Bob Dylan: Writings, 1968-2010
The book begins in Berkeley in 1968, and ends with a piece on Dylan’s show at the University of Minnesotahis very first appearance at his alma materon election night 2008. In between are moments of euphoric discovery: From Marcus’s liner notes for the 1967 Basement Tapes (pop music’s most famous bootlegged archives) to his exploration of Dylan’s reimagining of the American experience in the 1997 Time Out of Mind. And rejection; Marcus’s Rolling Stone piece on Dylan’s album Self Portrait—often called the most famous record review ever writtenbegan with What is this shit?” and led to his departure from the magazine for five years. Marcus follows not only recordings but performances, books, movies, and all manner of highways and byways in which Bob Dylan has made himself felt in our culture.
Together the dozens of pieces collected here comprise a portrait of how, throughout his career, Bob Dylan has drawn upon and reinvented the landscape of traditional American song, its myths and choruses, heroes and villains. They are the result of a more than forty-year engagement between an unparalleled singer and a uniquely acute listener.
Park, California—my home town, as it happened, and in 1958 the most comfortable, cruising-the-strip postwar suburb town imaginable—made the song number one in the country.18 The whole story is in Robert Cantwell’s book on the folk revival, When We Were Good—or at least the story up to 1996, when the book was published. In 2000, Appleseed Records released Nothing Seems Better to Me, a volume of field recordings made by the Warners, featuring Frank Proffitt. The liner notes included a letter from
plays pretty on “She Belongs to Me” and Dylan runs through the vocal the way he used to hurry through the first half of a concert, getting the crowd-pleasers out of the way so that he could play the music that mattered. Garth Hudson has the best moment of the song. (23) Vocation as a Vocation. Dylan is, if he wants to be, an American with a vocation. It might almost be a calling—the old Puritan idea of a gift one should live up to—but it’s not, and vocation is strong enough. There is no
the dandy-thief Lacenaire says in Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise, unmake. Dylan merged white euphoria with black realism; Beethoven and Ma Rainey “unwrapped a bedroll”; as in “The Whiteness of the Whale” and the crew’s reply to Ahab’s speech on the quarterdeck, as in Lincoln’s “every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be repaid with another drawn by the sword,” Dylan shouldered all debts in a spirit of providential ecstasis. On the margins of A Darker Shade of Pale, Mellers is
the Wind” in 1963, or his 1974 comeback tour), he didn’t. “Kinda ersatz,” said a friend as we listened to Bob Dylan’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” for the first time, on the radio. He meant contrived, second-hand—received. This great anthem of the Civil Rights movement, no matter how profound its effect on the world (it brought people together, made sense of their hopes and fears, was good for singalongs, made Sam Cooke so envious he wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come”), was from its first
fear that a singer who once seemed able to translate the vague and shifting threats and warnings of his time into a language that was instantly and overwhelmingly understood might be able to do it again. Part of it has to do with what Gerri Hirshey, in a recent Rolling Stone story on Dylan’s son Jakob (in the top ten with his band, the Wallflowers, for all of the spring of this year) called the “foolish cultural myopia that has long plagued this country: We don’t know what to make of artists who