Revolution In The Air –
The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol.1:1957-73
By Clinton Heylin
Constable – £20.00
‘’The year Dylan rewrote the book – and I don’t mean Tarantula (which he never tampered with after finishing it in early spring). Superlatives fail and comparisons disappear in a blizzard of inspiration. The Dylan of 1965 was making the most direct, powerful, and artistically important song-statements of the twentieth century. At the absolute epicentre of popular culture for an eighteen-month period when he, and he alone, was in the unknown region, he returned with regular bulletins of prophetic perspicacity.The thirty songs recorded in those twelve months, even instark isolation, would make him the single most important singer-songwriter of the post-war era. Going from ‘Love Minus Zero’ to ‘Visions of Johanna’ in eleven months, Dylan was travelling at the artistic equivalent of the speed of light.Between these twin beacons he would find time to create the first true ‘rock’ single, ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ And on its live debut, he irrevocably rendered those divisions that still dominated popular song redundant.’’ (Author’s italics).
With the exception of The Beatles, it’s hard to argue with the above. In 1965, there really was no one in popular music that even came close, to what Dylan was writing. And Clinton Heylin – to whom The New York Times refer as ‘’the only Dylanologist worth reading’’ – continues to understand this, far better than most.
Among the most distinguished of writers on his subject in the world today (his previous books include: Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades – Take Two, Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments – Day by Day from 1941-1995 and Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1994), it should come as no surprise that Clinton Heylin would eventually do for Bob Dylan, what Ian MacDonald did for The Beatles with his comprehensive work, Revolution In The Head.
Moreover, it should also come as no surprise that the author is at pains to dispute this: ‘’I should perhaps state at the outset that Revolution In The Air, despite its allusive title, is not an attempt to emulate Ian MacDonald’s commendable work on The Beatles’ songs and their context, Revolution In The Head. Yes, it is an attempt to tell the story of an artist through his art. But in the process, I seek to show that Dylan’s work is a whole lot more than a series of period pieces confined to their milieu.’’
Albeit it a tad on the anorak side, Heylin has fundamentally succeeded in substantiating (t)his claim; this book is after all, the first of two. The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. II will be published in 2010.
Written at a rate of well-versed knots that are as equally bestrewn with surprises (‘’I write inside out and sometimes the dimensions cross’’ – Dylan/1965) as they are revelations (‘’It’s not for me to understand my songs’’ – Dylan/1985), Revolution In The Air –The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 1: 1957-73 is an essential read. For those fans of the artist’s phenomenally wide and varied output in particular.
I use the word essential, because in this day and age of ludicrous, hideous, vacuous and superfluous X Factor wank, this book is a timely reminder of who, and what truly, ought to be considered the real deal. The real deal with something to say that is, with the latter being as much an understatement, as it is undeniably true.
Not for nothing, is Bob Dylan the benchmark, by which every new solo artist – from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits to Elvis Costello to Badly Drawn Boy to Paolo Nutini – is measured.