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Behind the Shades: The 20th Anniversary Edition Paperback – 1 Apr 2011
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Behind the Shades by Clinton Heylin: May 24th 2011 was Bob Dylan's seventieth Birthday. To celebrate, Faber are thrilled to be publishing this classic Dylan biography, Behind the Shades.
From the Inside Flap
In virtually all areas of Dylan's life - his immigrant antecedents, his business dealings, his various addictions and his romantic attachments - Heylin is able to provide a fascinating picture of a man who changed the whole course of popular music in the sixties and, over thirty years later, won three Grammys. Heylin has given full weight to Dylan's own words and those of his closest associates, with over 250 people quoted in the book, helping to provide a portrait of a complex figure.
Including 60,000 words of brand new material - dealing with Dylan's four twenty-first century albums; his archival audio-visual projects; his third film; his series of paintings and exhibitions; his autobiography, Chronicles; and his ongoing romantic liaisons and 'missing' marriages - this fully updated story of Dylan provides a monumental overview of the Man and his Music.
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Top customer reviews
It's very well structured and, considering the oft times complexity of the subject matter, well written. Each stage of Dylan's career is portrayed with clarity. So whether, like me, you're a life time fan, or only just getting into the subject, this is the one to buy. Hopefully one day we'll see Chronicles 2 and 3 from Dylan himself, but great though they may be, they're less likely to be as informative and detailed as this.
One of the strongest aspects of 'Behind the Shades' (and where it differs hugely from Sounes and Shelton, for example) it that it treats Dylan's artistic career as an unfolding fifty-year process of development and discovery, rather than a mid-sixties blaze of glory with a 45-year postscript tacked onto the end. Fully 600 pages of text follow the 1966 motorbike crash. This long and measured pespective - the accumulative sense of a life lived - gives us a more rounded and truthful view of Dylan than any previous biography. There's also a liberal and extensive use of quotation, with direct and sometimes lengthy quotes from some 250 individuals who've known or worked with Dylan, plus liberal extracts from Dylan's own words. These are all expertly orchestrated into Heylin's narrative.
Heylin is neither hagiographer nor hatchet-man. He doesn't shy away from Dylan's many personal and artistic failings, but he never chronicles these in a prurient way. He knows too much to argue or to judge. Likewise, he never lapses into breathless fanboy prose when reviewing the peaks of Dylan's creativity and achievement. Through the highs and the lows, what interests Heylin more than anything is what it must have been like to have been Bob Dylan at a particular point in time, and how this all-too-human man has dealt with the pressures, the expectations, the frustrations and the disappointments of his long and chequered career.
All in all, this is an excellent book. My only word of caution is that it's properly huge: weighing in at 1.2kgs, it's a Dylan primer and a personal workout all in one. Faber have done a lovely job of the printing, but this is one book that even an old Luddite like me could almost be persuaded to read on Kindle!
Heylin of course has history with Bob Dylan, apart from the two previous versions of "Behind the Shades" he has written the somewhat obsessive "Bob Dylan - A Life in Stolen Moments", the fascinating "Dylan - Behind Closed Doors" and two volumes of work examining in detail every song that Dylan has ever written up to 2006. So he is eminently qualified to bring his considerable knowledge of his subject to the market place, and bring it he does, with a staggering amount of information on every facet of Dylan's life and career.
What I like about "Behind the Shades" is Heylin's ability to treat his subject with objectivity and judge each of Dylan's projects on their own merit. He is fair in his appraisals, and his criticisms are well judged. He draws on a wealth of published material to back up his opinions (and does Mr. Heylin have opinions!), and uses personal quotes from the vast array of characters that have worked with Dylan over his extensive career. Time is spent explaining how the albums came to be, and each is treated with a fair degree of attention, as we learn a lot about Dylan's approach to his art - his periods of writers block, his short attention span and his boredom threshold, his inability to convey to fellow musicians what he hears in his head, his own frustration with inadequate preparation for recording sessions and tours and his general lack of cooperation with the media.
That Dylan is a genius there can be little doubt, but Heylin, who by his own admission has never met the man, is able to portray a more prosaic picture. A result of which is that his approach falls somewhere between the denseness of Scaduto and Shelton, and the tabloid sleaziness of Sounes - a man whom Heylin spends a whole chapter discrediting!
All of Dylan's side projects are given the same equitable treatment, including the ill-fated "Tarantula" - Dylan's first attempt at non-musical prose, his films, his first volume of memoirs and his surprisingly successful venture into the world of art. Some more successful than others, but all showing that, as Heylin says his "...ability constantly to reinvent who Bob Dylan was, and is, remains the primary characteristic of his art."
What I like a little less about "Behind the Shades" is Heylin's attempts at humour and his constant striving to weave quotes from Dylan's songs into his narrative. Both come off as a little forced and detract from the seriousness of the work - at least I assume it is meant to be serious. But that aside, this book is to me, the finest Dylan biography currently available, no mean feat when one considers the amount of competition out there. Dylan remains a fascinating enigma, and Clinton Heylin has got closer to the essence of the man than anyone that I have ever read, and that is just about every biography I have been able to lay my hands on.
With now over half a century in the public arena, Dylan shows no signs of slowing down "My music wasn't made to take me from one place to another so I can retire early." He said in 2009 according to one of Heylin's many quotes from the man himself, so he intends to be around a while longer yet. If this is the case, we may see a third update of this engrossing work in 2021. In the meantime I urge you to buy this current version, preferably on Kindle, to tide you over.
Highly recommended, and expect to see an almost mint condition copy of the print version on e-bay very soon!