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THE BALLAD OF BOB DYLAN

A PORTRAIT

Despite occasionally graceful writing and input from hitherto untapped expert witnesses, this is not top-shelf Dylanology.

Four concerts viewed over more than four decades frame a new study of the musician.

Historian and poet Epstein (Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries, 2009, etc.) employs a quartet of Dylan gigs he attended—a 1963 solo acoustic date, a 1974 show with The Band, and 1997 and 2009 stops on the so-called Never Ending Tour—as pivots in his overview of the singer-songwriter’s 50-year musical journey. The results are a mixed bag. The ’63 performance in Washington, D.C., coincided with Dylan’s rise to folk-music stardom, and the ’74 Madison Square Garden stand was part of a trek that returned him to the stage after an eight-year layoff, but Epstein never integrates his observations into the flow of his biographical narrative. The latter two shows were merely stops on a long road, and the author parses them indifferently. Epstein is at his best dealing with his subject’s Minnesota boyhood, embrace of folk music and meteoric early-’60s ascent; fresh recollections from Nora Guthrie, daughter of Dylan’s role model Woody Guthrie, highlight the early going. Likewise, later chapters on the making of the important albums Time Out of Mind (1997) and Love and Theft (2001) benefit from revealing interviews with session men like drummer David Kemper and the late keyboardist-raconteur Jim Dickinson. Yet Epstein fails to penetrate the artist’s multitudinous masks at other crucial junctures. He offers nothing new about Dylan’s mid-’60s rock stardom, and his crucial relationship with first wife Sara Lownds is as mysterious here as it is in other accounts. The author has no patience with Dylan’s conversion to Christianity in the late ’70s, and the music that followed receives little consideration. Epstein takes in Dylan’s creatively manic later years as a touring and recording artist, writer, painter and radio host with an obsessive’s eye, but all the detail feels unsorted and second-hand.

Despite occasionally graceful writing and input from hitherto untapped expert witnesses, this is not top-shelf Dylanology.

Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-180732-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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