The mysteries of Bob Dylan captured in even-handed, never-boring fashion.
Like another American dreamer, Jay Gatsby, Dylan is the product of his own myth. Unlike Gatsby, the myth—the multiple sides of which were recently displayed like museum pieces in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There—has long been part of the package. Still, no matter how calculated the mystery may be, Dylan remains a chameleon even to those close to him. According to Rolling Stone founding editor and longtime rock chronicler Dalton (El Sid: Saint Vicious, 1997, etc.), Dylan “writes compelling tales about his character in a series of self-portraits that he then peevishly paints over.” In this latest attempt to lift the Dylan veil, Dalton offers less a straight biography than an inspired, imaginative investigation into Dylan’s many sides: dedicated folkie, gifted poet, egomaniac, wannabe maker of abstract cinema. The author sifts the songs for real-life clues and tackles certain aspects of the Dylan story that have long been a source of controversy. Examples: Dylan did visit Woody Guthrie, there was no benediction, no passing of the torch; the dying folkie may not have even known Dylan was there. Dylan wasn’t booed for going electric at the Newport Folk Festival; he was booed because he only played 15 minutes. The supposedly life-changing near-death 1966 motorcycle accident was likely no more than a minor scrape.
Although the book ends in a bit of a limbo—as any book that follows Dylan in his later career is destined to do—this lively and literate attempt to read a half-century's worth of brain scans from a literal living legend strikes the right balance between admiration and skepticism.