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Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan Paperback – April 12, 2002
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The author spends a surprising amount of time on Robert Zimmerman’s early years in Hibbing and at the University of Minnesota; these pages detailed his family life, friends, and early musical influences, not to mention his strong ambition to become a famous musician. No question he was driven.
Though this is not a “hit piece,” Sounes does not spare Dylan; he was known for using and then discarding more established performers in his early days, and then forcing out or firing his musicians and other staff after he became a powerful force on the music scene.
Of course, Sounes thoroughly covers Dylan’s lack of interest in left-wing politics as well as the changes in his music from pure folk to electrified rock, country, and blues and to what extent friends and fans hated him for that evolution. To this reader it was also informative to what extent his evangelical conversion devastated his career in terms of the quality of several of his recordings and his ability to draw the crowds--they wanted to hear “greatest hits” concerts and so stayed away to avoid being proselytized.
Oh, and the women. There were obviously far too many to mention so the author tries to concentrate on fifteen or so, many of whom he stayed in contact with over multiple decades—an interesting insight into Dylan’s character.
The author pierces the veil of mystery Dylan tried to maintain and thus Sounes exposes in detail the artist's ethnic and religious backgrounds, and in several places one gets the feeling the author may have made deals with some of his sources so he could get their viewpoints and information in return for keeping them in the background—in two-dimensional roles.
Sounes recounts each recording session and tour in a straight chronological catalogue, in formulaic fashion. He might have emphasized some of these depending on their importance. However, I suppose his approach is perfect for someone interested in a blow-by-blow of Dylan’s entire canon and how it came to be as well as Bob’s need to continually tour to financially support his failed marriages.
I did find fascinating Dylan's idiosyncratic style of recording and performing—wanting it to seem fresh and “live” by keeping the set list a mystery from his backing bands and the number of takes and rehearsals to a minimum. Many of the musicians who worked with him could only guess which songs he would play, what key he might play in, and when the chord breaks might occur.