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The Ballad of Bob Dylan Paperback – May 3, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Paperback, May 3, 2011
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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The aura that is the real masterpiece of a star dominates this raptly observant, occasionally besotted biography of folk-rock's troubador-prophet. Historian and poet Epstein (The Lincolns) structures his loose-jointed chronicle around exegeses of iconic Dylan concerts he attended, analyzing the songs and the shifting persona of the singer: in 1963, the visionary 22-year-old folkie; in 1974, the bristling 30-something rocker; in 2009, the hoarse old man growling at Fate. It's a canny approach, given that Dylan's mythmaking—the middle-class son of a Minnesota appliance-store owner, he romantically styled himself a wandering orphan—outran the prosaic reality. (Epstein sometimes bemoans the paucity of scandal in his subject's life and reveals that Dylan's storied motorcycle accident occurred when the vehicle simply tipped over as he was walking it down the road.) Unfortunately, Epstein's sharp-eyed evocations of Dylan's onstage presences often bog down in the longueurs of decades of perfunctory touring. Worse, his conviction that Dylan is a great poet whose lyrics "can stand alone on the printed page" is not entirely confirmed by the many stanzas he reprints and dutifully interprets. Epstein's wallow in the master's words and moods will entrance hardcore Dylanophiles, but casual readers may strain to hear the music. Photos. (May)
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“What sets Epstein’s book apart is its accessibility. . . . Epstein is refreshingly direct and approachable, and while the author, also a folk musician, makes much of his extensive quotes from Dylan’s lyrics, it is his own clear, emotional enthusiasm that carries the tale.” (Rob Fitzpatrick, Sunday Times (London))

“If you like Keith Richards’ Life, then read The Ballad of Bob Dylan. Just in time for the musician’s 70th birthday, Daniel Mark Epstein’s biography offers a vivid portrait of the visionary artist.” (US Weekly)

“Offers a portrait that explodes the semi-hostile cliché of much unauthorized biography. New interviews and photographs add depth to an account distinguished by a fine sensitivity to all aspects of Dylan’s art, from the personal to the music’s history.” (Tim Martin, Telegraph (London))

“Brilliant—that Daniel Mark Epstein is both a poet and a biographer stands him in good stead in this penetrating, compassionate (but utterly clear-eyed), beautifully written portrait of Bob Dylan as an artist and a man. Among the very best writing about Dylan, ever.” (James Kaplan, author of Frank: The Voice)

“In The Ballad of Bob Dylan, Daniel Mark Epstein does what few have been able to do at all, much less this well: capture that spirit, and in so doing, somehow manage to get closer to the essence of an American icon.” (Dave Moyer, New York Journal of Books)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006180732X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061807329
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,809,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on March 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Author Daniel Mark Epstein has set his goals high. How else can you explain the brave desire to assemble a new biography about someone for whom many others have already produced thousands of pages? About an individual who has already published the first volume of his own autobiography? To additionally spend time analyzing many of the tunes and lyrics created during this 50+-year musical career, knowing full well that myriad liberal arts students dissect those same lines and melodies in countless classrooms across this globe every day? What could possibly be said here and now that hasn't already been made public and well known?

Well, Mr. Epstein's got a hook. He's a fan. He has seen Bob Dylan four times in concert, with more than a decade separating each event. By anchoring his approach with those evenings (in 1963, 1974, 1997, & 2009), the author plants himself in that narrow aisle between his iconic subject matter and the rest of us in the audience. Epstein becomes Everyman, and it's easy for us to identify with his experiences and his viewpoints. We've sat in similar theaters and arenas. We know the music. The four gigs serve as the stanzas to the Dylan life ballad. Epstein's text could be sketched as a quadrupled Venn diagram. The concert hours are the overlapping slivers of time; and that which falls into the wide outside spaces represents the lives lived away from the stage, both for the performer and for the listener.

You might think, Great, four concerts. This won't take long. Wrong! The author fills in the gap of those intervening years with the kinds of details we crave from in-depth celebrity portrayals.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
No one who thinks about Bob Dylan thinks about him as if he were a normal human being, much less a regular guy. I can't think of one person who's written about Dylan who has cast him as anything approaching normal. If Dylan is a genius - and he is - he must be a tortured genius, otherwise there's no story. So biographers find evidence of torture in relationships gone bad, friendships betrayed, substances abused, lyrics plagiarized, until Dylan seems not only tortured but down right nasty. Interesting, though, that no one has been able to dig up any dirt on Dylan in relationship to his children and grandchildren. Now that's telling because if Dylan were half as nuts as we've been led to believe, surely one of his kids would have written a tell-all by now. I find it hard to believe they're silent under pain of excommunication, or whatever sword Dylan wields.

"The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait," is a view of Bob Dylan that shows us a hard working entertainer, a brilliant song-writer, a mediocre painter, a crappy film maker - and a decent guy, protective of his family and generous to his friends. Eccentric? Of course. Anyone who's spent over 40 years in the music business, and half his life in the public eye is bound to be eccentric. Alcoholic, drug-crazed, serial womanizer subject to fits of madness? Not so much.

Daniel Mark Epstein is a practiced poet, essayist, and playwright - and a prize winning biographer; he's also a fan, and not un-critical. My god, he's reasonable about his subject matter - not the usual modus operandi for someone writing about Dylan. He takes a look at Dylan's life through the prism of four concerts that seem to delineate four periods in the man's life - his as well as Dylan's.
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This is a difficult book for me to review. I first started buying Bob Dylan albums with "John Wesley Harding" and consider his career peak to be from "Bringing It All Back Home" through "Desire" - or basically the twelve years 1965-1976 with some excellent work before and after. But to me as a reviewer - those are the years I was most interested in reading about.

The book is split up into sections which correspond to concerts the author witnessed (I would have enjoyed being at the first two) spread out from 1963 until 2009. The book is in excess of 400 pages and full of information I was not aware of (for example: didn't know much about his wife Sara - now I know more, didn't know about some of the singing issues which intersect with his touring with the Grateful Dead in the late 80s, didn't know much about the recently deceased Suze Rotolo etc. etc.).

I don't like the gimmick around the concerts which is the premise of the book. I believe the years from 67-76, which to me contain some of his greatest work, sorely lacks substance that the preceeding part of the book does not (that part is excellent).

The author made one comment which resonates with me: At some point in the book (in the 80s) Dylan mentions that people will pay to see a legend once, but after that the songs have to deliver and have a life (paraphrasing). I took my eldest daughter to see him within the past ten years and I was VERY disappointed. The songs didn't have life (maybe it was an off night but I don't think so) and there was no desire on our parts to go again.

All in all - this would not be the first book I'd start with. It is GREAT in spots, but gets lost in the middle (in my opinion - and sometimes with the "deep" interpretations the author makes). I'm glad I read it, will keep it in my library - but I don't in anyway view this as a definitive biography. For the devoted fan only.
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