. Despite all of his prior "dis-owning" of family Dylan did, the fact that Dylan flew his mom and dad to see him "make it finally" (a condition his father tried to apply earlier) to his first New York Carnegie Hall show argues loudly against the creative lies he told the press about them; it's kind of funny now reading about the BS Dylan was slinging to anyone who would listen and write it down for further consumption. But when Bell implies some deep family hatred as symptomatic of Dylan's faults it is a bit much ( who can claim to not have any family issues?). On father/son conflicts: Show me a son who hasn't got 'em; Freud said a fathers death for a son is the greatest of psychological events, the most traumatic. Does Bell really hold Dylan up to so high a standard fairly?
Largely, Bell thinks Dylan's behavior was calculated, coldly and clearly: the plagiarism the little family lies, etc. Well, he did do that stuff. But, it's as though Bell thinks Dylan planned all of his actions in advance even though he finally get's Dylan to admit late in the book that all his 60's work was unconscious and that he only became conscious some time in the 70's. Dylan was all of 19 when he rolled into New York City. Bell wants to hold Dylan to account for actions all of us have made without plan, or, at least it seems that way in retrospect: anyone who has made it to be 60 or so can look back and wonder how it is exactly they got to where they are and as to how much it was all planned out. It's doubtful many can take the position and say it happened just as planned even AFTER they became conscious of self. Who of us are not driven by unconscious desires and fears? Jimmie, Janice and Jim couldn't make it past their 27th birthday while "doing time in the universal mind" as Jim put it.
Being the center of attention places even more strain on one man's life: being in the spotlight is no easy task and performing "thoughtfully" all of the time cannot be expected either, quite the contrary (unconsciously is more like it). Dylan managed to ride this chiming freedom flashing well; he's still doing it to some extent now 50 years later. Bell should perhaps be less critical of Dylan but it seems to give him focus; it is perhaps necessary. It's OK (Ma); the book is well worth the read, if you have an interest in Americana, and, especially the history surrounding the era. Bell's knowledge of "the times", music, poetry and writing in general is admirable; it's huge. This is a very, very good book; a great read and worth the effort. (The book covers Dylan's career to age 34. Highly recommended.