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THE DYLANISTA – Spring/Summer 2022

Literary canon formation is a curious thing, and Dylan’s Nobel Prize has certainly put the cat among the pigeons on that score. There’s no question about Dylan’s commanding presence in the rock ‘n roll “canon,” if that’s an appropriate word: the canonical rock ‘n roll artists can be corralled in the second half of the 20th century. Rock ‘n roll is no longer the most popular musical form, if it’s still being made at all, and we already know the primary names of the rock canon. Apart from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its portmanteau approach to inflating the canon by heralding little-known musical influences, no expansion is realistically possible. Rock ‘n roll is now a static form, its history set in concrete, and expanding the rock canon would be like expanding, for example, the canon of Romantic poets. We might find an interesting rocker or early influence whose discovery enriches our understanding and challenges biases, but the definition of the period would remain intact.


Nor is there any question about Dylan’s centrality to the last years of the Second Folk Movement, which can be dated to the late fifties. In an odd (and well-rehearsed) paradox, Dylan probably did as much as anyone to kill off the Folk Movement while remaining, at least to those outside the world of Dylan-watchers, the consummate 60s folksinger. The name Bob Dylan still means “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” even if the original cultural context of those songs is long lost – whether they can be revived with cultural force is yet to be determined. And although Sara Danius suggested Blonde on Blonde as a place to start Dylan appreciation, and resist as we might this reductive equation of Dylan with his acoustic-era songs, it must be admitted that, in Stockholm on that fateful night, Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” from the acoustic Freewheelin’ album. This is the Bob Dylan even Bob Dylan himself and Patti Smith seem to recognize as his “face value.”


But Dylan didn’t win the Nobel Prize for acoustic folk, folk rock, rock, or any other kind of music (the Swedes don’t give a medal for music). Lest we forget, Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This genre-bending acknowledgment, regardless of how much we admire the Nobel Committee’s bravery, means that we must think of Dylan as part of the literary canon. He isn’t simply the most significant songwriter of his generation, nor even, to quote Richard Thomas, “the supreme artist of the English language of my time.”[1] Dylan is now a sanctioned figure in the American literary canon.


Or is he? The newest Norton Anthology of American Literature (10th Edition) doesn’t include any Dylan songs (with or without music). Not that this college tome represents the last word in canonicity.[2] But the absence of Dylan’s name, amid the welter of much less well-known authors, none of whom has won the Nobel, inevitably undermines Dylan’s new literary status. To exclude the 2016 American laureate is tantamount to denying the literariness of his work—and defying the Swedish imprimatur. It’s a puzzling omission and a missed opportunity to expand and diversify the literary canon with a homegrown interdisciplinary art form. Is this evidence of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, or simply a case of something happening here, and they don’t know what it is?[3]


Either way, the cat’s among the pigeons. Dylan’s indefinable literary status highlights the conundrum of canon formation. In my view, the Norton omission is an editorial blunder, though it might not be in the short run. But in the longer run, questions about inclusion, exclusion, and interdisciplinary diversity will fill our heads until they fall to the floor.


Redefining the concept of “Literature” with a capital “L” is fundamental to Dylan’s bid for canonicity. Henry Louis Gates addressed a similar redefinition when he edited The Norton Anthology of African American Literature in the 1990s, announcing what was for the time “an innovation in anthology production.” Gates explained that “Because of the strong oral and vernacular base of so much of our literature, we shall include a cassette tape along with our anthology. This means that each period will include both the printed and spoken text of oral and musical selections of black vernacular culture: sermons, blues, spirituals, R&B, poets reading their own ‘dialect’ poems, speeches, and other performances.”[4] According to Gates, “The canon that we define will be ‘our’ canon, one possible set of selections among several possible sets of selections.” And he concludes, “Scholars make canons.”


While I’m skeptical about this last statement, I like Gates’s knitting together of printed text and oral performance to form the “vernacular base” of literature.[5] Dylan himself hints at the same sort of knitting-together in his Nobel lecture. As Richard Thomas points out, Dylan offers “a fascinating description of how he gained mastery of the ‘vernacular’ of the early folk artists by singing the songs: ‘You internalize it. You sing it in the ragtime blues, work songs, Georgia sea shanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs. You hear all the finer points, and you learn the details.’” Dylan’s lecture provides a kind of road map of personalized canon formation. Thomas summarizes it this way: “Just as he becomes Odysseus later in the lecture – ‘You too have had the drugs dropped in your wine’ – so too here he has entered into the folk songs and ballads which he has hardwired and whose world he inhabits. This is what it means to live inside the world of literature and song.”[6]


Notable by their absence are the scholarly canon-makers. Dylan’s reflections demonstrate how an artist internalizes prior works and reimagines them in his own songs, and, as Thomas highlights, Dylan’s attention to the vernacular is invaluable. Gates and his co-editors expansively define “vernacular literature” to embody popular and highly influential Black musical forms. Yet, try as we might, it’s difficult to think of Robert Johnson or Billie Holliday or Duke Ellington as literary figures. Dylan, too, has a credibility problem in terms of literary status, his lyrical genius and Nobel Prize notwithstanding. Academic curricula and public impressions make it abundantly clear that – though hope springs eternal – the redefinition of “literature” is still a work in progress. Perhaps that’s as it should be – perhaps the precise definition of literature should always be in statu nascendi: in a dynamic state of coming into being. In any case, as is also abundantly clear, no canon can be determined by fiat.


Not that Dylan’s serious audience ever worried much about that. We were convinced his survival outside the conventional canon was guaranteed because we had a card up our sleeves: the irresistibility of the songs themselves. The songs would straddle canonical limits and live on in (relative) perpetuity. As Milton said about Shakespeare in 1632, before the onslaught of Bardolatry:


What needs my Shakespeare for his honored bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?[7]


Why should Shakespeare need a marble tomb to preserve his memory? Why should his “relics” be buried under a pyramid? Such preservation efforts are pointless: Milton apostrophizes Shakespeare, asserting “Thou…hast built thyself a livelong monument” with “easy numbers” and “the leaves of thy unvalued book.”


As has Dylan, with his 600-plus songs and his numberless recordings making up his “unvalued book.” And surely Dylan’s “easy numbers,” so riveting and transformative over the years, will be enough to build a “livelong monument.” Surely our bard, our vates, has written and played and sung himself into the canon.


But which canon? Formulated how? Sustained in what medium?


I repeat the refrain: canon formation is a curious thing. For example—if I can digress from literature – Ted Gioia recently wrote in The Atlantic that, mirabile dictu, old music was far outselling new music:


Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music – especially that endangered species known as the working musician – should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.


He records his surprise when a young cashier is singing “Message in a Bottle,” and then again at a diner, “where the entire staff was under 30 but every song was more than 40 years old.”[8]


Gioia marvels that “Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact. In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead. Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona fide hits can pass unnoticed by much of the population.” As fascinating as this phenomenon is, however, Gioia doesn’t address the converse situation, the elephant in the room regarding canonicity. It’s one thing to call attention to the unique historical situation where new tracks become hits “while generating so little cultural impact.” But there’s no reason to suppose that, conversely, the old songs now representing 70 percent of the US music market are generating any impact on contemporary culture. The old songs lack present identity: they’re interchangeable, it seems, a kind of musical wallpaper. Gioia asks his server in the diner, perhaps with cultural impact in the back of his mind, “‘Why are you playing this old music?’ She looked at me in surprise before answering: ‘Oh, I like these songs.’”


The banality of the server’s answer says it all: there’s no cultural connection to New Wave and the Police, just as singing along with “Norwegian Wood” would bring no thrill of contraband, no shared code – i.e., illegal marijauna. Would even the searing accusations of Neil Young’s “Ohio” be detected and understood? Fewer Dylan songs seem to stream through the restaurants and supermarkets, but if they did, how much cultural frisson could we expect from inadvertent listeners to “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” or even “Masters of War.” The excitement, or incitement, of 60s, 70s, and 80s songs has been absorbed into the sponge of streaming culture.


Some of us have been resisting this kind of absorption for a long time, trying to keep the context alive. We’ve been teaching Dylan courses, and Dylan in courses, throughout our careers. But for my part, I can’t say confidently that my Dylan courses have become part of the curriculum. They certainly don’t have the prestige or regularity of standard department seminars on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Woolf, or Morrison, and Dylan isn’t assigned alongside other 20th-century poets in survey courses. This absence is understandable, perhaps, since Dylan’s official elevation to literary ranks is recent and teaching him has, until now, been a niche vocation. Not to mention that bringing Dylan into the literary classroom has always presented a technical issue, while expecting literature students to know something about folk music and the blues is often a bridge too far. Nevertheless, like many another Dylanista, I keep my hand on that plow and hold on, continuing to translate Dylan into the literary classroom.


But this alone won’t make Dylan part of the literary canon. Pace Gates, scholars don’t make the canon and professors can’t shoehorn him in. The best we can do as scholars is to facilitate future canon-makers. The best we can do is hope that, by interpolating Dylan into our teaching and research, we can inspire future poets, novelists, playwrights (and maybe poet-musicians) to respond to Dylan’s work, thus giving them the chance to internalize Dylan, to “master” him as part of the vernacular. Dylan’s canonical status is in their hands.


I’d like to be sanguine about this process. I’d like to think the founding of the spectacular Bob Dylan Archive in 2017 will have a trickle-down effect. But the song it is long and there’s more to be sung.


Allow me to close with an anecdote, a personal tale of erosion. Not so long ago in my university courses I would occasionally quote lines like “The pumps don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles” or “there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off,” or, perhaps (with reference to upcoming grades), “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” I quoted Dylan—as one might quote “To be, or not to be”—to illustrate a point, serendipitously, in Paradise Lost, say, or to link a passage in Mary Wroth to the ”sound of the street.” The Dylan lines would resonate familiarly with the class, bringing a smile of recognition (and, ideally, an LED of connection). But gradually, and then abruptly, the recognition disappeared. It seemed to me to be a precipitous erosion, a mudslide. Like Hemingway’s going bankrupt: gradually, and then all at once. And while I’d like to believe Ted Gioia’s statistics about old music, I haven’t seen much evidence of it. As things stand now, alas, I get more resonance in class from straight Milton quotes than from Dylan: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” draws nods and smiles; “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” produces blank faces.


Canonicity always has an element of unpredictability – waiting for the right configuration of admirers to come along, for the times to be ready for the specific kind of innovation a writer offers. John Donne is one example of this. Known and admired in his lifetime, he never published his poetry, which only appeared in a posthumous volume. His reputation waned and by the 18th century he’d become all but invisible: Samuel Johnson didn’t even include Donne in The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets.[9] It took Herbert Grierson’s 1912 Oxford edition of Donne and T.S. Eliot’s book review of that edition to set Donne into the firmament. This is a good example of how scholars and poet/critics depend on each other. Anna Laetitia Barbauld offers another, perhaps more significant example. Celebrated in her day for her poetry and novels, she had a measurable influence on Romantic poets around the time of the French Revolution. But she was forgotten until the late 20th century, when her importance required a re-historicizing of the Romantic context and a reassessment of the Romantic canon, if not of canonicity itself.


It might be that a genuine classic like Milton reasserts himself, even if he temporarily goes out of fashion, while someone like Dylan hasn’t yet had that advantage. Time is a critical factor. Milton has had centuries to acquire his status, whether through other poets’ imitation or simply through habitual anthologizing. But Milton is a rarity. In other cases, there are lapses, as happened with Emily Dickinson or even Whitman, who was revered by a coterie after his death but needed William Carlos Williams and the Beats to acquire the canonicity he now enjoys. Melville became instantly famous with his first novel, yet when he died the New York Times misspelled his name. Critics always recognized how crucial he was to the American literary canon – Lewis Mumford’s 1929 book about him was a major effort to reestablish his importance in the public mind, as was F. O. Matthiessen’s 1941 American Renaissance. But it took John Huston’s 1956 film (script by Ray Bradbury), with Gregory Peck stumping around as Ahab, to affix Melville’s name in the cultural consciousness.


Despite the Nobel Committee’s top-down decision, Dylan’s time hasn’t yet come, at least not the way it has for others. As my own experience in class shows, in terms of Dylan’s cultural recognizability, we’re still in the cycle of ups and downs other many major cultural figures have survived. Maybe Dylan will never have the same status Milton does now, but meanwhile we’re doing all we can to ensure that the current upswing in Dylan’s reputation continues. And though we realize that scholars alone don’t make canons, the Dylan Review is our contribution – one of many from California to the New York island – to the current (and future) moment.




[1] Richard F. Thomas, Why Bob Dylan Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 322.

[2] None of the other anthologies I checked included Dylan, although I’ve seen his songs in the past. Notably, Edward Hirsch’s fairly selective The Heart of American Poetry (Library of America, 2022) includes Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues [Take two]” but no Dylan.

[3] As an example of what I mean – a literary friend of mine read this last phrase and didn’t
recognize the reference.

[4] Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Canon-Formation, Literary History, and the Afro-American Tradition: From the Seen to the Told,” in Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature, edited by David H. Richter (Boston: Bedford), 180. The cassette tapes have evolved into CDs and password-protected digital content accompanying each copy of the book.

[5] Though beside the point here, I’m more inclined to agree with Harold Bloom, the bête noire of the canon debate. Bloom used to tell his students, “Critics and scholars don’t make the canon. Poets do.” He expanded on this idea in many books, as for instance in The Western Canon: “Poems, stories, novels, plays come into being as a response to prior poems, stories, novels, and plays, and that response depends on acts of reading and interpretation by the later writers, acts that are identical with the new works.” See The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), 9. This is a many-sided, complex debate, beyond the purview of this column. Cf., inter alia, John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Literary Theory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988).

[6] Thomas, Why Bob Dylan Matters, 312-313; 314.

[7] John Milton, The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose, edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 34.

[8] Ted Gioia, Is Old Music Killing New Music? The Atlantic, January 23, 2022; date accessed: June 17, 2022. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/01/old-music-killing-new-music/621339/

[9] Johnson’s Lives, though indicative of a celebrated critic’s selection, is by no means definitive. He leaves out Ben Jonson too, while including the notorious John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. And, predictably, there are no women at all in Johnson’s Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779-81).



Live from Bob Dylan’s Retrospectrum

REVIEW BY Rebecca Slaman


On April 9th,2022, Richard Thomas, Anne Margaret Daniel, Laura Tenschert, and I all converged on the Florida International University campus to meet, observe, and share our knowledge of Bob Dylan. I earned my place among these brilliant speakers by providing a voice for the youth, illuminating how Dylan is received in the internet age. Sponsored by the Humanities department of the University, the four of us were invited to check out the largest collection of Dylan’s visual arts ever assembled, and to provide some insight into the artist at a symposium. “Beyond Generations: Bob Dylan Through the Looking Glass,” was a series of events including concerts by local musicians, presentations, and the dedication of a gate built by Dylan himself. The symposium closed out the exhibit, though I am glad to have spoken on the panel before viewing the art. In the presentations, we discussed Dylan as a musical artist and his impact, though Laura Tenschert specifically provided the background on how his visual art connects to his musicianship.


The exhibit, called “Retrospectrum,” was originally shown in Shanghai in 2019. In this iteration, the existing collections of paintings, drawings, and sculpture were joined by Dylan’s latest works, called Deep Focus, completed during the quarantine stage of the pandemic. The museum also received as a gift an iron-worked gate called “Untitled.” Standing tall just outside the entrance, it joined other looming, abstract sculptures in the green courtyard space. Full of colorful toolbox contents, it cast an elongated, darkly whimsical shadow. “Untitled” welcomed us as we rushed in to check out over four hundred works crafted by Dylan’s hands.


Before viewing this exhibit, any academic, fan, or casual onlooker may have questions about Dylan’s technical skill. The greatest U.S. songwriter, one may think, can’t be so talented as a painter too. Dallying into the visual arts could be seen as a hobby; a break from his “real” work. Let me assure you, the largest exhibition yet of Bob Dylan’s visual work rebukes that notion. Aside from the sheer volume of the collection, the growth of the artist is very impressive. The curation calls particular attention to the improvement of this skill, as it encompasses a wide range of time, from sketching to painting (1973-2020.) I don’t know if I would believe Dylan was capable of creating the vast, detailed pieces of Deep Focus if not for witnessing his technical improvements over time throughout the museum. Likewise, the early forays into sketch are legitimized by the formidable paintings most recently published. The title, “Retrospectrum,” Latin for “looking back,” illuminates this concept. It’s a curious choice for Dylan, who once told a reporter “nostalgia is death.” But rather than look back with nostalgia, “Retrospectrum” enables us to appreciate a complete picture of the artist through time.


Upon entering the museum, videos and music provide background on Dylan’s impact as a musician on American culture. It first introduces you to Mondo Scripto, which transitions the musical into the visual: iconic song lyrics accompanied by drawings. Beyond this exhibit, the museum flow is not linear, so patrons can choose their own paths. The most impressive paintings, though, take some work to get to. Like a reward, Deep Focus requires one to go beyond rooms of older paintings. Just off the stairs is The Beaten Path, which is the collection released just before the latest, followed by the New Orleans series, which is from the early 2010s. Placing Deep Focus after New Orleans heightens the impact of Dylan’s skill. Being Dylan’s most recent output, Deep Focus is central, and with good reason. In the other direction is a more miscellaneous collection of older paintings, drawings, sculpture, and Mondo Scripto. The non-chronological setup flattens time, providing context to the main event.


The earliest collection of paintings, created between 1989 and 1992, were originally published in the Drawn Blank series. They have a Van Gogh like quality about them in terms of compressed perspective. The subjects are often askew, as if attempting to portray distance, but not quite getting the horizon line right. They also lack depth and shading of the subject. This gives them a flat, if fanciful, appearance. Though more abstract, the skewed perspective technique mirrors Dylan’s approach in Deep Focus, where all subjects are in focus regardless of their distance from the viewer. In the Beyond Generations presentations, Laura Tenschert commented on this philosophy across Dylan’s work. Particularly, this concept of united perspective was seen in Shadow Kingdom, where background actors and actions added meaning, if the viewer knew where to look. For example, Tenschert shared that during “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” a man moved in slow motion relative to the other actors. Paying attention to the background and context yields significant value when looking at Dylan’s art. Characters and words provide clues into what the artist is attempting to convey. The value of an academic cannot be overstated when approaching a collection of work on this scale; Tenschert’s presentation, much like Dylan’s artistic habits, brought all of it into frame and focus. I’m grateful to have been taught this concept before seeing the paintings, and luckily, future viewers of this collection will find the presentations preserved on the FIU website. Indeed, small details contain winks that feel intrinsic to Dylan’s character. Across all paintings, subjects reoccur, exposing us to Dylan’s visual world. Woody Guthrie’s name populates diner signs and newspapers, and you might spot the visage of Leonard Cohen sipping a coffee. But it’s not just Dylan’s artistic heroes – beautiful, breasty women also play a role in Dylan’s art. The female subjects are unidentifiable in the earlier work due to their abstractness, but the newer ones are based on specific actresses. The presence of these characters shows that though the style changes over his career, Dylan’s particular perspective remains.


My favorite of the collections is The Beaten Path. The first painting you see is a brilliant sunset taking up a better portion of a wall, and a road extending up into a mountain. “Sunset, Monument Valley,” the title says. Upon Googling the location, you can see the source picture, known as “Forrest Gump Point.” Just as Dylan is part of the folk tradition, where borrowing songs is commonplace, his paintings do the same. But where the distant mountain fades in the photo and the road climbs, Dylan brightens and expands the image, creating a looming effect. It’s very impressive on its own, let alone imagining Dylan physically completing such an expansive work. In this room, the paintings in frame look like snapshots of a roadtrip across America. Slightly askew, glowing with neon motel signs and brilliant sunsets, they appear both truthful and mystical. Some details are delightfully accurate, such as the font on a Coca-Cola sign, and a plentitude of words appear throughout the paintings in carefully crafted detail. In others, the words are twisted. The paintings contain as much accurate signage as they do artistic liberties. Dylan’s changes no longer portray their original subjects, but give off a more general vibe of Nowhere, America. Just as some scholars may hunt for the real-life counterparts of Dylan’s songs – Edie Sedgewick in “Just Like A Woman,” the location of “Desolation Row” – the songs’ sources matter less than Dylan’s musical alchemy, relaying an idea. In the paintings, accuracy of subject gives way to a sense of nostalgia and unreality.


The New Orleans series is a bit drab after the brightness of The Beaten Path. Slightly earlier in Dylan’s painting career, the technique is not as clear. It’s also not much out of the ordinary; it’s what you would expect Dylan to like. Indeed, in Chronicles: Volume One, he praises the locale: “There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There’s a thousand different angles at any moment… No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem.” Though his experience of the Crescent City’s visuals might have been interesting, I did not find the products so. The images are muted and flat. “He’s trying,” one might say, as I did to excuse my distaste. He’s clearly making more of a concerted effort here than in the earlier paintings. Still, The Beaten Path does contain a few gems, such as “Peacemaker,” which calls to mind the music video for “Tight Connection to my Heart.” Two men in beige and gray pull fists at each other while a woman in pale pink halts their action. Their clothing is reminiscent of the 80s; one man might be in the Yakuza. The composition of the image is striking, though the drapery of the woman’s cloak is not fluid enough to make sense. Overall, I call this Dylan’s flop era.


As we approached Deep Focus, Anne Margaret Daniel prepared me to brace myself. Indeed, the scale of Dylan’s pandemic output is overwhelming. Dylan completed 33 fantastic paintings in two years! As I knew from specialist Scott Warmuth, this series consists of recreated film stills, with some artistic liberties. The exhibit itself extolls “The documentary candor of photography and film, as well as their ability to manipulate reality through cropping and framing.” Not a bad description of Dylan himself; obscuring reality to get to emotional truth. The technical skill of these paintings, regardless of their source, is laudable. The brushstrokes are sometimes thick and obscuring, sometimes small and detailed, drawing one’s eye to unexpected places. In one image, “Newsstand,” Dylan repaints the film still except for one magazine, which he replaces with a cover featuring country music artists.


In addition to greeting you at the beginning, peppered throughout the museum are Mondo Scripto pages. What a profound moment it was to round a corner and see Sarah Lee Guthrie, Woody’s granddaughter, quietly gazing at “Song to Woody” in Dylan’s own hand. As these pages are scattered throughout the exhibit, they act as reminders of Dylan’s occasionally mysterious intentions. Reviewers remarked when the book was first published that Dylan is unusual in his juxtapositions of image and lyric. While some combinations are obviously linked, others are dense and cryptic, such as “All Along the Watchtower.” Next to image-heavy lyrics of jokers and princes, Dylan features a woman in a medicine cabinet. Someone can probably find the connection here, but not this reviewer. Weirdly, when I went to look up this song’s drawing online, a different image came up, one of businessmen drinking wine around a card table. How did this happen? Why was it changed? What’s more curious, in a review of the Halcyon Gallery version of the exhibit, blogger Richard Williams commented on yet another version, a drawing of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. As Dylan fans know, even his classics are never complete: you have to keep an eye out for Dylan’s quick hands. Whether in the background of a painting or a work morphing over time, his decisions can be dizzying. In the writing, you can also see the slight handwriting differences across songs, some of them more loopy and swirly and some more straight and pointed. These discrepancies prepare you for how different the art styles in different series can be from one another; it’s all a part of form fitting content, all part of the journey.


Despite these differences, there are connecting themes. There are many open roads depicted across Dylan’s visual art, including in Mondo Scripto. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” both feature empty streets. What’s fascinating about the road trip motif is it’s often solitary in the piece; just one open road in the center of the frame, stretching out onto the horizon line. The effect is lonely, but beautiful. I often found myself trying to dissect Dylan’s attention to women subjects. In the earlier works, they are often close to the viewer, sometimes looking straight out. They’re often seductive. One painting, cheekily titled “Two Sisters,” depicts women nearly naked in bed together. As the collection goes on, women begin to occupy a space of intrigue, often looking off in the distance. The voyeuristic framing is replaced with a more distant appreciation of beauty. This progression makes me think Dylan is saying, I have given up claiming to understand women.


It’s a testament to the curators that they were able to make the exhibit so cohesive. Shai Baitel, who originally conceived the exhibit for the Modern Art Museum (MAM) Shanghai, gave a riveting talk at the Symposium that encompassed these themes. He alluded to the motif of the train, which appears in many of Dylan’s works. It also is a powerful symbol that provides an “in” to the perspective of Dylan-as-painter. As with his other art, the man himself is incredibly intriguing. I and the other speakers often found ourselves pondering the “why”, as we often do. Why did Dylan use this subject, this reference, this still? Why does his signature change across paintings? Viewing his painterly perspective as a train ride is a perfect way through; what we see is what he sees.


What struck me as a bit obscuring by the curators, and maybe by Dylan, is the lack of labels beside the artwork. All the information about the exhibit was presented with corresponding numbers in a thick book, printed in both English and Spanish. In the exhibits themselves, the walls were blank except for the art, the collection titles, and a few quotes from Dylan about his process, printed large on the wall. In the same vein as his untitled gate, perhaps he does not find the art’s titles and dates important. From the curators’ perspective, perhaps they want the art to stand on its own, to establish Dylan as a “real” visual artist. As with “Sunset, Monument Valley,” knowing the title can reveal how close his painting is to a photograph, which could discredit it. Or it could be the desire to establish the art outside of Dylan’s written work. Even through titles, his writing may have been enough to distract attention from the paintings on their own. This decision did make it more difficult to follow Dylan’s framing of the works. As a writer, I missed having that information while taking notes, but it did create visually pleasing, clean rooms.


As they probably were for Dylan, these works are an escape. The man took from images he could project in his own home, and painted his way to a new place which straddles reality and imagination. Dylan takes us on a journey through his perspective, and to find it, you just have to look at the details.



Jon Stewart. Dylan, Lennon, Marx and God. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2021. 238pp.

REVIEW BY Barry J. Faulk, Florida State University


Don’t let the eye-catching title mislead you: Jon Stewart’s new book is a dual biography of John Lennon and Bob Dylan that focuses on the evolving views of these two towering figures in pop music on politics and religion. Marx and God frequently appear but largely in supporting roles. That said, the book fully lives up to its ambitious title in its expansive scope, ranging over topics from 1960s protest music to cognitive science. You might expect a book on Dylan and Lennon to dive deeply into the cultural history of the 1960s, in particular the radical counterculture politics that played such an important role in how rock music was received at the time. Stewart’s book is informative on the contemporaneous cultural contexts that shaped Lennon and Dylan, but he also goes to great lengths to provide a 19th century backstory for their ideas about politics, religion, and history itself.


Stewart holds himself to a rigorous standard of criticism, applying three different methodological approaches to Dylan, Lennon, Marx and God. Stewart draws on R. Serge Denisoff’s sociological analysis of the 1960s protest song to frame his study of Dylan and Lennon’s contributions to the genre; he appropriates literary critic Fredric Jameson’s Marxist cultural hermeneutic to interpret how Dylan and Lennon conceived of history, especially national history, and how their music interacted within industrial and post-industrial modes of production; and finally, he applies the recent findings of evolutionary psychologists J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer to definitively explain (or explain away) Dylan’s and Lennon’s ideas about God and religion. While Stewart’s intellectual ambition is to be applauded, the book’s multiple frameworks can overwhelm at times. At its best, which is often, Dylan, Lennon, Marx and God traces the crucial role music plays in nearly every human endeavor of meaning making, whether in rituals of worship, political activism, or nation building. At other moments I wonder if it’s possible to be too methodologically correct.


Stewart’s choice to pair Dylan’s story with John Lennon’s is richly rewarded in Chapter 3 of the book, on the “anti-war protest music” written and performed by both songwriters. The comparative examination of Dylan’s songwriting alongside Lennon provides a more comprehensive view of how activist audiences in the 60s and 70s interacted with pop music than an exclusive focus on a single artist could provide. Stewart draws heavily on the findings of sociologist R. Serge Denisoff to frame his study of transformations in the protest song. Writing in the late 60s, Denisoff observed that the traditional “rhetorical” protest song that described social injustice with the aim of moving listeners first to indignation and then to action was slowly being eclipsed by what he labeled as “songs of symbolic introspective protest,” coming from commercial pop musicians (29). At the beginning of his career, Bob Dylan proudly positioned himself outside the world of commercial pop music: “(w)hat comes out of my music is a call to action,” he defiantly declares in a 1963 interview with the radical newspaper National Guardian. Nevertheless, many of Dylan’s signature songs from this era – “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “With God on Our Side,” and perhaps most notably “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” – fit comfortably within Denisoff’s category of the rhetorical protest song that “describe a problem but offer no solutions” (37). When Dylan’s lyrics become richer in symbolism and imagery, it becomes more difficult to connect his social critique with a call to action; as Stewart succinctly puts it, “(t)he more powerful Dylan’s images, the more they obscured any political significance” (41). Songs like “A Hard Rain” already bear within them the seeds of even more introspective songs of revolt, like “Chimes of Freedom” and “Gates of Eden,” as well as songs from Dylan’s rock era including “Tombstone Blues” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” that seem to be protesting the very idea of order or hierarchy. Like the 19th-century symbolist poets that Dylan had begun to read, the lyrics of these songs are both evocative and largely self-referential, existing in their own hermetically sealed universe of meaning.


As Stewart observes, Lennon’s mid-60s Beatle songs such as “The Word” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” that present love itself as a “gesture of abstract introspective protest” (49) are impossible to imagine without the precedent of Dylan’s own refashioning of the protest song as symbolist introspection. Dylan and Lennon are arguably the chief co-creators of a new genre of protest song that purposely collapsed the boundaries that traditionally separated introspection from social struggle.


Perhaps the central reason why Stewart’s “parallel lives” approach works so well in this instance is because reality seems to have conspired on the historian’s behalf to add a fair share of dramatic irony to the story. Stewart’s chapter begins with Dylan’s reinvention of the protest song and continues with an examination of Lennon’s own contributions to introspective protest songwriting. However, having donned the mantle of pop music activist, Lennon would be roundly criticized by fans and critics alike for Some Time in New York City (1972), a double album full of protest songs explicitly targeting social injustices of the day, including the Troubles in Ireland and the Attica Prison Riot, with a bare minimum of personal “introspection.” Stewart neatly sums up the response: “(t)he visceral reaction to (Lennon’s record) demonstrated the impossibility of presenting a collection of old fashioned magnetic compositions to an audience more familiar with 1960s rhetorical or introspective styles” (59). While Dylan spent most of the late 1960s distancing himself from the role of “spokesman for a generation,” Lennon, relocating with Yoko Ono to Greenwich Village in late 1971 where he became fast friends with counterculture activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, seemed eager to assume the role that Dylan had abandoned. This was not mere presumption on the part of a Beatle: Lennon’s 1969 song “Give Peace a Chance” was both a chart success as a single and enthusiastically adopted by activists at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, the largest mass demonstration ever held in the US at that time. An audience that had gratefully learned their new aesthetic of protest music from Lennon and Dylan now firmly rejected Lennon the political spokesperson. Nearly 50 years later, pop songwriters still struggle to negotiate the conflicting demands that Dylan and Lennon faced when they attempted to address the social problems of their day in song, often relying on the same artistic formula of “introspective protest” that the two songwriters fashioned in the 60s.


Stewart’s dual biographical approach is less rewarding, however, when it comes to establishing “just how deeply nineteenth century traditions influenced their worldviews” (1987). Stewart presents compelling evidence to suggest this is the case with Lennon, whose imaginative investment in Victorian words and images dominates his songwriting contributions to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), especially in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” Alternately, Lennon’s 1967 song “I Am the Walrus” repurposes the linguistic mischief of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll in order to launch a full-bore attack on English institutions in post-imperial decline. In Stewart’s chapter on “Bob Dylan and History,” he mounts a similar case for Dylan, providing a genealogy for the singer’s moral intransigence as evidenced by his early 60s protest music that dates back to the 19th-century Transcendentalist writers. Stewart also traces Dylan’s highly developed rural imaginary and acute sensitivity to the natural world back to Transcendentalist sources. Stewart is a fine writer and the chapter more than establishes his skills both as a researcher and an adept summarizer of his findings: still, the account of Dylan’s 19th-century backstory feels a bit like a data dump. With the obvious exception of Walt Whitman, the chain of correspondences that Stewart constructs in the chapter are finally more exhausting than enlightening.


Stewart saves his most provocative and challenging argument for his final chapter, a detailed account of Dylan and Lennon’s evolving ideas on God and religion. The bedrock of the chapter is Stewart’s firm conviction that evolutionary psychology has decisively solved the riddle of consciousness. Emotional human experiences including religious belief are now “fully accountable by the basic constituents of brain matter”; as Thomson and Aukofer confidently assert, “We are risen apes, not fallen angels – and we now have the evidence to prove it” (148). Given Stewart’s beliefs, it’s no surprise that his account of Dylan and Lennon’s religious idealism has a slightly clinical air. At times the chapter reads like an inventory of latent mental pathologies: Stewart seems duty-bound to catalog the many and various cognitive errors Dylan and Lennon committed over the course of a lifetime. The sad history of their category mistakes begins when they are still young men. Like many of their 1960s contemporaries, Stewart notes, both artists “attributed extraordinary properties to the altered mental states generated by meditation, flights of the imagination, chemical stimulation or various forms of cognitive impairment” (149). As readers of the Dylan Review doubtless know, and as Stewart duly chronicles, Dylan’s shaky grasp of the materialist world-view never really improves; and as Stewart also demonstrates, the same can be said about Lennon, despite the popular image of the secularist projected by the lyrics to his legacy-anthem, “Imagine.”


Even before Dylan’s evangelical awakening, the songwriter looked for purposes and patterns in the sublunar world: or as Stewart puts it, demonstrated a marked propensity to “(ascribe) meaning to random events” (171). As many passages in Dylan’s Chronicles attest, the songwriter remains a strong believer in intuition, what Stewart terms in one sub-section of the chapter, “Hyperactive Agency Attribution” (157). As Stewart details in an analysis of the “mind-body dualism” so prominent in Dylan’s songwriting, Dylan never really stood a chance: he was born in error. A suspect mind-body dualism permeates all his cultural influences as a young man, from his family’s Judaism to the Christian schools he attended in Hibbing, Minnesota, to the Mississippi Delta Blues music that stirred and shaped his musical sensibilities, and that is also prominent in the work of his chief literary heroes, William Blake and the Beats.


That said, despite Stewart’s convictions about consciousness, he provides a remarkably generous and sensitive account of Dylan’s religious journey. He offers evidence that substantiates Michael Gray’s contention that what appeared to the singer’s mass audience to be a sudden religious conversion was, in a phrase Stewart borrows from William James, a “volitional” spiritual experience: one more step in a series of incremental acts of assent to religious belief that date back to Dylan’s first divorce (175). Unlike the static account of Dylan’s historical consciousness presented in the “Dylan and History” chapter, Stewart’s insights on the singer’s faith journey are original enough to set future research agendas for scholars.


To give just one example: Stewart is one of the few scholars to have noticed that Dylan’s Christian faith resulted in a radically different attitude to studio recording and record producers. Along with the “Old Adam,” the songwriter deliberately cast off the rough and ready approach to studio recording he had maintained throughout his career, regardless of the backing musicians he used. As Stewart observes, for most of his career Dylan worked “as quickly as possible to capture the feel of a song even at the expense of audio or technical fidelity” (177). However, the singer sought the help of celebrated producer and recording engineers Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett to record his Gospel music albums, Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980), and worked alongside a stellar group of musicians to craft “unexpectedly meticulous recordings.” Not only is Dylan’s new-found commitment to high fidelity recording “unexpected,” it is arguably unprecedented, fully as “shocking” as his sudden conversion; John Wesley Harding (1968), recorded as Stewart notes, “in just twelve hours with an out of tune acoustic guitar and no overdubs” is atypical but far closer to Dylan’s “norm” for studio performance (141). The recording process for Shot of Love (1981), the final album in the so-called “Gospel Trilogy,” was much more contentious than was the case with the previous two records, with Dylan assuming his old assertive role in the studio process, hiring and discarding different record producers, and rejecting co-producer Chuck Plotkin’s final mixes of the album’s songs. Still, the singer’s paramount concern with getting the sound of the record right substantiates Stewart’s claim that Dylan’s new religious convictions also transformed his studio aesthetic. Dylan’s search for spiritual authenticity apparently led him to embrace the artifice of studio recording, or at the very least, take the studio process more seriously than he had before. Much more can be said about this fascinating paradox.


Although Stewart’s concerns for methodological correctness sometimes result in missteps, Dylan, Lennon, Marx, and God will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of Dylan’s political and religious ideas. As a compendium, the study provides an especially useful introduction for those who want to know more about Dylan’s art and career, but it also contains insights to inspire seasoned scholars and Dylanologists to take a fresh look at their subject. The dual focus on Dylan and Lennon makes it especially valuable for anyone interested in learning more about the production and reception of 1960s popular music and its relation to the politics, back in the day when rock music was pop music.



Larry Starr. Listening to Bob Dylan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2021. 136 pp.

REVIEW BY David R. Shumway, Carnegie Mellon University


Larry Starr has written a book that should engage Dylan fans and scholars and surprise many in both categories. Starr’s premise is that Dylan has been regarded “primarily or even exclusively as a poet, or as a writer of lyrics,” and he proposed to attend to Dylan’s music as represented on his recordings (2). He claims, “Dylan’s art achieves its total impact as a complete package – as a personal, unique synthesis of words, music, and performance,” and he rejects the notion that Dylan is best understood as a mere songwriter, because he is also the performer of his own songs (2). If it weren’t for the way in which those songs were arranged, produced, and sung, would anyone be listening to them?


The notion that Dylan’s music needs to be understood as a complete package is entirely persuasive, yet Starr’s claim that Dylan is understood mainly as a poet or lyricist seems to me greatly overstated. The one bit of evidence offered is that he won the Nobel Prize in literature, which at best explains how a small committee of Swedes understood him. It may be true that in the world at large some significant number of people think of Dylan primarily as the writer of lyrics, but they would not be Dylan fans, scholars, or popular music journalists, who, of course, are the natural audience for this book.


What is original about Starr’s book is not that he deals with Dylan’s records rather than his lyrics, but rather that he applies a formal analysis to Dylan’s oeuvre. Others have explored Dylan’s recordings in some detail. Greil Marcus, for example, does this in both The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes and Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads. A weakness of Listening to Bob Dylan is that it lacks citations, so the uninformed reader might never know, for example, that Marcus has already provided a very similar treatment of “Like a Rolling Stone.” What distinguishes Starr from Marcus and most others who have written about Dylan is that their analysis has been primarily concerned with the question of the records’ meaning, while his is concerned with how they work.


Popular music writing has traditionally been short of formalist analysis. Simon Frith memorably observed this in Sound Effects when he compared a musicological analysis of an Animals hit to an account by the songwriter entirely devoid of formalist language. The point is that neither pop music fans nor pop music writers have traditionally relied on formalist terms and categories in their experience and understanding of records. Fans and journalists tend to focus on the music’s emotional effects and cultural significance, and to invoke only a relatively limited range of aesthetic descriptors. That these descriptors have proved adequate does not, however, rule out the possibility that more detailed and precise accounts have something to offer.


Larry Starr’s book shows that for Dylan, careful formalist analysis is in fact enlightening. It is important to note that only a small part of this analysis is narrowly musicological, most of which is found in the two chapters on Dylan as a composer. Other chapters focus on such topics as vocal style, instrumentation, the harmonica, album arrangement, and live performance. Most of these chapters add significant depth to our understanding of Dylan’s music and often provide helpful new terms and categories that may well become the basis for further work by other critics.


As an example, consider Starr’s assertion that “You’re a Big Girl Now” from Blood on the Tracks is a song “in which the music is the most interesting aspect of the whole. . . . The lyrics to the song . . . are essentially a collection of clichés” (5). What makes the song work, according to Starr, is its use of two unexpected chords, one because of its relation to the home key of the instrumental introduction and the other because of its relation to the vocal melody. These musical choices establish an emotional tone that is appropriate to the lyrics, which deal with the experience of being dumped. One could quibble with Starr’s characterization of the lyrics, since he himself observes that Dylan intends a number of the clichés ironically, but he is convincing that the music allows the irony to work.


There are equally compelling insights to be had throughout the book. Starr’s classification of Dylan’s vocal styles provides a useful basis for talking about the singer’s enormously inventive range of vocal performance, and he ties these styles to Dylan’s pattern of inhabiting different personas or masks. The discussions of Dylan as a composer call attention to features of his songs that tend to get ignored because attention is more often focused on lyrical meaning and vocal performance. The importance of rhythm, for example, in Dylan’s songs is convincingly illustrated in discussion of “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” which shows that the ingenuity of the song’s phrasing is a matter of composition rather than performance “because it remains a pattern that governs the entire five-stanza song” (61). And Starr isn’t exclusively concerned with the strictly musical features of the songs. In the second chapter on composition, he focuses on the formal aspects of Dylan’s lyrics in relation to the music in a discussion of “strophic form,” wherein “a unit of music is used repeatedly for successive stanzas of lyrics” (65). Later in the chapter he takes up Dylan’s use of verse-chorus structures and of bridges. This makes us aware that most writing about Dylan’s lyrics has been so focused on interpretation that it has ignored their formal features.


Listening to Bob Dylan is an important addition to the critical literature about this great artist. Not the least of the book’s value is that it can make listening to Dylan even more pleasurable. And, you might want to carry it around with you, ready to hand it to the next person who tells you Dylan can’t sing or that his songs aren’t musical.



Sara Danius. Om Bob Dylan. Stockholm, Sweden: Albert Bonnier Förlag, 2018. 104 pp.

REVIEW BY Karl Gustel Wärnberg, Leiden University


Bob Dylan is a unique phenomenon. He is the only artist to have won a Grammy, an Oscar, and the Nobel Prize. The latter was not uncontroversial. When it was announced by the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, that Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, the world held its breath in shock, gasped out of surprise, let out a gleeful cheer, and then scratched its head wondering if it had in fact heard the correct name. In her book Om Bob Dylan (On Bob Dylan), Danius reflects on this momentous time in history.


Danius begins her reflections on Dylan by describing another Nobel Prize laureate. Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the prize in medicine the same year as Dylan was awarded the prize in literature. Ohsumi studied how cells reproduce themselves, multiplying by killing off the old. Danius jokingly compares this cellular process to Dylan’s career, except the joke is only a half joke. Her point is that Dylan holds within himself an entire tradition, ranging from Petrarch, to Shakespeare, through Rimbaud, all the way to Lorca. Dylan creates something new from the old, which Danius describes by stating that “Bob Dylan is an indefatigable archivist of history, a stubborn traditionalist, and simultaneously an artist who never stops reinventing himself. He appears again and again in surprising guises.” A slightly forced comparison, one might think, but the point comes across.


The book contains many similarly forced comparisons but reads well in general. It is short and flows steadily, more like an extended essay or reflection than a book. It is clearly written by a fan who is also trying to be funny and occasionally provocative. Writing this kind of book is hard to do because who does one write it for? Is it aimed at convincing those who don’t already believe Dylan should have won the prize, or at those who already love Dylan and believe in his literary genius? Danius pitches the book in the middle ground, meaning skeptics can find arguments as to why he is given such an elevated position in the literary canon, and long-time fans might discover previously unknown details about Dylan’s Swedish reception. Although Danius provides some refutation to questions about whether Dylan deserves the prize, her book is not a polemic, and she shrugs off skepticism by stating that his prize is not actually controversial, but well-deserved. It might strike some as elitist, maybe even as a sidestepping the issue, but the book has wider aims and provides insight to the process of awarding Dylan the Nobel Prize, for which Danius provides references to other books, such as Christopher Ricks’s Dylan’s Visions of Sin.


As Danius makes clear, Dylan is an artist whom many love to hate, and others hate to love for the sheer energy it takes to immerse oneself in his music and words. The hours spent listening to the words as they speak through time can be exhausting. And on top of it all is a shrill voice in the early years, and a whiskey-induced rasp in later years. But Danius says this is exactly why Dylan’s cult status endures. His voice, like it or not, is unmistakable, and it doesn’t matter whether one likes it. If there was a museum of historic voices, argues Danius, Dylan would have a natural place in it. None of this will surprise Dylan enthusiasts, though the book is not primarily or solely written for them.


Danius could have engaged more of her own thoughts on Dylan, which she sometimes begins to do but fails to reach her destination. As a reader, I thought she would say more, given her prestigious place in Swedish cultural society and her background as a well-known literary critic, who dedicated much work to the American tradition. Danius’s book partially aims to tell us why Dylan won the prize, but this fact is connected to his qualities as an artist. Dylan won the prize for literature, yet his voice is the vehicle through which the words reach us. There is surely much more to be discussed about the relation between Dylan’s lyrics and his performance or embodiment of them.


The former permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy goes on to say that, based on these reflections, many thought that the Academy’s decision was rather bold and risky. How could a musician, and one that is often criticized even as a musician, win the Nobel Prize in Literature? The criticism should not be exaggerated, she writes. Concentrating on Sweden, Danius shows how Dylan was received favorably even in the earliest days of his career, recalling the interest and conflicts surrounding Dylan’s first visit to the country. In the spring of 1966, Göran Printz-Påhlson wrote an article for Dagens Nyheter – one of Sweden’s leading daily newspapers – where he argued that Dylan is a poet who can be read just like any other poet. The following year, a magazine tied to Bonnier, one of the largest publishing houses in Sweden, printed an article that also argued that Dylan was a poet. This article, in turn, was commented on in Dagens Nyheter, where Torsten Ekbom argued that Dylan was a champion of ‘New Poetry’, alongside artists like Frank Zappa and Ed Sanders. Old poetry was dead.


That same year, 1966, the bard visited Sweden himself. He came on a tour, captured in photographs taken by Björn Larsson Ask. Sweden was known for its old-fashioned style: jacket and tie. When Dylan arrived at the airport, journalists waited in great excitement for the global star who trailed The Beatles and Swedish folk music legend Cornelis Vreeswijk in the national charts. Dylan finally showed up, no tie, sporting large curly hair and sunglasses. He held a press conference, which left everyone irate. It was clear that the press didn’t know much about Dylan, and they asked all sorts of strange questions, writes Danius. For example, they claimed not to have listened to his music, yet they proceeded to ask him about the songs. After his concert he is reported to have turned to Swedish journalist Annette Kullenberg and said, “they like me better now, don’t they?” Many of the journalists were probably not very well acquainted with Dylan, Danius muses, and his nonchalance struck the buttoned-up Swedes as insulting. A dose of Nordic skepticism, then, tempered the Swedish critics’ early praise.


Danius also takes us behind the scenes of the Nobel Prize announcement, half-a-century after Dylan’s first visit. Stating that you shouldn’t always believe the media, she welcomes us into the story from the inside. Yet, the story is retold by Danius, a member of the Swedish Academy, just before the Swedish Academy entered a crisis with disputes between its members not seen since its founding in the 18th century. In 2018, the husband of one of the Academicians was first accused, and later found guilty, of harassment; public perception was that the Academy handled the situation poorly. The controversy split the Academy into two camps as to how to relate to the accused party, who was a high-ranking personality in Swedish culture. Several members resigned, and a fellow member wrote an op-ed in a Swedish daily claiming Danius was the worst permanent secretary the Swedish Academy had ever had. Danius’s account, then, becomes even more valuable, as she found herself in the eye of two storms: the harassment scandal, and the Dylan announcement. As Danius herself puts it, her book exists only ‘for the record,’ and it is worth considering that the Swedish Academy very rarely has to justify its decisions to the extent that it did with Dylan. The Academy usually delivers a sentence or two explaining why they have chosen that year’s laureate, whereas in this case they found themselves defending their decision in the press.


While Om Bob Dylan will go down in history as an explanation and justification of what for many was a controversial decision, unlike perhaps any other in the Academy’s century-long history, the content itself is not hugely surprising. Much of what it contains was already known to the public, and what the Academicians discussed behind locked doors leading up to the final vote is not disclosed. It would be fascinating to hear what some of the world’s most erudite people say about Dylan when the microphones are off, although this information is safeguarded under a veil of secrecy and will perhaps never be disclosed in full. In this sense, Danius heightens expectations, only to burst them with triviality, despite teasing some interesting historic trivia about Dylan’s visits to, and reception in, Sweden.


On the morning of October 13, 2016, no culture journalists speculated about Dylan as a potential laureate. His name had been brought up a few times as a potential laureate in previous years, but not this time. At 11:30am the Swedish Academy awarded Dylan the prize, with a broad majority. The reason? Dylan is a poet of the highest caliber. According to Danius, he works in the English-speaking tradition going back to Milton, via Blake, and going past Rimbaud in France. She adds that he also stands in a great oral tradition from the blues in the American South, and the folk music in the Appalachian Mountains. The analysis Danius provides in the book is not unique. In one sense, it is hard to be unique, given the many volumes of scholarship that have already been dedicated to his oeuvre. It is surprising, however, because Danius spent almost a decade in America, studying modernism and literature. Her doctoral dissertation was titled The Senses of Modernism: Technology, Perception, and Modernist Aesthetics (1997) and she worked in UCLA and the Getty Research Institute. Feminism, via Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf, has characterized much of her work. This book only shows a few signs of her literary research and feminist point of view, which she applies to the Swedish Academy stating that the Academy is a “she.” This seems a rather pointed statement, given that many of the male members had been accused by the public of creating – or trying to retain – a sort of “macho-culture” within the Academy. Despite her learning, when it comes to analysis of Dylan, she seems to rely on previous scholarship rather than providing what could be her unique perspective.


At 1pm – an hour and a half after Danius made her announcement – she began trying to get in touch with Dylan, something which proved more difficult than she thought. Many in the public were furious. She received angry emails criticizing the decision, but many others rejoiced over the widening definition of literature. In fact, as Danius’s colleague Horace Engdahl pointed out in his moving speech during the Nobel ceremony, Dylan takes us back to an original understanding of literature, where words are meant to be sung and not merely spoken. Engdahl asked: “What brings about the great shifts in the world of literature?” His answer is that often “it is when someone seizes upon a simple, overlooked form, discounted as art in the higher sense, and makes it mutate.”


Finally reaching Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s manager, Danius received a message saying, “We’re thrilled over here!” Naturally, the message crossed the Atlantic and traveled all over the world. In the following weeks, there was much talk about Dylan’s potential skipping out on the Nobel ceremony, which he eventually did. Danius says this criticism is unjustified, and she spends several pages telling the story of how Samuel Beckett refused to show up at the ceremony. She says Beckett was in his right not to attend the ceremony, and so is Dylan, while adding that Dylan may not be the last. It is not a condition to receiving the prize. Yet, Dylan is no Beckett: he is a rockstar, as well as a writer. Dylan was about to go on tour, and it is hard not to get cynical and think the aged Swedish Academicians wanted to spend their time with a rock ’n’ roll hall of famer. Again, Danius says this is untrue and argues that the media criticism was wildly exaggerated. For example, it was stated that the Academy was angry with Dylan for refusing to commit to showing up. It was said that they found him “impolite and arrogant.” With such statements, we are back to his 1960s visit to Sweden. However, the Academician who had accused Dylan of arrogance was speaking as an individual, and not as a member of the Academy. The story was buried and twelve days later Danius had Dylan on the phone.


“I feel so very, very, honored. I don’t know what to say – I’m speechless. But I want to … truly … thank you. It’s a great honor. I can’t find the words.” Those were the words of Dylan to Danius, on Tuesday, October 25, 2016. Danius says she could hardly believe her ears. She could not get confirmation if Dylan would visit Sweden, but a few days later that came as well. He wouldn’t be able to on account of his tour. She soon felt relieved that he couldn’t come. Sure, she writes, it would have been fantastic if he came, but it would also have been a lot of work. It wasn’t until April 2017 that Dylan set on foot in Sweden again. He was there for his planned tour, performing at Stockholm Waterfront. On April 1, April Fool’s Day, Dylan visited the Swedish Academy. It was only him and the members of the Academy. No photographers and no journalists were invited. Danius was busy speaking to a colleague when an odd figure appeared through the doors. It was Dylan. He seemed nervous and shy, she recalls. They delivered the medal, 18 carat gold with 25 carat gold-plating, engraved with an inscription from Virgil’s Aeneid. Dylan recognized it immediately, laughed and spoke to the members of the Academy for a few minutes, then left.


Danius’ book is a recollection of Dylan’s reception in Sweden, a description of his genius, and an intimate narrative of the controversies surrounding his nomination and reception of the Nobel Prize, dispelling many of the rumors. Danius is a controversial figure in Sweden; she was vocal in the #MeToo movement, which shook the Academy some years after Dylan’s prize. Her book is indeed a valuable record of the events leading up to and through Dylan’s Nobel sojourn, and it is surely one which will be of value to historians in decades to come. Yet, it remains her version of turbulent times, and as she remarks, she was often tired and overwhelmed by events. The most valuable thing with the book is her reminder that no matter what, the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature belongs solely to Bob Dylan.



Anthony Scaduto, Edited by Stephanie Trudeau. The Dylan Tapes: Friends, Players, Lovers Talking Early Bob Dylan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2022. xi+407 pp

REVIEW BY Ronald D. Cohen, Indiana University Northwest


Anthony Scaduto (1932-2017) published his groundbreaking Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography on January 1, 1971. A seasoned journalist, having worked for the New York Post since the mid-1950s, he eagerly launched his research in the later sixties on the highly elusive, hardly candid Dylan. Scaduto had a nose for capturing detailed, intimate, revealing interviews, hopefully uncovering more of Dylan’s shadowy, often fictional, past. Many of those he interviewed provided highly personal information, although with often shaky memories. Therefore, before publication, he asked Dylan to read his manuscript and venture any comments. Dylan responded: “Like I say, I read the entire book and closed it! And frankly it didn’t make a dent. You see? I don’t care if the book is out or not” (394). Actually he was a bit more explicit than this, but not by much: “You see, my thing has to do with feelings, not politics, organized religion, or social activity. My thing is a feeling thing. Those other things will blow away” (402). That’s actually a pretty good way to understand Dylan’s sixty-plus decades of musicianship and creativity, but hardly one that has appealed to many, including Scaduto.


Stephanie Trudeau, Scaduto’s widow – they had met in 1972 – notes in the book’s Introduction that just “before he died, he discovered all his interview tapes in our basement” (xi): thirty-six hours of conversations with twenty-five of his friends, ending with that “vague kind of guy,” as Dylan described himself (402). “Why did Tony open a dusty box in our basement,” she wonders. “He found a treasure . . . . This discovery came toward the end of his life, and when he died the task of completing his project . . . was left to me” (407). When the tapes are finally open to others, they will continue Scaduto’s explorations into Dylan’s life and artistic creations, although in the 1973 and 2008 editions of his biography he added some additional information. Of course, so much more is now known and interpreted in the dozens of Dylan biographies as well as the mountain of more focused studies. But can there ever be enough? Certainly not, particularly with access to the Bob Dylan Archive, the expanding trove of collections from numerous private collectors, and the May 2022 opening of the Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


While much of what Scaduto learned from his interviews might now seem common knowledge, it was fresh and revealing in the late 1960s. The book proceeds in rough chronological fashion, beginning with Echo Helstrom, Dylan’s high school girlfriend, then her mother Martha, although unfortunately few of the interviews are dated. Let us assume that the chapters are not in the order of the interviews, but we do not know. There are no interviews with family members (not even a mention of his younger brother David), nor with his first wife Sara. For Echo, who spent much time at the Dylan house, Bob remained somewhat of a mystery, while her mother recalled he was “very pleasant – we thought so anyway . . . . [H]e wasn’t loud at all, or insulting, like some kids are” (35-36). Next are a couple of Dylan’s friends in Minneapolis, where he briefly lived, including the blues performer Spider John Koerner (later a member of the popular trio Koerner, Ray, and Glover).


When Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village in early 1961, he quickly became enmeshed in the local folk scene. Naturally, Scaduto’s interviews focused on a selection of his various friends, contacts, and assorted others, beginning with Mike Porco, the owner of Gerde’s Folk City, one of the local clubs that actually paid the performers (Dylan had started at the basket houses, where the only pay came from contributions from the audience). Certainly not shy, he talked Porco into letting him perform: “For me it was nothing impressive really, but look, it was good enough that he could come back” (840). And come back he did, until Robert Shelton gave him a rave review in the New York Times in September 1961, which sparked his career. There is much on Gerde’s early history in Robbie Woliver, Bringing It All Back Home (1986), and considerably more on the broader music scene in Stephen Petrus and Ronald Cohen, Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival (2015) (for Dylan 255-289). Naturally Dylan soon met Dave Van Ronk, one of the Village’s most influential, and outspoken, musicians. At first he “was pretty much the same as everybody else in the scene,” Van Ronk recalled. “In a month or two I discovered he was a pathological liar. . . . We accepted him not because of the things he said he had done but because we respected him as a performer” (94). Van Ronk has a great deal to say about their complex relationship in his colorful, highly informative autobiography (with Elijah Wald), The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir (2005).


While Van Ronk, despite his leftwing politics, was not active in the local topical song movement, Dylan quickly connected with Agnes “Sis” Cunningham and her husband Gordon Friesen, who began distributing their mimeographed magazine Broadside. Initially subtitled “A handful of songs about our times,” the first issue came out in February 1962. While various performers gathered at Sis and Gordon’s cramped apartment on West 103 St., Scaduto’s interviews barely mention Broadside. This is an odd oversight, particularly since Dylan’s “`Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” appeared in the inaugural issue, with other songs to follow. “Bob Dylan came to these monthly meetings for well over a year. Gil Turner, emcee at Gerde’s Folk City, brought him to the first one,” Sis and Gordon recalled in Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography (1999). “Dylan was quite shy” (276). They were happy to nurture the newcomer, later feeling that “the success of these early Dylan songs was a main source of inspiration for the whole topical song movement” (295). “Blowing in the Wind” appeared in Broadside in May 1962. Perhaps Scaduto had little interest in topical songs, since he did not interview Sis or Gordon, although by the time of their interview, Dylan had moved away from the protest genre.


Phil Ochs joined the Broadside songsters, long remaining close to Sis and Gordon while developing a fraught relationship with Dylan. “I think he basically was a very human person and wanted to keep human relationships going and I think he felt that slipping away because of his fame,” he explained to Scaduto, but these remarks came some time after their split (138). While Ochs had become a prolific songwriter with a loyal following, he was no match for Dylan’s creative powers and international renown. Besides, Dylan had no room for a continuing friendship with Ochs, with their clashing personalities. The older Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who had traveled with Woody Guthrie and helped spread his songs in the 1950s, had a harder time than Ochs appreciating Dylan, particularly as a rival. “I didn’t imagine that somebody would come along like Bob Dylan and take Woody’s style and write stuff about today,” he explained to Scaduto (152). He added, “I think he’s a little bit too paranoid about me. But he’s a very paranoid kid, and I understand that, and I know it, because I’ve seen him be that way all along. I thought, you know, he’s got it, it’s in the bag” (159). Elliott did not mention his Jewish background, but he and Dylan were often compared because of their similar identity transformations. (While Ochs and many other folk performers were Jewish, few others appeared to mask their backgrounds like Dylan and Elliott.)


Among Dylan’s early Village friendships, perhaps none was more important or well known than with Suze Rotolo, particularly since their photo appeared on the cover of his influential second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. She was not eager to talk to Scaduto, so her responses were guarded and brief: “A lot of times I just wanted out, period. For no other reason that it was, this isn’t working. It was too, we weren’t getting on. . . . I wanted out” (179). When asked if she was being difficult, she responded: “No, I get this feeling that you’re wanting this to fall into a line of what you already have. If it doesn’t, then you turn it” (183). She would later publish A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties (2008), where she is much more forthcoming (and her album cover photo with Dylan is used for her book jacket): “We discovered we had much in common, including a mutual need for a comfortable place away from the chaos of life. We found in each other a kind of safe haven, yet trouble between us slowly grew out of his facility for not telling the truth” (95). Her older sister, Carla, was more open with Scaduto, probably because she had avoided the public glare. When asked about Bob’s personality she responded: “But when he was first in the city, he was a very sweet kid. Just not too articulate. But I think that’s probably why he did hang on to Suze, for that sweetness.” Then he changed. “He decided he would pick out your weakness and then suddenly grab it and use it on you” (188). Scaduto seemed more interested in Dylan’s personal transformations – certainly remarkable – than in his creative developments.


Dylan had first met Carolyn Hester and her husband Richard Fariña at Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1961. He was soon in Columbia Studios, backing Hester on harmonica for her next album. She introduced Dylan around, and would then divorce Fariña, who next married Mimi Baez, Joan’s sister. This developing folk world, with Dylan increasingly at the center, has been well captured in David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina (2001). Perhaps Dylan was interested in Hester after her divorce, but as she admitted to Scaduto: “Yeah, I was, you know, four years older, and I did feel that I shouldn’t get involved with someone that – I felt like his sister” (252). Another key member of the inner circle was the musician and artist Eric von Schmidt, who discussed with Scaduto Dylan’s controversial appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival: “We’re getting to the crux of the von Schmidt theory, that the whole thing was a mistake, that people were not putting Bobby down for playing electric. It was that we couldn’t hear him. The [sound] balance was fucked up” (276). It would take a talented musician such as von Schmidt to candidly discuss Dylan’s developing creative abilities. The controversy over the audience’s reaction still continues, while von Schmidt’s version has been generally upheld, although many at that time could not accept an electrified Dylan. The best overview is presented in Elijah Wald’s Dylan Goes Electric: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties (2015).


In 1957, Israel “Izzy” Young opened the Folklore Center, filled with instruments, records, magazines, and a tiny performance space, in the heart of Greenwich Village. Two years later he launched his Sing Out! column “Frets and Fails,” full of news and especially gossip about the local as well as national folk scene. Dylan quickly headed to Izzy’s when arriving in the city, and the two became longtime friends. In Chronicles (2004), Dylan recalls: “The place was a crossroads junction for all folk activity you could name and you might at any time see real hard-line folksingers in there” (19). In early 1962 Dylan expressed his feelings in “Talking Folklore Center,” which he never recorded; however, the proud Young quickly printed and circulated the lyrics. Scaduto’s lengthy interview with Izzy represents his complex relationship with Dylan. “I had a store on MacDougal Street and he came into the store in ’61. And he almost immediately took over,” Izzy began; “Well, he would come in with songs every day, singing new songs. And singing the old songs then. . . . [E]verybody accepted him completely, especially myself, as something that fell out of the sky” (306). Izzy was so charmed that he organized Dylan’s first concert appearance, at the small mid-town Carnegie Chapter Hall, on November 4, 1961, rather than his usual performances in a Village coffee house or folk club. The small turnout discouraged neither Dylan nor Izzy; a few months later he first mentioned Dylan in his Sing Out! column. All of his prolific writings, including numerous Dylan references, appear in Scott Barrett, ed., The Conscience of the Folk Revival: The Writings of Israel “Izzy” Young (2013). Particularly fascinating is his daughter Philomène Grandin’s Don’t Forget Me: A Gripping Farewell to a Remarkable Father (2022), in which she recalls attending the 2016 Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, missing Dylan but accompanied by her ailing father. Young moved to Stockholm in 1973 and they always kept in contact. Indeed, for many, Young appeared to represent Dylan in Europe.


Joan Baez shared with Scaduto now legendary stories of her fraught relationship with Dylan. Yet she concluded: “I think it’s hard not to love somebody like Bobby. I’m really drawn to people who are exceptional” (377).


Scaduto published the first in a tidal wave of serious Dylan studies. We are now able to study his raw research, always useful with the opening of the Archive and now the Bob Dylan Center and as Dylan celebrates his many decades as a creative genius and international celebrity. What more can we ask? As for the author, he would go on to write biographies of Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy. But none would have the influence of his Bob Dylan!



Dylan at 80: It Used to Go like That, and Now It Goes like This. Edited by Gary K. Browning and Constantine Sandis. Exeter, U.K.: Imprint Academic Ltd, 2021. x + 176 pp.

REVIEW BY Anne-Marie Mai, University of Southern Denmark


As a researcher in Bob Dylan’s art and poetry, I have found myself on my own never-ending tour. Public interest in learning more about Bob Dylan is growing among both young and old, and audiences eagerly note titles of new books and research articles whenever I give lectures on Bob Dylan at libraries, university extension courses or general education societies. I often end my lectures by noting that posterity will speak of us as an audience that was there when Dylan was alive. Just as we today talk about someone who saw and heard Amadeus Mozart play live and followed the making of his opus, our descendants will talk about us as people who were actually present and experienced Dylan’s giant opus coming into being. We might be envied because we witness how Dylan has generously shared his art, given numerous concerts, and engaged in film, radio, and visual arts. It can actually be quite demanding to follow Dylan’s eighty-year pace.


In 2020, when the world was first suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, Dylan released his album Rough and Rowdy Ways. In the summer of 2021 he appeared in a new online show, Shadow Kingdom, where he, along with a group of young musicians, played some of his early songs in masterful new interpretations. By the end of 2021, Dylan was again on tour and in 2022 announced a new book release, The Philosophy of Modern Song. He has not reduced his productivity now that he has gotten older, but thrillingly, he has increased it.


The new release, Dylan at 80, edited by Professor Gary Browning and Professor Constantine Sandis, is as thrilling as the artist himself. The publication consists of thirty-five short essays on a variety of intriguing and surprising topics: everything from Dylan’s Stratocaster, to Dylan’s ghosts, to the love of Dylan, become the subject of fine essayistic considerations. The publication dares to confront the reader with scores of diverse topics, each interesting object giving way to the next. The editors have mixed research with personal recollections and testimonies of people who have lived a long life with Dylan’s art. It is characteristic that the publication does not repeat old truths about Dylan but sees its topics from new perspectives.


It may seem hard to say anything new about well-known Dylan topics – like the famous July 25, 1965, electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival – but there is more to reveal. Professor Garry L. Hagberg’s fine analysis of Dylan’s playing on his new Stratocaster is put into relief by Jimi Hendrix’s use of the Stratocaster on “All Along the Watchtower,” where Hendrix also uses the acoustic guitar as the foundation that gets the Stratocaster to sing. No wonder Dylan himself declared: “It’s Jimi’s piece, I just wrote it.” Hagberg adds to the well-known drama of Dylan’s performance at Newport that it opened the history of the vigor of his songs: “When Dylan walked onstage with that Stratocaster, he (knowingly or otherwise) created a line of implication concerning the fecundity of his songs; what they could call for and what they could mean” (55).


Dylan at 80 also includes famous Dylan researcher Michael Gray’s analysis of the endings of Dylan’s songs. Gray notes how the young Dylan to some extent follows the rules of folk music for how a musician should end a song on an album, not by fading out the music, but by coming to an end and making it clear that the song is finished. According to Michael Gray, Dylan sticks to the rule of no fade-outs when he sings the traditional songs on his first album, Bob Dylan (1961), but when he brings in his own song, “Talkin’ New York,” he uses a fade-out. In his live performances he starts using a significant harp break before the last verse of the song as he did in the recorded version of “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” (1964) and he also begins to fade out more tracks on his albums (229). Or he challenges the idea of the absolute end of something, importing his characteristic contradictions and oxymorons into the endings of his songs as in “To Ramona” (1964), the ending of which includes the contradiction: “everything passes, everything changes” (233).


Among the more personal recollections of and reflections on Dylan, readers can delight in Stephen Sedley’s tale of a brief encounter with Dylan at a London club in 1962, in the days of Cuban Missile Crisis, when Dylan was recognized as a new American star and asked to play. Dylan borrowed Stephen Sedley’s guitar and fell into the ongoing session. The beauty of Sedley’s account is that he confesses his memory may have added something and subtracted something else; but the memory is his, as are the youthfully old-fashioned reviews he writes about Dylan’s London concerts in 1964 and 1965. A nice photo of the guitar that Dylan borrowed and quotations from Sedley’s old reviews are included (18-19, 20).


Among the personal accounts, we also notice the songwriter and musician Robyn Hitchcock, who tells of how, as a young man, he experienced Dylan’s songs and began to look at him as an older brother: “He must have fulfilled that role for millions by now” (148). Songwriter and singer Emma Swift talks about how she got hooked on Dylan during the coronavirus pandemic, when Dylan released “Murder Most Foul” with a special greeting to his fans and followers: “stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you” (151). Emma Swift finds that Dylan’s fans and followers come together in online communities, help one another, and keep each other’s spirits up during this difficult time, and that Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways gives the group new material to enjoy, analyze, and share with each other. And while Hitchcock calls Dylan an older brother, Swift wants to expand the family relationship: “Bob Dylan is not merely the world’s finest songwriter – he is the charming, elusive, sage, handsome, poetic and life-affirming brother, father, uncle and grandfather we never had” (152).


All contributions in this anthology are worth reading, and they cover everything from Dylan’s first songs and lyrics to his very latest works. I’m particularly fond of Emma-Rose Sear’s excellent reading of Dylan’s poem, “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” in which she shows how Dylan understands Guthrie as a kind ghost, neither living nor dead, who haunts his own work and thus never quite disappears from his universe. Guthrie is placed in a special presence, an “out of time” that Dylan returns to in other songs. The essay provides the reader new avenues to pursue the ghostly themes of Dylan’s universe, themes that seem to increase as Dylan continues to create, such as the ghostly atmosphere in Shadow Kingdom.


It’s also inspiring to follow Laura Tenschert’s article on the song, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” from Rough and Rowdy Ways. Tenschert explains how Dylan’s song can be seen in relation to his Nobel lecture, as well as the song “Mother of Muses,” also from Rough and Rowdy Ways. The Nobel lecture ends with Homer’s plea to the Muse: “Oh Muse, sing in me,” while the song “Mother of Muses” asks the mother of muses, Mnemosyne, to bestow on the singer the Muse of epic poetry, Calliope: “why not give her to me?” Dylan thus surrounds himself with several muses that he hopes will come to him. “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” can be seen as a love song about devotion, but it also has a deeper layer where the singer reflects on his art and realizes that it is not a matter of his winning the Muse and making her his own; rather, he must devote himself to her. Tenschert provides a fine analysis of Dylan’s use of Jacques Offenbach’s opera “The Tales of Hoffmann” as musical and textual inspiration in the song. Tenschert asks, is it really necessary for Dylan to assure himself, and the rest of us, that he has indulged in art? It is of course good that he does, because beautiful songs come out of his statements, but perhaps the relationship with art must constantly be reformulated and restored. Although Dylan has long since been able to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary with poetry, it has never been a safe marriage, but a dramatic love affair that must be constantly renewed.


There are several very readable essays in this collection about Dylan’s latest songs, his voice, and his stage performance. There is also a very careful linguistic corpus analysis of Dylan’s word choices in the 20th and 21st centuries. The linguist and translator Jean-Charles Khalifa is hesitant to draw big conclusions; however, he does note that the verb “change,” which was very prominent in Dylan’s songs from the 20th century, has almost disappeared in the 21st century (95).


Several of the writers are interested in comparing Dylan to other artists. Dylan himself has not shied away from comparing himself to Shakespeare, who is perhaps one of his most important inspirations. When Dylan first gave a concert in Denmark in 1966, he rushed to Kronborg to see Hamlet’s castle and climb onto the bastion where Hamlet’s father’s ghost first appeared.


Professor Katharine A. Craik, a Shakespeare specialist and poet, discusses Dylan’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, where he mentions Shakespeare, and she notes that Dylan’s use of Shakespeare’s dramatic works is often pointed out. But there’s also reason to look at parallels between Shakespeare’s sonnets and Dylan’s songs. With the sonnets Craik hears a “melody” (195) and, like Dylan’s songs, the sonnets are about existential conditions: youth, age, memory, and death. Craik compares Shakespeare’s sonnet No. 66 from 1609 to Dylan’s song, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” It is her point of view that the two texts are similar: they represent “a wake-up call, through repeated acts of witnessing, to a world which is terribly depleted by untruthfulness, prejudice, carelessness, cruelty and neglect” (196). The essay is a good introduction to the study of poetry across the years and shapes itself as a newly enriched approach to literary history. Craik elaborates on Dylan’s point that he has never thought about whether what he is doing is literature by highlighting that what Dylan and Shakespeare share is the awareness of the risk and vulnerability inherent to artistic work.


In her essay, Fleur Jongepier, who works in ethics, compares Bob Dylan and Iris Murdoch’s notions and practices in relation to “unselfing,” a process in which one experiences through self-expression that there is something else in the world that is real apart from oneself. It is practicing “unselfing through selfing,” which is an important point of Murdoch’s philosophy, that can be found in Dylan as he expresses himself through characters of his songs like Jimmy Reed, Johnny in the Basement, or Franky Lee, and arrives at a spiritual unselfing comparable to a Buddhist experience (205). It’s an intriguing thought that sheds new light on Dylan’s steady moving between characters and roles as thematized in Todd Haynes’ film, I’m Not There (2007) (206).


Another artist Dylan is compared to is Pablo Picasso. The art historian Ray Foulk, who specializes in modern art, discusses the differences in Dylan’s and Picasso’s significance and breakthroughs. Picasso contributed to a renewal of the realm of art with one stroke – cubism – while Dylan’s revolutionary impact had to do with stages: first he renewed folk music and then he went electric. But both became seminal. Foulk also discusses the two artists’ relationship with God and their inclusion in other arts: film, acting, and photography. The interest in the two artists illuminates the transformative power of their work.


Natalie Ferris takes a closer look at Dylan’s visual art, especially his major works in iron. She emphasizes that iron as a material has always interested Dylan and characterizes some of his gates created out of industrial iron waste. She points out the gates are tributes to craftsmanship, but that they also mark a transition from a modern industrial culture to a more uncertain future. This is neither modernism or postmodernism – rather, the artwork marks transitions while also referring to a non-place, standing both inside and outside without being fully either. Ferris considers why Dylan has sold a very large iron portal to a casino in Washington, D.C., observing the portal marks the transition from a universe governed by one logic to a universe with a different logic. The portal protrudes from the smooth marble surface and the delicate colors at the casino’s entrance.


The editors for this project, Dylan at 80, have engaged innovative writers who demonstrate that Dylan’s oeuvre is a growing field of research. Dylan’s unflagging productivity constantly puts new material on the table, and it is seized upon by many kinds of writers and Dylanologists. There are many great new ideas in this anthology that readers will want to hear much more about, and the mix of memoirs with analytical articles works well. It is promising that so many knowledgeable and committed people seek out Dylan’s work, draw comparisons to other artwork and poetry, and show their enthusiasm. I would have liked to have heard more about Dylan as a performer and about his involvement in films. It would also be interesting to look at how the different arts he engages in work together. Is there an interaction between, say, painting and songwriting, or are these isolated endeavors? Dylan’s involvement in advertising, too, could merit closer analysis. All the same, Dylan at 80 is a rewarding anthology that I’ll come back to and work on, a formidable inspiration for anyone preoccupied with Dylan, and an obligatory work on the list of books I would recommend on my own personal never-ending lecture tour.



Graley Herren. Dreams and Dialogues in Dylan’s Time Out of Mind. London, U.K.: Anthem Press, 2021. x + 176 pp.

REVIEW BY D. Quentin Miller, Suffolk University


I’m writing this review from Valencia, Spain, visiting my son who moved here a few months ago. Yesterday we were making our way to the stunning cathedral, which houses (believe it or not) the Holy Grail. Poking around the narrow alleyways of the old city, my wife eyed some of the tourist shops while my son was scouting out paella restaurants. I spotted a cool-looking sign down a side street: “Devil Records.” I pulled on their coats. “I’m absolutely hitting this record store,” I declared. They exchanged a knowing eye roll, clearly deciding to sit it out. Let the old man have his nostalgic fun. I stepped in and did what I’ve been doing since I was about seven years old, flipping through bins, scrutinizing the artfully designed covers, and deciding what I could afford.


I couldn’t resist this particular temptation – the devil delaying my pilgrimage to the Holy Grail – and I imagine most readers of this journal are fully with me. We know the magic of albums, but we also realize that they signify something to you and me that they don’t signify to others. Take my 22-year-old son. This morning we took a minute to share what we were working on. He tilted his head and lifted an eyebrow. “You’re reviewing a whole book about one record?” Shrug, bashful smile. Dylan Review reader, you understand, right? We’re on the same page and in the same groove. But the premise behind Grayley Herren’s Dreams and Dialogues in Dylan’s Time Out of Mind bears a little scrutiny, even between us superfans and critics.


For what is an album in the age of streaming? It’s become more a fuzzy concept than a tangible thing. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you most definitely think of albums as events as well as solid objects, and you regard the experience of listening (and relistening) to them as something not easily recreated on Spotify. We look back at the time when an album release meant an occasion. As we assess and analyze our most important musical artists from the vinyl age, an album marks a specific moment in their evolution. An album isn’t an accident. It’s selected and arranged. It arrives when the artist, musicians, producers, and label are satisfied that it’s ready for release, the endpoint of a period of creative inspiration and hard labor. Maybe most pointedly, it marks a moment of growth, departure, or change in the trajectories of most true artists who aren’t content to repeat their early formulas. Dylan is, of course, one such artist. One might find connections between his debut album, Desire, and Rough and Rowdy Ways, but anyone reading this review would never have to think twice about which one opened with “Hurricane.”


Even the title tells us that Dreams and Dialogues in Dylan’s Time Out of Mind is a niche book. That’s not a judgment, just a statement of fact as we consider audience. This one’s for experts or advanced Dylanphiles, and definitely for academics, specifically those who peer at Dylan’s work through literary lenses. It’s unlikely that any budding Dylan scholar would start with this book, just as it’s unlikely that nascent Dylan fans would start with Time Out of Mind. It’s a testimony to the ever-growing depth and breadth of Dylan studies that a book like this one can be written, published, and read at a time when the relevance of _______ (fill in the blank here: Dylan / literature / literary-minded popular music / the humanities / true art) is menaced by ______ (fill in the blank again: social media / the Internet / late capitalism / pandemic ennui). Unbothered, Herren advances a smart, informed, clearly written, old-school argument about an album. And not the oft-celebrated Freewheelin’, Blonde on Blonde, or Blood on the Tracks, mind you, but one that might be lifted out of the bin at Devil Records and held up as an unlikely holy grail. Skeptics might not want to bother with this study if they’re of the camp, detailed by Herren in the introduction, that regards Time Out of Mind as a belabored late career effort that could never live up to the early career gems. In other words, the study is an exercise in risk-taking and deep thinking. What could be more Dylan than that?


It’s clear that Herren is a fan and even a champion of Time Out of Mind. (He acronymizes the album title to TOOM and gets a lot of mileage out of the “tomb” pun: I’m not going to do the same thing here). In an admirably clear-eyed summary of the album’s reception, he acknowledges that Dylan’s achievements can sometimes be overshadowed by critical disagreements about them. He makes his project clear: “The present book seeks to refocus attention where it belongs – on Dylan’s ambitious, inventive, provocative and dialogical art in Time Out of Mind – rather than on peripheral skirmishes” (12). If the reader is wondering, “Why this album?” Herren eventually lays that out, too. His beef is with the well-established trend to celebrate Dylan’s early work of the 60s and 70s while dismissing or diminishing the later work; he writes “This characterization is utterly false, as anyone who has paid any attention to his work over the past quarter-century would know. Dylan has produced some of the most contemplative, complex, challenging and vital work of his career since 1997, a late renaissance initiated by Time Out of Mind” (23). He clearly views the album as a watershed event in Dylan’s career, not only as a complex and worthy text but as the very origin (note the word “initiated”) of his creative rebirth. I concur, and I’m happy to see it getting attention.


So we pretty much agree on what an album is, yes? A text, in this context? Well…Herren takes liberties with the finished product that is Time Out of Mind, adding a few bonus tracks to his analysis, an act which he calls “expanding the domain” of the album (22). As he justifies this decision, he quotes Paul Williams who describes Blood on the Tracks as a “meta-work” and applies the same logic to this album, including not only the eleven songs included on Time Out of Mind but also three that were outtakes that appeared on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8 and, perhaps a little less solidly, “Mississippi” which was included on the next album, “Love and Theft”. Um, we-elll, yeah, but…I reiterate my initial question: what’s an album? I really admire the focus of a study like this one, but this move unsettles me a little because it compromises the understood boundaries of the argument. If a critic borrows songs that weren’t on this album (and that ended up on another album), there’s the sense that limiting the analysis to a titled album is somewhat arbitrary. One can imagine a version of Herren’s book that does not seek to analyze every track on Time Out of Mind (plus four) as this one does, but rather that selects a number of tracks from this period and seeks coherence that way. Call it “Dylan’s Early Late-Career Renaissance” or “Dylan’s Work of the Late 1990s.” I know it’s not as punchy, but it’s more accurate.


The troublesome thing about a “meta-work” is that it’s defined by the critic rather than the artist or the reader/listener. Herren argues that “Mississippi” “fits effectively in the context of “Love and Theft” and provides a crucial link connecting the two albums. However, “Mississippi” lies even closer to the heart of Time Out of Mind, and no account of this meta-work would be complete without taking it into consideration” (21-22). But just pages before he includes the following quotation from Hibbing’s favorite son: “This record is not a blueprint. This is it. This is the way these songs should go, every single last one. This record went through different evolutions. What you hear comes through that whole maze, that labyrinth of fire that it takes to perfect the arrangement and the structure” (8). Even though Herren includes another quotation from a later interview in which Dylan is less convinced about the coherence of the record, even that quotation asserts that Time Out of Mind “held together as a collection of songs” (9). It’s pretty clear to me what Dylan might say about the move to add four more tracks that weren’t on it and call it a meta-work. In his recent study Listening to Bob Dylan, in a chapter titled “Arranging an Album,” Larry Starr shares my skepticism; he writes that Time Out of Mind “serves perfectly to illuminate the advantages of listening to a Bob Dylan album as a complete, purposeful program of individual songs.”[1]


Okay, enough about albums (for now). The approach is equally important. In sum, Herren’s argument as laid out in the introduction is smart, well-informed, well-argued, and intriguing. He relies heavily on the number three to structure it, framing his introduction with the statement “Bob Dylan creates in threes” (1, 20). He substantiates this claim with choice quotations from Dylan as well as shrewd observations about patterns in his creative arc. He mirrors this creative principle in his analysis, dividing the Time Out of Mind meta-work into three categories and presenting evidence in triads, such as quotations from three interviews, or arguing that the pattern indicated by Dylan in his Nobel acceptance speech triangulates himself, Leadbelly, and Buddy Holly in terms reminiscent of the holy trinity. I’ll get to each of the three categories in a minute, but there are a few other noteworthy dimensions of the introductory framework that give it heft. One is a deft movement between key biographical details, the Dylan myth (often perpetuated or mischievously altered by the puckish Robert Zimmerman himself), critical pronouncements, audience reception, and finally an intellectual framework that includes psychology, religion, and experimental modern literature (notably the work of James Joyce).


This may sound like a rich cup of coffee, but it’s mellowed by Herren’s prose style, which is clear, accessible, and enthusiastic, even while advancing sophisticated ideas about transfiguration and metempsychosis. We dive pretty deep here, even in the introduction, but Herren doesn’t let go of our hand and force us to swim on our own. I found particularly intriguing the notion of dreams (gleaned in the title) as a valid inroad into Dylan’s art in general and this album (I’ll go back to calling it that) in particular. Herren counts sixty-five Dylan tracks over the course of his career that “contain the root-word ‘dream’” and traces a career-long pattern that constitutes “an aesthetic of transformational art modeled after dreams” (17, 18). This dimension of the argument had me bobbing my head, eager for more. I’ve often focused on dream imagery when teaching some early tracks like “Gates of Eden,” but have never considered the topic with Herren’s level of breadth or sophistication. He uses the lyrics from “Series of Dreams,” an outtake from Oh, Mercy (better add it to the meta-work), to cue up the analysis to follow: “Time Out of Mind represents a series of dreams. The album is Dylan’s most concerted experiment with enlisting dreams in the service of art. He uses dreams for content, drawing from a vast rag and bone shop of intertextual references stored in the unconscious” (19). Whose unconscious? Not Dylan’s, or not exactly. Herren views the dreamer as a “protagonist” who reproduces many of the tropes recognizable throughout Dylan’s career, but declares that the protagonist “is personal, if not strictly autobiographical” and concludes, “Time Out of Mind sometimes appears as a portrait of failure – the dreamer’s failure – but the portrait itself, as painted by Dylan, is a major artistic success” (19). This summary quotation is a good example of the author’s authority, grace, and excitement about the subject at hand. I imagine most readers who had understood the references and followed the argument through the introduction would be eager, as I was, to plunge into the close readings at this point.


So here we go. The first category Herren addresses is murder ballads, in the close company of a type of character Dylan has engaged with over his career: “lawbreakers, rebels, and desperadoes” (26). The argument rearranges most of the tracks on the album to suggest that the narrator, motivated by his desire to hunt down and kill his lost love, becomes a fugitive, is arrested, imprisoned, and executed with a dying wish to be redeemed or to receive mercy in this world or the next, knowing that it will be unfulfilled. The key, Herren reminds us, to accepting this interpretation is to remember that Dylan’s speaker is not a literal killer, but a dreamer. His disturbing nocturnal visions are the substance of the narrative. Herren also reminds us that Dylan and the dreamer-protagonist of the album are not the same person, but they “do have one important thing in common: they both know a hell of a lot of folk and blues songs” (27). Herren provides a quick and effective background on the murder ballad genre and Dylan’s previous forays into it, acknowledging that the genre can descend into blatant misogyny and using that observation to address Dylan’s uneven record on depictions of women. He keeps the focus on dreaming, though, as an aesthetic motif rather than as an occasion for psychoanalysis. He’s keen to remind us of the crucial distinction between artist and protagonist: “Dylan is a master swimmer gliding through the sea of madness in which his dreamer drowns” (37). This analysis attaches itself to one of the outtakes, “Dreaming of You,” which, Herren suggests, perfectly captures the crux of his argument, though it is “inexplicably” left off the album (37). He springboards to “Make You Feel My Love” at that moment, reframing a song that many of Dylan’s champions love to hate for its sweet, cliched, anodyne triteness. Hardly, says Herren. Within the context of the murder ballad analysis, this song is menacing and creepy. Placed between his analyses of the more overtly sinister tracks “Love Sick,” “Can’t Wait,” and “‘Til I Fell In Love With You,” the argument sticks. Herren is a literary scholar, so the lyrics are tantamount to his analysis, but he does manage to address musical concerns, too, including the arrangements, the Psycho-like sounds of the organ (“four staccato stabs”) at the opening of “Love Sick,” and the distinct rasp of Dylan’s voice (“estranged and alien”) (34).


As the murder ballad chapter approached its conclusion, the centrifugal force of the argument left me feeling a little dizzy, like someone added a healthy pour of tequila into the rich cup of coffee that is the argument. I’m not complaining – I like both espresso and hard liquor – but here I felt the need for more patience. Herren’s close readings of some of the more challenging and enduring tracks on Time Out of Mind – “Standing in the Doorway,” “Not Dark Yet,” “Trying to Get to Heaven,” and “Highlands” – are perceptive and convincing, and he uses them to good effect to conclude the argument about the murder ballad tradition, but they’re surrounded with a whirlwind of allusions to everything from fairy tales to canonical literature to Dylan’s own songs to such a degree that I wanted the author to slow down a bit and sink even deeper into the lyrics he’s so good at analyzing. The book is on the short side for an academic study, so I don’t think anything would have to be cut to make room.


The next chapter covers Herren’s second category, religious allegory. The frame here involves a good bit of effort defining the term, especially since Dylan once explicitly claimed that Time Out of Mind did not employ allegory. “I have given that up,” our hero declared in an interview with Edna Gunderson (54). Like hell you have, Herren rejoins. I’m persuaded by Herren’s inclination to “trust the tale” rather than the teller here because he works so hard and so carefully to define allegory, whereas Dylan in the interview writes it off as mere “philosophical dogma” (57, 54). Plus, as we know, it’s dangerous business to take Dylan’s interviews at face value. Herren weaves a web connecting a literary tradition from the medieval type of soul-struggle called “psychomachia” to Othello to Moby-Dick in order to argue for this album’s place in that tradition.


Psychomachia is one of (you guessed it) three forms of allegory Herren identifies in Dylan’s work, the other two being personification and intertextual identification with an allegorical figure. The first and third categories are the most prevalent on Time Out of Mind, and Herren begins the chapter with a somewhat lengthy establishment of Dylan’s allegorizing early in his career through readings of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Shelter from the Storm,” and “Where Are You Tonight” among others. It takes ten pages to get to Time Out of Mind, or rather to one of the outtakes, “Red River Shore,” which is the author’s entry point. He lingers on this “undeniably stellar song” for quite some time – about seven pages, with plenty of connections to earlier and later songs peppered in – which is the type of sustained analysis I was craving at the end of the preceding chapter (62). Moses is the key figure of intertextual identification here: Herren concludes his analysis by calling it “Dylan’s Mosaic mosaic” (69). (Clever!) This reading sets the table for a diverse set of inquiries into the album’s other allegorical features, which are more free-ranging and combinatory than the way the murder ballad reading worked in the previous chapter (i.e. as a continuous narrative, told out of order). The spiritual pilgrimage is one dimension, but without the customary redemption at the end. The biblical figures Herren initially showcases here are Job and his tormenter, Satan, who provide ways to reframe some of the tracks he contextualized with the murder ballad tradition earlier. The separate contexts are opportunities to go deeper into the analysis, and indeed, Herren refers to them as “levels” (74, 78). The overall argument takes on breadth as well as depth as Herren goes into some tracks that did not get as much play in chapter two such as “Cold Irons Bound.”


But the depth is more striking, especially as Herren recasts two central, weighty songs from Time Out of Mind – “Not Dark Yet” and “Standing in the Doorway” – as allegories that involve Judas and Jesus, especially Jesus as depicted in Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ. Always keeping the context of dreams in sight, Herren’s argument is especially rich here as he stays close to the texts at hand and provides a way of reading that is both an alternative to his earlier readings and complementary to them. Certainly, Dylan’s best songs can and should benefit from approaches from multiple contexts. A murderer about to be executed and Jesus perishing on the cross are clearly two different types, but both stare down the same spiritual dilemma. The chapter concludes by revisiting one of the long tracks considered in the earlier chapter, “Highlands,” with an emphasis on the ongoing pilgrimage that Dylan allegorizes. (Surprisingly, there’s no reference to the Never Ending Tour in that context). Herren’s ultimate point is that the Time Out of Mind-era Dylan has moved into allegory and away from binary moralism (good vs. evil, serving the devil or the Lord, etc.).


Not done yet, but we’re getting there. Herren’s third contextual level involves race in America, a critical frame he describes as “intertwined with and yet distinct from the murder ballads and religious allegory levels of meaning” (91). I was just about to scratch my head about the relationship when he explained it this way: “The recurring motif of a man searching desperately for a woman – a motif that suggests a predatory stalker and killer viewed from one vantage point, and a pilgrim on a religious quest seen from a parallax view – works on a third level as emblematic of the African American search for freedom, justice, equality, and dignity” (91). My scalp remained a little itchy, for this is a stretch, but I was willing to press on. Dylan’s engagement with the struggle for civil rights vis-à-vis the folk/blues tradition is a bit more evident and accessible than the critical frameworks required for the first two chapters: safe to assume most readers know more about racial inequality than metempsychosis. Herren’s focus in setting up this chapter is on the riskiness of Dylan, or any white artist, representing the lives and experiences of African Americans. This is an important inquiry, and Herren approaches it with clarity and sensitivity. His conclusion is neither that white artists should never tread on this ground nor that cultural appropriation is everyone’s right, but rather that context is everything. “Hybridity” is a goal, “essentialism” is a danger. Herren draws from some prominent sources – Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Ralph Ellison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Gilroy, Zadie Smith – to help navigate these troubled waters.


There’s more than a little anxiety around this touchy subject which spotlights the ethics of the white artist speaking about the Black experience. I do think thorough interrogations of this subject in Dylan are important. There are many examples throughout his early career in which he inhabits this space, such as “Oxford Town” or “Hurricane” in addition to the ones that Herren analyzes or alludes to. As applied to Time Out of Mind, though, it was the hardest to see in terms of the overall argument, and this chapter – the longest in the study – was the least persuasive of the three. During my first readthrough of this book I occasionally wondered if what we really have here is three books, three separate contexts for reading Dylan, each of which could be even more probing than this one if the author had focused on Dylan’s entire career rather than just one album/ meta-work. In fact, Herren does pull quite a bit from Dylan’s earlier and later work in his analysis: this chapter opens with a lengthy consideration of 1962’s “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” which Dylan never included on an album and which he later denounced as a “bullshit song” (96). While it’s a fine analysis, it struck me that we’re a long way from the purported focus on the album that initiates Dylan’s late-career renaissance. Herren continues his analysis with a sustained look at “Blind Willie McTell,” another bootleg left off Infidels, a decade-and-a-half before the album under consideration. Herren spends much more time setting up his reading of Time Out of Mind in the context of race than he does analyzing the songs on Time Out of Mind: the first thirty-two pages of the chapter are buildup, the last sixteen include close readings of two songs from the album, one of which is not on the album.


Herren’s reading of “Trying to Get to Heaven” in the context of the fugitive slave dream-level is convincing, but brief compared to some of his earlier close readings. He moves into “Mississippi,” which, as we know, is not actually on the album (though Herren is so thoroughly convinced that it should have been that he starts one sentence about it this way: “Unlike other songs on Time Out of Mind…” [130]). I’m not sure the stretch to include “Mississippi” pays off, even setting aside my reservations about including it in the meta-work: I found it the least focused of all the close readings in the study, which are generally excellent. If it were not included, that would mean that this whole dimension of the argument – the dream-level from the perspective of a fugitive slave – really only applies to one song on Time Out of Mind. This is at odds with Herren’s claim that “Dylan draws deeply” from his understanding of America’s racist history “time and again in Time Out of Mind” (90). Herren does scatter a few quotations from other songs on the album, but in terms of sustained analysis, there’s just not enough evidence to convince me.


So I’m back where I started, worried about the line between a study of a single album and a study that has broader applications for a deeper understanding of Dylan over the course of his career. This final chapter is the one that leaves my brow furrowed since it has the least to do with Time Out of Mind and the most to do with a context that demands further exploration in Dylan more generally. Granted, it’s not as though the topic hasn’t been broached before.[2] But Herren works very hard to create the context here and I think he owes himself more space to substantiate it with additional close readings of songs from the album under consideration, if it’s possible to do so. This chapter also stands in place of a conclusion to the entire argument. My brow might have relaxed a little if there were a standard concluding chapter reflecting on the three “levels” of the dreamer at the end of the book to close the frame that opened it in the introduction, but the argument about the race dimension concludes the book a little abruptly.


My conclusion, then, is that Herren says quite a bit, and says it well enough that it warrants the attention of other critics, and yet I think he has more to say, especially about race, and not just how it applies to Time Out of Mind. I hope it’s clear at the end of this lengthy review that what might seem like my fussiness over how an album is defined is actually an earnest debate about whether Dylan’s massive body of work is best approached in terms of individual texts (be they songs or albums) or whether it’s inevitable to make connections that span his songbook. In addition to the four songs Herren adds to the meta-work, I count more than thirty additional songs that he quotes from during the analysis. This indicates to me that Dylan’s enormous oeuvre nearly forces us to make connections across it, or, put differently, that he creates and recreates his own contexts that are in conversation with the contexts we critics bring to the work. What’s an album? In the case of the astonishing sixty-year career of the world’s most celebrated songwriter, a fragment. Or it’s a coherent text. Here it’s something in-between. I found the approaches involving murder ballads and religious allegory engaging and insightful about Time Out of Mind, but the approach involving race left me hoping that the topic will be more broadly applied and more thoroughly explored in subsequent work.


[1] Larry Starr, Listening to Bob Dylan (Urbana: U of Illinois Press, 2021), 90.

[2] See, for one example, Mike Marqusee’s Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan’s Art (New Press, 2003).


Dylan Review Vol. 3.2, Fall/Winter 2021-2022 – BOB DYLAN LYRICS, COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All Along the Watchtower. Copyright © 1968 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music. All rights reserved.

Angelina. Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Ballad of a Thin Man. Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Black Rider. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

​Blind Willie McTell. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

I Contain Multitudes. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Every Grain Of Sand. Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

False Prophet. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Foot of Pride. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Fur Slippers. Copyright unknown [Shot of Love outtake].

Goodbye Jimmy Reed. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall. Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

I and I. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

It Ain’t Me Babe. Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

John Brown. Copyright © 1963, 1968 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1996 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Jokerman. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Just Like a Woman. Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music. All rights reserved.

Key West (Philosopher Pirate). Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Like a Rolling Stone. Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

The Man in Me. Copyright ©1970 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1998 by Big Sky Music. All rights reserved.

Murder Most Foul. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

My Own Version of You.  Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Need A Woman. Copyright © 1982 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Not Dark Yet. Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later). Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music. All rights reserved.

Po’ Boy. Copyright © 2001 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music. All rights reserved.

Silvio. Copyright © 1988 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Spirit on the Water. Copyright © 2006 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Standing in the Doorway. Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music. All rights reserved.

Sweetheart Like You. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Tangled Up In Blue. Copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music. All rights reserved.

Thunder on the Mountain. Copyright © 2006 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

The Times They Are A-Changin’. Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Watching The River Flow. Copyright © 1971 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1999 by Big Sky Music. All rights reserved.

What Can I Do for You?. Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

When I Paint My Masterpiece. Copyright © 1971 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1999 by Big Sky Music. All rights reserved.

Where Are You Tonight? (Journey through Dark Heat). Copyright © 1978 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

You’re A Big Girl Now. Copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music. All rights reserved.