Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 19742006 Hardcover – Jul 1 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
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So, why only 3 stars?
- Heylin's habit of second guessing Dylan about lyric changes, best versions of songs, and so on, is hubris. Dylan is the writer and performer, and though it is reasonable to question choices he makes, Clinton Heylin crosses over into making definitive pronouncements thereby placing himself in a superior position to Dylan. Uh ... really?
- Heylin's condescending dismissal of other writers about Dylan is irritating. For some reason he seems to feel he needs to put down these writers. What I mean is that he doesn't just disagree and present a different point of view, he insults them. What is gained by this?
- Heylin, like so many writers on Dylan, seems to think it's cool, or a mark of superior knowledge, to incorporate allusions to lines and phrases from Dylan's songs in his prose. Give it a rest. It's a bore (not to mention that it's very easy to do), and given that advertisers, editorialists, journalists and the like drop Dylan references like jelly babies at Beatles' concerts, this stylistic habit is tedious. English Composition 101 - put it in your own words.
- Why on earth Heylin spends a good portion of his discussion of "Brownsville Girl" discussing the earlier studio take "Dansville Girl" is beyond me. I assume it's because, according to Heylin, Dylan has a habit of rewriting his songs in ways that make the released versions inferior to the earlier studio takes. But most people will likely only have access to the released song, so it would seem sensible to discuss that version. This is a case where Heylin "decides" that Dylan was wrong and so takes it upon himself to substitute his preference for Dylan's. Come again? I'm familiar with both versions and I think, after maybe a hundred listens, that Dylan made the right choice by releasing "Brownsville Girl."
- The "Christian Period" ~ Heylin does an excellent job of showing, from "Street Legal" to "Modern Times," that the so called Christian Period was not a period at all. Dylan's work is soaked in Biblical imagery and reference, his sensibility has been Apocalyptic from as early as "Freewheelin'" and Dylan has always been a moralist of the prophetic type. The problem I had with Heylin's discussion of songs from "Slow Train," "Saved," and "Shot of Love" is that he goes on and on about the Biblical references in these songs. Sure, a certain amount is appropriate, but Heylin goes on at such length it seemed more like he was displaying his endless "rabbinical" knowledge of The Gospels and The Prophets. If I felt his long discursions on Biblical passages actually helped to understand the songs it would be okay, but to me it came off more as an opportunity for Heylin to display his knowledge of the Bible (I have a Ph.D. in Religious Studies). It might be worth noting that there are websites like Oremus that can search and find Biblical references quite easily. Heylin could have written all those pages with no Bible in sight. Of course I don't know if Heylin is well versed in the Bible, but the main point is that this whole section of his book was filled with long discussions that focus far more on Biblical passages than on Dylan's song. I skipped or scanned lots of this section.
Clinton Heylin's books are always a mixed bag, but at his best his work is full of valuable research and quite interesting commentary on Dylan and his work. If you are seriously into Dylan then you seriously ought to consider getting "Still on the Road," along with the earlier companion volume "Revolution in the Air."
Unfortunately, some of the problems present in the previous volume are here as well. The author has a tendency to make definitive statements even when the truth is far from certain, and he resorts to childish insults of others who do the same. There's also an uneven treatment of the songs--the focus of the book is on the writing process, but sometimes Heylin discusses the music and sometimes he doesn't. This can be frustrating for those who see Dylan's evolution as a performing artist as important as his songwriting.
Despite these problems, this is the only book that examines all of Dylan's most recent work, and although Heylin can be arrogant at times, he's rarely boring. This makes the book easy to recommend to fans of Dylan's late-period work.
It's too bad, it could have been great, and it's a valuable reference work, but it's utterly frustrating.
1. Are you a white male in your 40's or 50's?
2. Do you own all of Bob Dylan's official catalog?
3. If yes, are you slightly offended that I would even ask the previous question?
4. Apart from official cds do you own hundreds of Dylan books, unofficial live cds and dvds.
5. Do you get most of your news from a man named Karl Erik?
6. Does your wife (or more likely ex-wife) sigh when she hears the name Bob Dylan?
7. On the very day of 9/11/01 did you go to the store and buy the newly released Love And Theft CD, despite the fact that the world was just changed forever?
8. If Bob Dylan played "Never Say Goodbye" tonight in concert would you be visibly excited?
9. When you hear the name Clinton Heylin do you never throw up in your mouth, even a little bit?
If you answered NO to more than 2 or 3 of these questions you will not enjoy this book. I recommend you try another Bob Dylan book.
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