Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan [NOOK Book]


Half a century ago a youth appeared from the American hinterland and began a cultural revolution. The world is still coming to terms with what he did. How he did it - and why - has never been fully explored.

In Once Upon a Time, award-winning writer Ian Bell draws together the tangled strands of the many lives of Bob Dylan in all their contradictory brilliance. For the first time, the laureate of modern America is set in his entire context: ...

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Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan

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Half a century ago a youth appeared from the American hinterland and began a cultural revolution. The world is still coming to terms with what he did. How he did it - and why - has never been fully explored.

In Once Upon a Time, award-winning writer Ian Bell draws together the tangled strands of the many lives of Bob Dylan in all their contradictory brilliance. For the first time, the laureate of modern America is set in his entire context: musical, historical, literary, political and personal.

In this acclaimed book, full of new insights into the legendary singer, his songs, his life and his era, the artist who invented himself in order to reinvent America is uncovered. Once Upon a Time is a biographical study of a personality that has splintered and reformed, time after time, in a country forever struggling to understand itself. Dylan has become the puzzle that illuminates. Here, in the first part of a major two-volume work, the puzzle is explained.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Biographer Bell (Dreams of Exile) meanders tediously through Dylan’s life, from his early days in Hibbing, Minn., up through the early 1970s. Bell piles details about one well-known episode after another—the infamous electric set at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965; the reception of his 1969 “country” album, Nashville Skyline; his experiences in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s—in this bloated and repetitive retelling of the ways that Dylan continued to reinvent himself and his music over the years. Bell asks the obvious question: “What is so special about Dylan?” and answers that “he is a moral artist and a rowdy artist, a spiritual writer and a sexual writer... an improviser and a craftsman.... Dylan is a public artist who keeps himself to himself.” Nevertheless, Bell does helpfully point out that Dylan’s early music owes as much to Robert Johnson and the blues as it does to Woody Guthrie. Yet, scores of other more eloquently written Dylan biographies lead us fruitfully through the singer’s back pages (Oct.)
The Financial Times

Bell writes beautifully, in rhythmic, incantatory, prose. An imagined reliving of an already imaginary life, and a book to sit alongside Richard Ellmann on Wilde, John Richardson on Picasso, and Peter Ackroyd on Dickens. This is the best Dylan biography yet.

The Herald (London)
Bell writes about Dylan's America with a cultural perception that is profound. Intelligent, challenging, and altogether worthy of its enigmatic subject.”
The Spectator

Ambitious. Bell handles Dylan brilliantly.

starred review Booklist

This is best described as a fully formed emotional biography, a fascinating read about an artist who, to this day, defends his right of artistic autonomy, refusing to be anyone but himself, whoever that may be. ”

The Los Angeles Review of Books

It’s an iconic American life, and Bell has written the most thorough, thoughtful, unblinded, skeptical but caring book that life has yet earned.

Kirkus Reviews
A British journalist peers across the Atlantic to suss out what Bob Dylan has been up to over the last half-century. Former Observer editor and current Herald columnist Bell (Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography, 1993) opens with an incident that has been well-reported to the point of near-tedium: that inglorious moment in Manchester, England, in which a spectator yelled "Judas," only to have Dylan instruct the band, "Play it fucking loud." The year was 1966. Soon, Dylan would be different, but for that moment, he was tousle-haired, defiant and snotty: "Jean-Jacques Rousseau on a good day could not have contrived this savage boy," Bell smartly remarks. Packing his narrative with similarly learned cultural references, and sometimes sounding like an Oxford don speaking about the Beatles' Aeolian cadences, Bell ponders the deliberateness with which Dylan built up his vast body of work, from improbable beginnings to his latter-day minstrelsy. Bell often assumes a portentous, arch tone, as if he's caught Dylan red-handed in an act of flimflam: "Maybe Bobby Zimmerman just decided, back in 1958 or 1959, that you don't get to be a star if you're Bobby Zimmerman, from little Hibbing--where the hell?--in Minnesota." Perhaps, but maybe someone who's started in the music business as a teenager is allowed to reinvent himself, just as every other American is and maybe every other Briton, too. Alternately, Bell sometimes takes Dylan a little too seriously, a not-uncommon phenomenon in the vast literature surrounding him. Yet, he often hits just the right note, as when he divines that by merely seeking a little privacy after Blonde on Blonde, Dylan was adding to his legend: "Simply by stepping back from the microphone, Dylan had become ‘a recluse.' " A middling book. Greil Marcus is better on Dylan's place in the context of the "old, weird America," though Bell ventures some useful observations from afar.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480447509
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 760,247
  • File size: 898 KB

Meet the Author

Ian Bell is a past holder of the George Orwell Prize for Political Journalism and the award-winning author of Dreams of Exile, a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. He is a columnist with the Herald and the Sunday Herald in Edinburgh.

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