I don’t think of myself as Bob Dylan. It’s like Rimbaud said, ‘I is another’.
– Bob Dylan, 1985
A million books have crawled over the minutiae of Bob Dylan’s life, his words, live performances and recordings, and I have read a fair few of them. But I do believe that Ian Bell’s Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan is the best of them all. Which is surprising since Bell – former Scottish editor of the Observer and a past winner of the Orwell Prize for political writing – has done no original research, conducted no fresh interviews, or been given access to record company archives.
But what Bell has done – and supremely well – is to sift through all of the voluminous material that the Dylan phenomena has generated over the decades – interviews, biographies, memoirs, articles, web forum debates and bootlegs, as well as the artist’s own words – to produce a book that is insightful, critical (indeed, often sceptical) and analytical. Bell places Dylan in his entire context: musical, literary, historical, and political. Continue reading “Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan”