Lost in the jingle-jangle morning of a genius

Wow, so reading this book whirled me away “through the smoke rings of my mind.” Away I went “down the foggy ruins of time,” remembering this one song from replaying it in west-end Montreal, a first shared apartment on Claremont Avenue, and that one from obsessing over it in The Haight, a walk-up crash pad at the corner of Lyon and Fell streets. Let’s admit that The Double Life of Bob Dylan is an insider book, decidedly not for everyone. At more than 500 pages in length, it is far too exhaustively detailed, far too concerned with the minutiae of creative process, to attract any but a niche audience.

Yet a certain rebellious subset of Boomers will be reminded, as I was, that while in the Sixties we were coming of age, this kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, provided the soundtrack to our lives. Author Clinton Heylin is the world’s foremost expert on Dylan, no competition. He wrote this tour de force after laying hands on a previously inaccessible archive of papers, videos, and recordings. The book runs from 1941 to 1966, when Dylan was twenty-five and heading for his motorcycle accident.

By then, would you believe, this boy genius — this “original vagabond,” as Joan Baez would call him – had already produced five albums, among them three masterpieces: Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Author Heylin dubs the fifteen-month period in which Dylan wrote and recorded those albums “the greatest creative burst in the history of popular song” – and proves it.  Having been driven to don headphones while I read this book, and to go “laughing, spinning, swinging madly across the sun” of Dylan’s music, I am here to tell you that his memory-lane visions kept me up past the dawn.

The Double Life of the title refers to the split between the private person and the public persona, between the confused young man who loved and lost Suze Rotolo – the dream girl on the cover of Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan — and the reluctant spokesman for a generation who never wanted to be any such thing. So, yes, here we get to know the early-twenties Dylan thrashing to keep his head above the surface of the tsunami induced by his volcanic talent. That young man could be selfish, mean, nasty, vindictive. But while he went about growing up, he incidentally revolutionized pop music, opening it up to lyric complexity – to poetry. Forget “I love you baby, baby please don’t go.” Young Dylan gave us the ghost of electricity howling in the bones of her face. And in the jingle-jangle morning, we went following him.


  1. Ross Klatte on February 7, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Wow, so reading your review of Clinton Heylin’s biography of Bob Dylan whirls me away to that era that won’t let go of you and me and a host of other old men and women who lived through it and can’t, don’t want to, forget it. Bravo, Ken. And that goes for your new website too. Rock on, old friend.

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