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Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2 1974-2008 Hardcover – 29 Apr 2010
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Clinton Heylin, master explicator of the Dylan canon, has however improbably, sorted it all out for us through the tangled '80's and beyond, completing what he started in Revolution in the Air. The book is essential. (Jonathan Lethem)
Rarely does and author put an artist's creative process under such forensic scrutiny-and stitch his findings together with such success (Metro Herald Ireland)
The only essential read for Bobcats. (Time Out)
Review. (Contemporary Review)
The second volume of the bestselling history of Bob Dylan's songsSee all Product description
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This book brings out Heylin's strengths, which are that he is a researcher, with a real eye for detail, who finds out new things about Dylan's songs and how they were written (and rewritten!), recorded and transformed in live performance. The book is full of insightful details. On the other hand , it does display Heylin's weaknesses as a writer - particularly a clunky style and an urge to be judgemental when it come to Dylan the human being as opposed to the artist. That said, this is a really fascinating and much needed account of Bob Dylan's ability to continue to develop his art over the last four decades. Recommended.
Others have commented on Heylin's assured style - he isn't a natural writer by any means and for one who so often comments on the quality or otherwise of Dylan's lyrics, especially when there was the inevitable revision, he is clunky. This is particularly noticeable when Heylin inserts words into Dylan's lyrics as if it is his job to ensure they are comprehensible. This is not only arrogant but unnecessary. If Helin were quoting a Dylan speech then adding a helpful word or two in parentheses is fine. Try it with, for instance, Shakespeare and it becomes clear that this approach is redundant. Dylan's lyrics can stand for themselves and if Dylan didn't put the extra word in it was for a reason, good or bad.
The second flaw I feel with this book comes towards the end, the last few albums released before publication. This is the plagiarism aspect in Dylan's work. In fact, he has been reworking and reusing quotes and phrases in his lyrics since at least the md-80s. Without necessarily defending the practice, it is something that many poets, songwriters, musicians, artists over the centuries. Having said that, I can think of at least two reasons why Dylan does it. One is to create a game for people like Heylin to play: what obscure poet can I quote this time... The second is to provide a launchpad for new writing. There are many examples of songs that grew from the inspiration of a phrase, heard or read. And Dylan has been part of that venerable tradition since he began writing songs. Heylin, I suspect but cannot prove, has probably never written a song in his life.
The final flaw is the lack of comments about the music. Yes, Dylan is very literary, very verbal and one of the few rock songwriters whose words do work on the page, but his medium is song and, like Clue, the words and the music do belong together. Dylan is not sophisticated musically but he has written some exquisite melodies: Every Grain Of Sand sings to mind. To fail to mention the music is to miss a large part of the story.
Yes, the book is fascinating in parts, infuriating in others and flawed, it is also worth buying. It sent me back to listening to some Dylan songs I hadn't bothered with in a while, mostly to see if I agreed with Heylin. Sometimes I didn't but with this book you are entitled to his opinion.
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