The Cambridge Companion To Bob Dylan

The Cambridge Companion To Bob Dylan

Edited by Kevin J. H. Dettmar

Cambridge University Press

£14.99 (paperback) ISBN: 9780521714945

£45.00 (hardback) ISBN: 9780521886949

Like The Beatles, it’s hard to write about Bob Dylan without being in some sort of intrinsic awe. That many consider the sheer audacity of Dylan’s artistry and output as being revolutionary, has, to all intents and purposes, evolved into being the norm, rather than the exception. So no surprises there. But what I do find a bit surprising – and in turn, hopelessly exhilarating and entertaining – are the countless (solipsistic) claims and counter-claims placed upon him.

The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan being no exception.

What makes Dylan so important, and dare I repeat, exhilarating and entertaining, are the many, many sides to his personality. As Bernard Paturel is quoted as saying in the eleven page Introduction: ‘’There’s so many sides to Bob Dylan, he’s round.’’ It is this, along with his pleomorphic and at times, gut wrenching; kaleidoscopic and other times, awe-inspiring and imposing catalogue of songs, that account for the artist’s continuing validity.

Once again, with the exception of The Beatles, there’s no one comes remotely close to Dylan. And the writers herein know this all to well, as Kevin J. H. Dettmar continues in his Introduction: ‘’Dylan’s work is literary, I would want to agree, in the most fundamental of ways: his is a sensitivity, and a sensibility, that turns almost instinctively to the resources of literary language in order to manifest itself, ‘transmuting,’ as Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus brashly proclaims, ‘the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.’’’

Divided into two sections (Part I Perspectives & Part II Landmark Albums), these seventeen essays investigate an array of colourful and salient Dylan terrain. From David Yaffe’s ‘Bob Dylan and the Anglo-American tradition’ to Barbara O’Dair’s ‘Bob Dylan and gender politics,’ to David R. Shumway’s ‘Bob Dylan as cultural icon’ to the eight writings on Landmark albums – each thoroughly investigate their subject with dexterity and authority.

For instance, in ‘Bob Dylan and the Academy,’ Lee Marshall writes: ‘’The intimacy and sense of longing generated by ‘Visions of Johanna’ is not merely the result of the instruments, however; it is also created by Dylan’s singing, and the fact that song lyrics are mediated by a performance is something regularly overlooked by those taking a literary approach to Dylan’s work. When we read a poem, we read it in our own voice, at our own speed. With a song, we have no such control; the singer controls the pace at which we hear a song and the voice in which we hear it. In consort with the music, the singer gives us clues as to, for example, whether the authorial voice is male or female, or whether the words are sincere or ironic, that are not available in written poems.’’

Much to his own amusement (I’m sure), volume after volume continues to be written on Bob Dylan – which, of itself, feeds off itself – and there appears to be no end in sight. But so far as a literary springboard from which to embark and learn is concerned, I’d wholeheartedly recommend this Cambridge Companion.

Not only is it a worthy insight for the novice, it’s a more than interesting ride for worldwide Dylanologists.

David Marx


One response to “The Cambridge Companion To Bob Dylan

  1. Thanks for the review- I do have that book on top of my list.
    he has “so many sides he’s round” What a great quote.
    thanks for including it- I had heard it before but didn’t know who had said it.

    take care- always a pleasure.

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