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No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (The Acclaimed Biography) Hardcover – May 1, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Robert Shelton, a critic for the New York Times in 1961, caught an early Bob Dylan gig at Folk City in Greenwich Village and wrote an effusive review for the newspaper. The coverage in the Times was a huge boost to the career of the then-struggling folksinger, and Shelton and Dylan became friends, seeing each other frequently around the Village folk scene. When Shelton, in the 1980s, finally got around to finishing his full-length biography of Dylan, he could draw upon a wealth of insider stories from the early days. The book is naturally strongest when describing Dylan's early career, from his coffeehouse gigs as a Woody Guthrie disciple to the insanely high artistic peaks of the mid-'60s. A particularly engaging passage concerns a freeform interview Shelton conducted with Dylan as they flew high above the Midwest in early 1966; Shelton's memories of Dylan are essential reading for fans. Shelton saw much less of the notoriously private Dylan as the years passed, and the book loses momentum as he becomes less of an eyewitness and more of a distant observer, though Dylan's story is credibly told up through the mid-1980s. --Robert McNamara --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Years in the making (some interviews conducted for it date back to the mid'60s), and much of it based on Shelton's personal experience, this hefty book supplants Anthony Scaduto's Bob Dylan as the definitive biography. Shelton was the popular-music columnist for the New York Times from 1958 to 1968, in which capacity he wrote the first attention-drawing reviews of Dylan's coffeehouse gigs in 1961; the position also brought him into close contact with many of the music-industry principals he writes about. A friend of Dylan's and a fan, Shelton succeeds in making this opaque and often irritating person comprehensible, even likable. Dylan has always shrouded himself in mysterioso antics, railed against inconstant friends and fallen into the trap of being one himself (notable instance: turning his back on Joan Baez) and delighted in giving out meaningless, perverse and nasty interviews. Shelton manages to locate the authentic Dylan: the pilgrim seeking enlightenment and salvation, the husband and father, the genius who wrote songs as beautiful as "Blowin' in the Wind," "Don't Think Twice" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," and as apocalyptic and prophetic as "Maggie's Farm," "Desolation Row" and "Hard Rain." The author incorporates a number of lines from Dylan's work into his text, which discusses the man's life and career under subject headings, a format that keeps him from following a strictly chronological order. The book is nevertheless comprehensive and clear. This is first-rate biography and a marvelous re-creation of the music scene of the '60s and later. The text is supplemented with brief analyses of every song, a song index, discography and bibliography, and 16 pages of black-and-white photos (not seen by PW. 50,000 first printing.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hal Leonard Corporation; Rev Upd edition (May 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1617130125
  • ISBN-13: 978-1617130120
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.4 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 11, 1998
Format: Paperback
A master in the day, Bob Dylan's story of his early coffee shop day up untill about the mid-80's. Robert Shelton in 1961 wrote a article for Dylan that help his music take off.Dylan went from the Village folk scene to performing in front of large crowds of people. This book shows the transition from a coffee shop to the big stage. While telling you a blow for blow story of Dylan's life right up untill the mid-80's. The story starts out close to Dylan and over the span of the novel it come more of a distant observer. This book summerizes the whole time period and makes Dylan's personality better known. His songs have more impact now that you understand his motives. I recomend reading it.
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Who is Bob Dylan? None of the biographies I've read - Sounes, Heylin, Scaduto, and a short book by Toby Thompson (1971) - are by people that really knew him. Shelton is the New York Times reviewer who heard Dylan play in a Greenwich Village coffee house not too long after he came to NY and wrote a very promising review about him, which helped him on his way... Shelton also got to know him, spent time with him, and was able to piece many things together and interview people that were not mentioned in the other books. The interviews and stories are interesting and informative, fill in gaps left by the other books, and we get more of a feeling of Dylan, especially before he came to NY and as he was developing. This is a very well written book. Fans will like it a lot.
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Whether or not this is the BEST Dylan biography is hard to say, there are millions of them out there...certainly it has to be the best-researched, and one of the most heartfelt; Shelton gave Dylan his first great review, "discovered" him, in effect, and though he critically assesses Dylan's subsequent works there's never a doubt that he's Dylan's biggest fan. A midnight conversation on a private jet between Shelton and Dylan in the mid-60's is the best thing in the book, fascinating reading...but there is such a concept as too much of a good thing, and the minutae Shelton indulges in gets tiring. He apparently went to every concert and every party Dylan did, and his insistence on inserting himself into the scene makes me wonder about his objectivity. Maybe Shelton thought he was one of the new journalists. I don't know. But less Shelton would've been helpful. Also, Shelton insists on punctuating almost every paragraph with a hidden line from one of Dylan's songs; for awhile it's clever, but it gets old fast.
The book was out of print for a long time, and that's too bad. I hope it stays in print. It's incredibly packed with facts and interpretations and long quotes both from Dylan and those close to him. It's just TOO MUCH, that's all. But good. A worthy biography of the most potent force in popular music since Sinatra. How's that for a name out of left field?
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You must be interested in Dylan, as both a folk artist and a renegade, to take on this lengthy biography. If you are though, Shelton provides you with almost a Bible of Dylan from 1941 in Duluth, MN to 1985 in NYC - through all his different stages, his changing emotions, his passions - and of course his music. Getting into Dylan can be intense but he'll rumble your soul and twist your head a couple times so you get to see whats all around you. His influence on music and society is absolutely far-reaching. This book is excellent!!!
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If you are going to read about Bob Dylan, this is really the only place to start. Every other biography is and must be based on Shelton, who came closer by far to Dylan and his crowd than any other biographer. This edition is also complemented by a complete discography that lists every song on every album and by a time line that goes beyond the book's ending point in the late 70s, bring it up to 2011. This book is extremely well researched and extremely well-written by a writer with great empathy for Dylan's artistic and humanistic spirit. There are other good analyses of Dylan and his myriad of influences and his influence, but you need to read this first to have a basis for understanding him and his achievements.

I've been listening to Dylan on and off and runnin' hot and cold since the mid-Sixties. Sometimes I've heard the music and it has touched me so that I wept. At other times, Dylan's words have rung true for my generation, at least the more radical and compassionate among us. Then again, there have been years, nay decades, when I struggled to find one song on three or four albums that spoke to me or made my feet wander across the floor.

Robert Shelton's biography of Dylan was much more than I had imagined it to be, revealing intimate details, illuminating dark corners, unveiling rough edges, all while honoring Dylan's extraordinary spirit and enigmatic personality. At times when Dylan shucked and jived every reporter and writer and human being who approached him, there were moments when he allowed Shelton to come closer. This includes allowing Shelton to interview the Zimmermans, the only journalist ever given such access.
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