Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973

Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973

by Clinton Heylin
     
 

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By far the most comprehensive book on Bob Dylan’s words ever written, including a number of songs that no one has ever heard, this first volume will fundamentally change how his lyrics are interpreted and understood. Arranged in a surprising chronology of when they were actually written rather than when they appeared on albums—the middle verse of “

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Overview

By far the most comprehensive book on Bob Dylan’s words ever written, including a number of songs that no one has ever heard, this first volume will fundamentally change how his lyrics are interpreted and understood. Arranged in a surprising chronology of when they were actually written rather than when they appeared on albums—the middle verse of “Blowin’ in the Wind” was written much later than the first and third verses, and the songs on John Wesley Harding were written prior to some of the songs on The Basement Tapes—hundreds of surprising facts are uncovered in this catalog of 300 songs, spanning his career prior to Blood on the Tracks. Newly discovered manuscripts, anecdotal evidence, and a seemingly limitless knowledge of every Dylan live performance contribute to this definitive resource of the words of a celebrated American singer-songwriter.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An authoritative history of the singer-songwriter’s canon. . . . Sprinkled with Dylan quotes, the entries are thorough, informative, and engaging. Taken together, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of this enigmatic genius of American song."  —Choice

"Indispensable. . . . Encyclopedic. . . . Fascinating. . . . Hypnotic. . . . Highly recommended."  —Library Journal

"True to form, Heylin digs deep—way deep—into the songs, mixing cold hard facts with illuminating anecdotes."  —Acoustic Guitar

"An excellent supplement to a good Dylan biography."  —Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"A must for any serious Dylan freak."  —Relix

"One of the most important volumes in the already-groaning Bookshelf of Bob."  —Houston Press

"In Revolution in the Air Clinton Heylin has pored over Bob Dylan's songs--all of them--and has drawn conclusions, not on a wall, but in the first of a two-part magnum opus that anyone curious about, fascinated by, and devoted to His Master's Voice will want to read and ponder."  —Jonathan Cott, author of Dylan and editor of Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews

"Clinton Heylin [is] the Dylanologist actually worth reading."  —The New York Times

acousticguitarclub.ning.com
Sure to whip the fans into a lather . . . illuminating.
Library Journal

These indispensable new books of Bob Dylan criticism carry on important critical traditions. Dettmar's (Is Rock Dead?) compilation of critical essays and reviews, like The Bob Dylan Companion: Four Decades of Commentary and Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader, among others, is being marketed as a classroom text to support the growing number of college courses offered on Dylan. Its 17 essays are divided between "Perspectives" (e.g., Dylan and religion, Dylan and gender, Dylan as a performer) and "Landmark Albums." In this latter section, an unexpected choice is Infidels(1983), ably critiqued by novelist Jonathan Lethem. The historian Eric Lott writes on Love and Theft(2001), a wickedly appropriate match-up since Dylan took his album title from Lott's book of the same name.

In his fourth book on Dylan, Heylin provides an encyclopedic account of every song written by Dylan, from his juvenile efforts in the late 1950s to songs from Planet Waves in 1973; a second volume is promised. The songs are arranged chronologically, according to the date written, and range in length from a few sentences to several pages. The longer entries are not surprising-e.g., "Like a Rolling Stone" gets eight pages, and "Blowin' in the Wind" gets five. The book's great value is the discovery of many songs that Dylan either never performed or exist only on hard-to-find bootlegs. For each of the 300 songs, the first known performance and studio versions are cited, and Heylin offers analysis from his close reading of Dylan's life and career. This fascinating book is a perfect companion to Heylin's Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1994 and will have the samehypnotic effect on Dylan fans as Michael Gray's The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Like the Cambridge Companion, it is highly recommended for academic libraries.
—Thomas A. Karel

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781613743362
Publisher:
Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
04/01/2012
Pages:
496
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Revolution in the Air

{The Songs of Bob Dylan 1957â"1973}


By Clinton Heylin

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2009 Clinton Heylin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-268-4



CHAPTER 1

{Seems Like an Intro}

My songs are just me talking to myself. ... [The] songs are just pictures of what I'm seeing — glimpses of things. — Dylan to Ray Coleman, May 1965

I write all this stuff so I know what I'm saying. I'm behind it, so I don't feel like I'm a mystery. — Dylan to Lynne Allen, December 1978

It's not for me to understand my songs. ... They make sense to me, but it's not like I can explain them. — Dylan to Denise Worrell, November 1985

People can learn everything about me through my songs, if they know where to look. They can juxtapose them with certain other songs and draw a clear picture. — Dylan to Edna Gundersen, September 1990


* * *

In April 1964, on the brink of breaking through to the mainstream, Dylan told Life magazine's Chris Welles, "I am my words." Coming from the man who had just written "Chimes of Freedom" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," it represented a statement of artistic intent as deliberate and self-conscious as Rimbaud's "I is another." Dylan has many achievements from forty-five years in the limelight, but it is as a crafter of songs — on the page, in the studio, and onstage — that he is most likely to be remembered.

Yet the output of this most prodigious of song-poets remains mired in misinformation that constrains a full analysis and appreciation of his achievement. Put plainly, too many writers are starting with the whole issue of "What does it mean?" when no one has yet resolved the means by which the most remarkable artist of his era built his array of oral poetry wrapped in song. It is high time an actual order to the work was established: a context that may yet allay the catastrophe and confusion of which its practitioner remains so fond (and which he once told Ray Coleman was "the basis of [his] songs").

Even though there seems to be an unending variety of Dylan books — good, bad, and indifferent — no one has quite met the challenge of documenting every one of his songs with the aim of providing an authoritative history of the most multifaceted canon in twentieth-century popular song. To see the wood and not just the trees, we should perhaps start with a big bonfire of "books about Bob." Too many have been written by the chronically misinformed, the mercenary, and the magpie. And when the smoke begins to clear, we shall see a large stack of songs tottering in the wind, in need of shoring up with a few solid facts.

As both his output and his popularity have continued to grow — lest we forget, the man has recently had two transatlantic number-one albums in the space of twelve months — the whole thing seems to have struck others as just too damn daunting. It initially seemed that way to me. Having compiled a provisional chronological list of every known original Dylan song (excluding instrumentals), I discovered it totaled six hundred compositions. With so many songs, an ever-renewing fan base tuning in, and the ongoing pandemic of disinformation that is the Internet, a "just the facts" history of every song from composition to recording and/or performance seemed like a necessity.

Accepting that "the song is the thing" was just the first step. I was determined to organize this array of songs from Dylan's pen in the order in which they were written — not the order in which they were recorded or released. Only then could I start to tell the stories behind those songs not from the outer realms of speculation, but from the centrality that is their compositional history. At the end, there would hopefully be six hundred vignettes that amounted to a whole worth much more than its constituent parts. Maybe it wouldn't be the greatest story ever told, but it would provide the evidence necessary to blow away any other claimant to the singer-songwriters' crown of thorns.

I should perhaps state at the outset that Revolution in the Air, despite its allusive title, is not an attempt to emulate Ian MacDonald's commendable work on The Beatles' songs and their context, Revolution in the Head. Yes, it is an attempt to tell the story of an artist through his art. But in the process, I seek to show that Dylan's work is a whole lot more than a series of period pieces confined to their milieu. Hence,Revolution in the Air alludes not only to one of Dylan's most perfectly realized songs ("Tangled Up in Blue"), but also to something he said to journalist and author Charles Kaiser in 1985: "I've never looked at my stuff or me as being part of a certain age or an era." The spirit underlying the best of these songs is intangible, ever moving, just out of reach. Even when one is acting as the guide.

In a (doubtless forlorn) attempt to slacken the grip of the sociologists on the study of not just Dylan, but popular literature, folk songs, and mass culture, I hope to remind readers that the songs are the product of one man from a particular time and place. He wrote the songs in a specific order, and they reflect both lesser and greater concerns. He did not write to, as it were, change the world. Even if he did. The songs repay such a forensic approach precisely because many continue to stand up, to defy the ebbing tides of trendiness that have washed away many of his peers' more earnest efforts.

By sorting the historical wheat from the sociological chaff, I hope to give readers a sense of how the songs acquired the internal strength to take on a life of their own, and how their creator had the artistic will to see them through. The changes he has gone through are all here, burnished by the alchemy of song. And to feel those changes, all one really needs to do is return to the songs, hopefully with a fuller understanding as to the where, when, and why of how they came about.


* * *

Having already written extensively (exhaustively?) about the author of this inestimable body of song — though not for the past decade — I have returned to find the world of Dylan experts, would-be academics, and online know-it-alls in a greater stew than in the days when the Internet had yet to compound every crackpot theory, crank story, or distorted fact into an endemic diaspora of misinformation. Even when one so-called expert produced an encyclopedia on the man, it turned out to be an almanac of prejudices founded on precious little original research: a bringing together of mis information, not an organized compendium of facts, methodical and managed.

The question I kept asking myself was, why had no one tackled the songs in a systematic way when the likes of XTC and the Clash [!] had both been the subjects of such studies? Sure, there had been an occasional foray into the sixties catalogue, as a means to reiterate the received wisdom of others and collect a bountiful publisher's advance. And there always seems to be room for another hundred-best Dylan songs piece in those periodicals that continue to feed fans of a once-fecund form.

There has even been an intelligent and genuinely original attempt to look at the early, folk-infused songs: The Formative Dylan: Transmission and Stylistic Influences, 1961–1963, by the academically inclined Todd Harvey. But Harvey stops short of contemplating every song, even from the years that concern him, or putting them in the order in which they were written. So even here, I had to start again and reassemble the work, though many of the early songs put the "formulaic" in formative.

With the Beatles, MacDonald was able to keep things neat, concocting a rise, a plateau, and a fall. Such neatness would be anomalous in Dylan's case. Unlike other sixties contemporaries for whom subsequent decades have been one sustained, slow decline, he has continued to produce not just a quantity of songs but also, at times, songs of commensurate quality. And as of 2006, he has six hundred notches on his belt.

With a body of work this expansive, the quality has necessarily been uneven (and not just in the later years). So the reader must expect to veer from a work of genius to the genuinely gauche and back again in the twinkling of an eye. Dylan has always liked to upset the carts of preconception. That too has probably scared off some potential chroniclers. It has certainly scared off a few publishers, for whom the inevitable solution — two volumes — was a bridge too far.

Thankfully, the symmetry of Dylan's career to date could not have provided a neater divide, separating into two parts my detailing of these exercises in songwriting. The first three hundred songs were all completed by the end of 1973, when Dylan was on the verge of an eagerly awaited return to performance, signing off the years of amnesia (1968–72) with the immortal line, "Now that the past is gone" ("The Wedding Song"). The 301st song marks the start of an entirely new phase for Dylan the songwriter: "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," the first song written for perhaps his most perennially rewarding breakthrough, Blood on the Tracks.

Revolution in the Air, though, concentrates on Dylan's sixties output, trickling into the early seventies, when Dylan was still struggling to come to terms with the burdensome legacy of those halcyon days and wondering if he'd ever paint his masterpiece. The true surge of songwriting had come at the same time as that of his Liverpudlian peers, with 207 of the 300 songs herein written between 1962 and 1967, a burst of creativity that dwarfs any comparable twentieth-century figure. Organizing such material, given that Dylan then wrote his songs "in two hours, or maybe two days at the most," proved a challenge.

Thankfully the documentation has generally been available, if not always at hand. I am constantly gratified to be reminded of how well Dylan's artistic footsteps have been traced by his contemporaries, and how friends and other strangers have seen fit to preserve scraps of paper, tapes of jam sessions, and even diaries to light the way. In many cases, especially in the years before mass acceptance, there are home performances, demos, live tapes, session tapes, and even drafts of lyrics available to the collecting cabal, along with session logs, first-person accounts, and some video. As I was putting the finishing touches to this very volume, I uncovered another batch of "MacKenzie songs," drafts of original songs he left at Eve and Mac's house back in 1961, which required a reorganization of that initial section.

One of the challenges with Dylan is that new information (and new work) continues to come out, constantly forcing rethinks from redoubtable experts. And we can all still experience new perspectives as important influences yield up some of their secrets. Most recently, Greenwich Village girlfriend Suze Rotolo has decided to publish her own memoir of those days, even though it is only fleetingly informative, and woefully edited.

If the lack of any reliable biographical data has forced those obsessed with Shakespeare to look for hidden clues in often-unreliable texts, the budding Dylan scholar has no such excuse. I have tried to maintain a balance between finding patterns in the man's life replicated in his art and out-and-out speculation as to the identity of characters and events in songs. (This is not the publishing equivalent of filmmaker Todd Haynes's I'm Not There!) I have also sought to remind myself that the songs' reference points most likely reside in previous Dylan originals or in the traditional folk songs from which he says he "learned the language [of song] ... by singing them and knowing them and remembering them." As he told Mr. Farley on the eve of his first album of the twenty-first century, "All my songs, the styles I work in, were all developed before I was born."

Truth be told, Dylan has borrowed rather heavily from that veritable "tree with roots," the branches of which have been responsible for Anglo-American folk and blues. As he told journalist Mikail Gilmore in their most recent on-the-record conversation: "Folk music is where it all starts and in many ways ends [for me]. ... If you don't know how to control that, and you don't feel historically tied to it, then what you're doing is not going to be as strong as it could be. ... [Back when I started] you could hear the actual people singing those ballads. You could hear Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, The Memphis Jug Band [sic], Furry Lewis."

Dylan has driven this point home time and time again in performance, in the cover versions he has recorded at career tipping points, in interviews sincere or surreal, and now in the first (and last?) volume of some highly selective memoirs, Chronicles. But still, too much time has been spent finding obscure (and usually dubious) literary references or rummaging through a blues concordance for a line here or there that Dylan has integrated into work of a richer vein, rather than relating that work to (what Dylan continually assures us is) the veritable font of his vision: traditional folk song.

As with Robert Burns, tradition underlies everything Dylan has done. Yet it has never limited the horizon of his vision. And so, hoping to redress an imbalance in Dylan studies (cough), I have highlighted any references to this rich tradition whenever I have come upon them in word and tune. However, at no point do I suggest that Dylan's own songs are mere reconstitutions of what came before (except perhaps in 1961–2, when he had not yet learned to use tradition as a prodding stick rather than a crutch).

The cumulative effect should demonstrate how the influence of the old songs is altogether more profound and more invasive than the more modern forms of music celebrated on Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour radio shows (for which producer Eddie G. should undoubtedly share much of the credit/blame on the selection front), or those occasional literary influences he has admitted. May I divert readers away from the secondary streams that seem to have occupied many a study of this song-and-dance man.

Which is not to say that Dylan hasn't at times self-consciously connected the two traditions: oral and literary. When he says, "All ... the styles I work in were all developed before I was born," he does not just mean folk music. He is talking about a way with words present in all his lyrics, as he admitted when talking about Shakespeare (of all people) to an L.A. journalist in 1988, hoping to distance himself from those singer-songwriters who treat him as the originator of the form:

[Some] people think that people who play the acoustic guitar and write their own songs are folk singers, but that's not necessarily true. They're writing their own songs but they're not really based on anything. ... Ever seen a Shakespeare play? It's like the English language at its peak, where one line [after another] will come out like a stick of dynamite. ... And folk songs are pretty much the same way.


Even Christopher Ricks, that most respected of literary scholars, spends barely a handful of pages in his Dylan's Visions of Sin relating Dylan's work to the folk songs and ballads that provided him with that rock-solid foundation. (Ricks compounds his sin by quoting from Arthur Quiller-Couch's Oxford Book of Ballads, a source utterly discredited for more than ninety years.)

If Dylan's own imagination provides the building bricks underlying the architecture of his songs, then tradition supplies the mortar. How many would imagine that the opening line to 1963's "Percy's Song," "Sad news, sad news, came to me," was a play on a commonplace convention found as far back as "The King and the Abbot," a sixteenth-century minstrel ballad? And how many more would imagine that it was the assimilation of all that inherited tradition that kept Dylan inspired all the way from "Song to Woody" to "The Wedding Song"?


* * *

Because Dylan remains first and foremost an oral poet, and a literary figure only as an unavoidable by-product, an appreciation of the man's achievements and the critical apparatus necessary to critique his work have rarely comingled. Seeing him as a literary figure has even led some minor modern poets — Simon Armitage, who he? — to write condescending "appreciations" of his art from a supposedly empathic position. But then, as Nietszche well knew, "Communication is only possible between equals."

Dylan himself has preferred to avoid those who equate performance art with poetasters of the page. Even a general disinterest for the passage of his lyrics from performance to page suggests he considers such an exercise as unimportant as a published version of his plays was to Shakespeare. Dylan told a friend back in 1965, "I have no respect for ... the literary world ... [or] the museum types." Yet there have been times when he has owned up to a certain literary bent, notably back in 1973, when he oversaw the publication of the first authorized edition of his lyrics, Writings and Drawings.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Revolution in the Air by Clinton Heylin. Copyright © 2009 Clinton Heylin. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Mark Smith
True to form, Heylin digs deep—way deep—into the songs, mixing cold hard facts with illuminating anecdotes (Mark Smith, managing editor, Acoustic Guitar)
Jonathan Cott
A magnum opus that anyone curious about, fascinated by, and devoted to His Master's Voice will want to read and ponder. (Jonathan Cott, author, Dylan, and editor, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews)
From the Publisher
"An authoritative history of the singer-songwriter’s canon. . . . Sprinkled with Dylan quotes, the entries are thorough, informative, and engaging. Taken together, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of this enigmatic genius of American song."  —Choice

"Indispensable. . . . Encyclopedic. . . . Fascinating. . . . Hypnotic. . . . Highly recommended."  —Library Journal

"True to form, Heylin digs deep—way deep—into the songs, mixing cold hard facts with illuminating anecdotes."  —Acoustic Guitar

"An excellent supplement to a good Dylan biography."  —Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"A must for any serious Dylan freak."  —Relix

"One of the most important volumes in the already-groaning Bookshelf of Bob."  —Houston Press

"In Revolution in the Air Clinton Heylin has pored over Bob Dylan's songs—all of them—and has drawn conclusions, not on a wall, but in the first of a two-part magnum opus that anyone curious about, fascinated by, and devoted to His Master's Voice will want to read and ponder."  —Jonathan Cott, author of Dylan and editor of Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews

"Clinton Heylin [is] the Dylanologist actually worth reading."  —The New York Times

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Meet the Author


Clinton Heylin is the author of Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades, Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk, Still on the Road, and several other books.

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