Anthony Scaduto’s Bob Dylan:A Biography (1972?); another one from my cousin’s closet, part of the same cache that included Fear and Loathing. This would have been in the very early 1990s. I had always loved Bob Dylan, always–one of the earliest songs I remember taping off of the radio was “Like a Rolling Stone.” I had to call in to request it. I recorded it at the end of my first (and only, at the time) cassette tape–a copy of Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms that my dad had taped from his vinyl for me. By the time I got a hold of Anthony Scaduto’s fantastic bio, I knew a bit about Dylan. I already had a couple of Dylan albums, including one of the first CDs I ever bought, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (still my favorite). Like Fear and Loathing, this book was a door-opener to me. Interestingly, I was mostly enchanted by Dylan’s voice and wordplay before I read this book; that is to say his cult of personality hadn’t really effected me yet. This book changed that.
(I took the edition on the left. The one on the right you can buy online or in your favorite bookstore)
Any true Dylan fan has probably already read this book, but if you consider yourself one (a true fan, that is), and you haven’t read it, make amends. You won’t be disappointed. The book is particularly good if you bookend it with viewings of DA Pennebaker’s extraordinary documentary Don’t Look Back.
Dylan in his later years (i.e. nowadays) is as perplexing as ever. He’s made three of the best albums of his post-60s career, making up for some questionable output. He’s slowed down on the touring quite a bit (saw him about 10 years ago and he blew my mind — who knew what an accomplished guitar player he was?), and made those weird Victoria’s Secret commercials a few years ago. Recently, he made a ruckus when he attacked modern recording techniques in a Rolling Stone interview with one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem.
One of the best things Dylan has done lately is his “Theme Time Radio Hour” on XM satellite radio. The show is thematic; Dylan riffs on the bible, coffee, the weather, all sorts of stuff. His musical taste is fantastic (saying Bob Dylan has good musical taste is sort of like saying water is wet), but it’s really his voice that mesmerizes. It’s a gleeful mix of the sinister with the playful. He actually kind of sounds like the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, especially in a comment from a recent show on the bible: “Nine out of ten Americans have at least one bible in their home. What’s up with the other guy?” Doesn’t look funny in print, but his delivery is unexpectedly hilarious.
If, like me, you can’t afford to subscribe to fancy satellite stations but still want to hear the word of Dylan, never fear! Check out White Man Stew for free downloadable mp3s of complete Dylan shows. You can get the shows as zip files full of divided mp3s, or as one long mp3.