Bob Dylan: American Troubadour

Overview

Tempo: A Scarecrow Press Music Series of Rock, Pop, and Culture offers titles that explore rock and popular music through the lens of social and cultural history, revealing the dynamic relationship between musicians, music, and their milieu. Like other major art forms, rock and pop music comment on their cultural, political, and even economic situation, reflecting the technological advances, psychological concerns, religious feelings, and artistic trends of their times. Whether you are a professional musician or ...
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Bob Dylan: American Troubadour

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Overview

Tempo: A Scarecrow Press Music Series of Rock, Pop, and Culture offers titles that explore rock and popular music through the lens of social and cultural history, revealing the dynamic relationship between musicians, music, and their milieu. Like other major art forms, rock and pop music comment on their cultural, political, and even economic situation, reflecting the technological advances, psychological concerns, religious feelings, and artistic trends of their times. Whether you are a professional musician or regular listener, diehard fan or music student, titles in the Tempo series are the ideal introduction to major pop and rock artists and the music they produced and their cultural and musical impact on society.

With each year, new books appear on Bob Dylan, attesting to his continuing importance as a major figure in American music and culture. Bob Dylan: American Troubadour is the first book on Dylan to look at his entire career, from his first album to his most recent, Tempest, released 50 years later in 2012. In a brief compass, Brown provides insightful critical commentary on Dylan’s entire corpus, placing full scope of Dylan’s career in the context of its times in order to assess the relationship of Dylan's music to contemporary American culture.

Each chapter addresses a particular phase of Dylan’s career, taking its cue from events in Dylan’s life and from the collective experiences that shaped the times. As the artist who famously proclaimed “the times, they are a-changin’,” Dylan was never static as an artist, his music altering as the times changed. In Bob Dylan: American Troubadour, Donald Brown follows the shifting versions of Dylan, from his songs of conscientious social involvement to more personal exploratory songs; from his influential rock albums of the mid-‘60s to his adaptations of Country music; from his three very different tours in the 1970s to his “born again” period as a proselytizer for Christ, to his frustrations as a recording and performing artist in the 1980s; from his retrospective importance in the Nineties to the refreshingly vital albums he has been producing in the 21st century.

Bob Dylan: American Troubadour will engage not only Dylan fans and students of his work but those interested American popular music, history, and culture. Anyone who has been touched, challenged or surprised by a Dylan song, who would like to know more about this long and fascinating career, who wants to discover Dylan within his context will find in Bob Dylan: American Troubadour a concise and informed critical overview of Dylan’s music and his place in the American musical landscape.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/09/2013
Cultural critic Brown explores the entire catalogue of Bob Dylan in tandem with the social, political, and personal events that unfolded over the course of the artist's lifetime. Emphasizing the dual history approach, the book begins by aligning Dylan's timeline with the national one. Dylan performs at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, reads Joseph Conrad while recording "Blood on The Tracks," and influenced by the women in his life, moves towards religious music in the early 80s. Brown dissects almost every song on each of Dylan's albums, including the records he produced in the late 80s, which he admits represent a "nadir" for the artist. The string of in-depth, song-by-song album reviews are glued together with quick history lessons. Many writers have already explored Dylan in his historical context, including most of the great first wave of pop critics, like Ellen Willis and Greil Marcus, as well as academic historians such as Princeton's Sean Wilentz. Brown is thorough in his analysis, but Dylan may not need more of this treatment. (Jan.)
Booklist
In recent years there has been a plethora of books on the enigmatic Mr. Dylan, but this entry in Rowman & Littlefield’s Tempo music series on rock, pop, and culture is a bit different as it explores Dylan’s music through the lens of social and cultural history. In nine fascinating chapters, Brown, a freelance writer and editor, follows Dylan chronologically through his career, from young troubadour in Greenwich Village who unwittingly became the spokesman of a generation through his controversial electric transformation to the “rural glory” of the Basement Tapes to his richly creative Blood on the Tracks period to his born-again phase to his current renaissance as a rock elder and cultural force. Brown’s discussion of individual songs and albums is particularly insightful. This concise examination of the Dylan corpus is especially good for younger generations who may want to better understand how a musician in his early seventies can still be so compelling and relevant in twenty-first-century America. A useful Dylan and cultural events timeline and an annotated discography round out the volume.
Examiner
While many of the stories of Dylan’s life have been dissected ad nausea in just about every bit of medium imaginable, Brown’s approach is refreshing; a nearly album by album retrospective of one of the most culturally significant and musically influential musicians in modern history. In addition, unlike many biographies on Dylan, Brown is objective enough to point out when the albums were uneven and, for most of the 1980’s, downright mediocre. While it’s clear from his writing and exhaustive knowledge of the music, that Brown is a fan of the singer, it’s nice to read an impartial take on this exhaustive catalog of music. ... Brown has written a book that manages to be ideal for both the casual Dylan fans and the diehard acolytes of the singer.
Bob Dylan in (Het) Nederland(s)
Bob Dylan: American Troubadour is a welcome addition to the Dylan library, simply because it is one of the better general introductions to Dylan's work. . . that has appeared in recent years. [It] is an excellent starting point for the novice Dylan fan [and]. . . contains enough surprising insights to have even the most seasoned Dylan reader leading towards the edge of his seat. Excellent book.
Musoscribe
Time spent with this highly readable book will almost certainly send readers back to rediscover Dylan’s work, and the reader will come away with a new appreciation for Dylan’s more popular material, as well. Highly recommended.
CHOICE
In nine fascinating chronological chapters, music and literature critic Donald Brown analyzes Bob Dylan's recording career. Drawing on an array of published sources but mostly the recordings themselves, the author begins with 'Becoming Bob Dylan.' Because of the plethora of Dylan biographies, many listed in the helpful bibliography . . . . Brown offers limited biographical details and . . . plunges into Dylan's first record, Bob Dylan, with an analysis of each song. This is the format of all the chapters: a brief description of the musical, historical, and biographical context of the record, then a critical analysis of the songs. . . .There is a helpful discography. The book's chief contribution lies in Brown's critical analyses of so many songs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
Library Journal
02/01/2014
Many studies of Bob Dylan's life and career have been overly comprehensive, to the delight of his obsessive fans. It is refreshing to read editor, theater critic, and blogger Brown's crisp and concise contribution to Dylan scholarship. The author organizes the book into nine chronological periods of the musician's ever-changing life, up through the release of Tempest in 2012. Along the way he references key national and world events and cultural influences that were relevant to Dylan's creative output. The narrative flows smoothly, and many songs receive a paragraph of mini-interpretation. The final section, covering the years 2000–12, is especially interesting as it documents the unexpected resurgence of Dylan's career with three major albums and relentless touring. Brown devotes much more space to a close reading of the newer songs. VERDICT Brown proves that he is very well versed in all things Dylan with this very accessible work. While it covers familiar territory, the book's strength is a thorough assessment of Dylan's career, album by album, song by song. Both longtime fans and newcomers to Dylan's work will appreciate Brown's approach.—Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Donald Brown is an editor, theater critic, and book reviewer at The New Haven Review. He teaches at Yale and since 2006 has commented on music, movies, and books on blogocentrism. He has a degree in Art History and Comparative Literature from the University of Delaware and a doctorate in Comparative Literature from Princeton University, where he studied as a Mellon fellow.
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Table of Contents

Series Editor Foreword
Timeline
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1: Becoming Bob Dylan (1960-64)
Chapter 2: Electric Dylan (1965-66)
Chapter 3: Rural Glory (1967)
Chapter 4: Take Me As I Am (1968-73)
Chapter 5: Back in the Rain (1974-78)
Chapter 6: The Changing of the Guard (1978-81)
Chapter 7: Rock ’n’ Roll Dreams (1983-90)
Chapter 8: Good Enough for Now (1989-97)
Chapter 9: Bob Dylan Revisited (2000-12)
Epilogue
Further Reading
Further Listening
Index
About the Author
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