Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown

Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown

by David Yaffe
     
 

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Bob Dylan is an iconic figure in American musical and cultural history, lauded by Time magazine as one of the hundred most important people of the twentieth century. For nearly fifty years the singer-songwriter has crafted his unique brand of music, from his 1962 self-titled debut album to 2009's #1 hit Together Through Life, appealing to everyone

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Overview

Bob Dylan is an iconic figure in American musical and cultural history, lauded by Time magazine as one of the hundred most important people of the twentieth century. For nearly fifty years the singer-songwriter has crafted his unique brand of music, from his 1962 self-titled debut album to 2009's #1 hit Together Through Life, appealing to everyone from baby boomers to the twenty-somethings who storm the stage at his concerts.

In Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown, literary scholar and music critic David Yaffe considers Dylan from four perspectives: his complicated relationship to blackness (including his involvement in the civil rights movement and a secret marriage with a black backup singer), the underrated influence of his singing style, his fascinating image in films, and his controversial songwriting methods that have led to charges of plagiarism. Each chapter travels from the 1960s to the present, offering a historical perspective on the many facets of Dylan's life and career, exploring the mystery that surrounds the enigmatic singer and revealing the complete unknown Dylan.

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Editorial Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Yaffe has excellent chapters . . . approaching at times the intensity of prose poetry."—David Yezzi, The Wall Street Journal

— David Yezzi

Minneapolis Star Tribune

". . . based on the depth and breadth of his knowledge exhibited in this book, [Yaffe] must actually be a full-time Dylanologist.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
The North Coast Journal

“[P]rovocative perceptions and stylish writing…”—The North Coast Journal
The Montreal Gazette

“Yaffe] takes some risks a more established Bob scholar might shy away from . . . and for such fearlessness – and for keeping it all to the point – [he] deserves our gratitude.”—The Montreal Gazette
PopMatters

". . . fun, funny, learned as hell as well as plain smart, and subjective in the best possible sense."—Guy Crucianelli, PopMatters

— Guy Crucianelli

Brian Morton

"Writing with deep respect and affection for his subject, David Yaffe gives us an exhilarating tour of Bob Dylan's astonishing career. This book sings."—Brian Morton, author of Starting Out in the Evening

Morris Dickstein

"With a keen ear for Dylan's musical influences, vocal changes, and literary borrowings, David Yaffe captures the dramatic twists and turns of Dylan's creative life, especially his chamelon-like shifts of identity, his protean elusiveness."—Morris Dickstein, author Gates of Eden and Dancing in the Dark

Kevin J.H. Dettmar

"Exhilarating reading....One finishes the book not with a diminished, but rather a much augmented and far more nuanced appreciation of Dylan’s lifework....The voice is lively, witty, colloquial, endlessly comfortable....Dylan studies now bulks rather large; Yaffe’s book promises to whip the field into a kind of shape."—Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Pomona College, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan
Sean Wilentz

"Steeped but not drowned in cultural studies, David Yaffe offers fresh and sometimes prickly insight about Bob Dylan's art. Yaffe reads closely and listens hard, and his book will have you saying, 'aha!' again and again."—Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of History, Princeton University, and author of Bob Dylan in America

David Hajdu

"David Yaffe is to Bob Dylan what Andrew Delbanco is to Herman Melville and what Farah Jasmine Griffin is to Billie Holiday—a writer whose authority is so vast and whose thinking is so fresh that he makes reading about his long-familiar subject an act of discovery."—David Hajdu, Columbia University; author of Positively 4th Street
The Wall Street Journal - David Yezzi

"Mr. Yaffe has excellent chapters . . . approaching at times the intensity of prose poetry."—David Yezzi, The Wall Street Journal
PopMatters - Guy Crucianelli

". . . fun, funny, learned as hell as well as plain smart, and subjective in the best possible sense."—Guy Crucianelli, PopMatters
Choice - R.D. Cohen

". . . a fascinating exploration of Dylan's music . . . Highly recommended."—R.D. Cohen, Choice
Contrary - Thomas Larson

"Yaffe’s synthesis of scholarship and analysis shines."—Thomas Larson, Contrary
Kirkus Reviews

A slim volume of essays adds more than a footnote to the long shelf of Dylan books.

After a recent spate of Dylan studies by prominent academics—Sean Wilentz and Christopher Ricks, in addition to the comprehensive Greil Marcus anthology—there would seem to be nothing left to say about this celebrated and frequently confounding artist.Yet music critic Yaffe (English/Syracuse Univ; Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing,2005, etc.) sheds some fresh light, or at least offers a provocative perspective. His four thematic chapters "attempt to elucidate the difficult pleasure that is Dylan, with his nasal voice, oblique lyrics, complicated relation to race, and controversial appropriation of words and music." Obviously passionate about his subject, on whom he teaches a course, Yaffe writes that "while he is perhaps miscategorized as a poet, he is underrated as a singer." The author later makes the far more startling assertion that "Dylan's relationship to race is unique," and that "the story of how Dylan got his groove back by becoming his own soul sister is also a distinctly American narrative of racial appropriation and sexual exploitation, of selling out, getting saved, and owning up." For Yaffe, Dylan's controversial (and short-lived) "born again" phase is as much about race (and gospel music) and eros as it is about Christianity. Pretty much every page could launch a debate, though Yaffe is one of the few to swallow whole the assertion by Mavis Staples that the young Dylan would have married her if she had consented. More than any other recent Dylan book, this one frequently anticipates his death, the unthinkable prospect of no more Dylan (though there will be plenty more Dylan books).

Not for the neophyte, but fascinating for obsessives who think they know everything and want to know more.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300181876
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
06/12/2012
Series:
Icons of America Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

David Yaffe is assistant professor of English at Syracuse University and the author of Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing. He is a music critic for the Nation and has written articles for the Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan, the New York Times, Bookforum, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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