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Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan

Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan

by David Dalton
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For almost half a century, Bob Dylan has been a primary catalyst in rock's shifting sensibilities. Few American artists are as important, beloved, and endlessly examined, yet he remains something of an enigma. Who, we ask, is the "real" Bob Dylan? Is he Bobby Zimmerman, yearning to escape Hibbing, Minnesota, or the Woody Guthrie wannabe playing Greenwich Village haunts? Folk Messiah, Born-Again Bob, Late-Elvis Dylan, Jack Fate, or Living National Treasure? In Who Is That Man?, David Dalton—cultural historian, journalist, screenwriter, and novelist—paints a revealing portrait of the rock icon, ingeniously exposing the three-card monte games he plays with his persona.

Guided by Dalton's cutting-edge insights and myth-debunking point of view, Who Is That Man? follows Dylan's imaginative life, integrating actual events with Dylan's words and those of the people who know him most intimately. Drawing upon Dylan's friends and fellow eyewitnesses—including Marianne Faithfull, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Stampfel , Larry "Ratso" Sloman, Eric Andersen, Nat Hentoff, Andrew Oldham, Nat Finkelstein, and others—this book will provide a new perspective on the man, the myth, and the musical era that forged them both.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 2901401323393
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 04/24/2012
Edition description: NE
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

David Dalton is a founding editor of Rolling Stone, recipient of the Columbia School of Journalism Award, and winner of the Ralph J. Gleason Best Rock Book of the Year award for Faithfull. He has written twelve books, including biographies of James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious and the Rolling Stones. He is the screenwriter for an upcoming Janis Joplin biopic.

Read an Excerpt

Who Is That Man?

By David Dalton


Copyright © 2012 David Dalton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2339-4


Those masterful images because complete Grew in pure mind, but out of what began? A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street, Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can, Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

—w. b. yeats, "the circus animals' desertion"

"I have here something that'll solve all our problems."

"Well, go on, what is it?"

"A bootleg."

"Oh great. That's all we need is another bootleg. What's this one? Copenhagen, April 30, 1966, reel two, second half missing? We've got eight thousand bootleg tapes, man; we're never going to find enough time to listen to them all in our lifetime."

"It's not like that."

"Oh, then what is it?"

[Looks around apprehensively] "Bob's brain."

"It's what!?"

"It's one of only three bootlegs of Bob's brain—off a cat scan from when he was, you know, in the hospital in 1997 with, uh, histoplasmowhatever...."

"Sounds a little gruesome."

"But do you realize what this means?"

"Listen ... man ... you okay?"

such tapes would be useful, no question about it, because it's pretty much what we want to know: What goes on in Dylan's brain? How does he think, what does he meeeaaan, what are the "keys to the rain," and such? But, hey, what happens in the neocortex stays in the neocortex, so we'll have to pursue other means to winkle out the elusive Bob. And this is only fitting since Dylan is essentially a Beat novelist in the manner of Jack Kerouac. The phantasmagoria of his great mid-'60s albums is an expression of his inner turmoil and mirrors the shattering of the culture. The songs on Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde are seismic recordings of the conflicts in the streets and in his head, hallucinated autobiographies of himself and his times—the confused signals and psychic static of the '60s.

Dylan emerged just at the moment the counterculture was hatching, his life inextricably connected to the rise of mass bohemia. Dylan's own inner demons meshed seamlessly with its antiestablishment rhetoric, drugs, radical politics, mysticism, and amplified free-floating unrest. Dylan's personal story—whether he likes it or not—is entwined with the '60s and their aftermath.

An agile, subtle, polytropic mind, he registered America's 19th nervous breakdown with hallucinatory precision. Fragmented images and cubist songs replaced the storytelling and ballad tableaux of folk songs and transformed the agitprop of protest songs into a roiling, nightmarish vision in which you couldn't distinguish the chaos outside from the turmoil within.

However far he fled from the front lines, Dylan could never disconnect from the counterculture; he has an umbilical relationship to his time. It is no coincidence that his creative predicament at the beginning of the '70s paralleled a crisis in the culture. The public and private Dylans—his music, his times, and our perceptions of him—are inextricably linked, a sort of Zeitgeist Kid.

And this is where his many shape-shifting personas come in: dust bowl singer, street urchin, son of Ramblin' Jack, Folk Messiah, neon Rimbaud, Old Testament prophet, Amish farmer, howdy-neighbor country boy, whiteface death's-head mummer, Shropshire lad with flowers in his hat, Christlike Bob, born-again Bob, Hasidic Bob, Late-Elvis Dylan with the big WWF belt, Endless Tour Dylan, Jack Fate, Living National Treasure....

Dylan is a method actor who sees his life as an emblematic movie. You make a song real by becoming the character—the voice—who's singing it. Dylan's shedding and adopting of characters (dramatized in the 2007 film I'm Not There) is a form of authentic counterfeit—the minstrel as Hamlet. Dylan sees the entertainer as an American hero. His idols are all entertainers (and writers, a subcategory): Blind Willie McTell, Hank Williams, Dock Boggs, Marlon Brando, Elvis, James Dean, Kerouac. They—along with outlaws, drifters, hustlers, and poets—are the American figures Dylan most often invokes. In a country without a past, without a history, entertainers are our psychic guides through the wilderness. Songs are part of the American DNA.

dylan came out of the wildest, woolliest, rowdiest talking tales of all time. When rock 'n' roll erupted in the mid-'50s it was first seen as a novelty. The early singers, including Elvis, were a mythical parade of fantastic and freakish types. Legendary characters roamed the land: the outrageous Little Richard; Fats Domino, the living embodiment of Mardi Gras; Jerry Lee Lewis, the human threshing machine; the shape-shifting Bo Diddley; and Chuck Berry, the raunchy Uncle Remus of rock. And behind them—further back in time and remote from contemporary America—were an even more improbable cast of characters: Appalachian skillet lickers, jug band musicians, and apocalyptic Delta bluesmen like Son House and Skip James.

Dylan's as slippery as Br'er Rabbit but my quest hasn't been to flush him out of his make-believe briar patch. Instead it's to look for Dylan's poetic intention, to read Dylan's biography by the flickering light of songs. I've tried to follow Bob's footprints in the quicksand and have often felt like a fumbling musician trying to keep up with Dylan at a recording session.

When Chronicles was published, the complaints about the unreliability of his autobiography as fact seemed farcical. Grumbling that even when he writes his memoirs he's still making stuff up! The outrage! He's toying with us! Ping-ponging between fact and fiction—but we expect nothing less of him. After all, who are we dealing with? The mercurial, maddeningly evasive Bob. Smoke and mirrors is Dylan doing what Dylan does best.

His fabrications are the most profound, interesting, and authentic part of his personality. Like Don Quixote, he seems to have walked out of his own fable. And the stuff he makes up about himself is more truthful than any factual account could ever be. However petty, avaricious, cruel, callous, or shrivelingly cynical he may be, the oracular poet who wrote "Desolation Row" and "Visions of Johanna" isn't the same person as the fallible human in divorce proceedings, the sullen, devious interviewee, or the usurper of copyrights. His willful perversity is itself a form of impish magic, a way of keeping his carefully hooded persona animated and untraceable.

Dylan sees America as an endless, unfinishable song, which people add to and change as we go along, altering the rhythm, cutting up the lyrics and patching them back in a different order. He's the classic American type, the confidence man who tells the truth by dissembling and whose presence questions whether there is such a thing as a fixed personality. He is a startlingly unique character who is in fact a composite of American types: the song and dance man, the joker and thief.

His quest has been to cannibalize the great scrap heap of American history—its ballads, tunes, and nursery rhyme fables—and condense the multiplicity of its characters and their stories into a song. The purloining, pilfering, lifting, and outright larceny of songs, books, and images are all part of his magpie nature. He's in the mad American tradition of trying to stuff the Mississippi, the Rockies, Johnny Appleseed, Christopher Columbus, and Orphan Annie all into one whopping tall tale.

I've passed over some periods while slowing others down—suspending time the way Dylan does—so I could see the pictures more clearly and try to keep up with the chameleon as he slithers from one rock to another.

No one has more ingeniously tested the porous border between autobiography and fiction than Dylan; mixing reality and fantasy has always been his witchy brew.

He's the most cunning of self-mythologizers, and he's managed to entangle us in his allegorical character—his persona is so infested with the types he's collected along the way that often he doesn't seem to know where he ends and they begin—which creates an eerie sense of channeling on his Theme Time Radio Hour where he'll inhabit George Jones, Skip James, or a refrigerator repairman.

But even if Dylan has frequently gotten lost inside his own labyrinth of prevarications it has made him all the more mesmerizing. There are thousands of possessed fans out there with flashlights searching through his murky skull looking for clues.

Almost everything in Dylan is a re-creation of himself in folklore. America is a novel that we make up as we go along. Like Dylan, we are genuine fakes. Genuine like the people who came here, but larger than life, too big—fake. So we need stories, the taller the better: Our songs, movies, advertising, pop culture—these are the invented life that binds us together. Dylan's great insight was to see the mythic skin that the great snake America had shed—and put it on himself.

Even the way he came into the world is straight out of a tall tale.

Hibbing, Minnesota, circa 1959. Picturesque Main Street, like something out of a '50s sci-fi movie, comes to a sudden end in the largest man-made hole in the world—the abandoned Hibbing iron-ore pit.


Excerpted from Who Is That Man? by David Dalton Copyright © 2012 by David Dalton. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion. 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.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Something Was Happening but I Didn't Know What It Was: That Afternoon with Bob xi

Introduction 1

1 Creation Myths 7

2 The Hall of Early Folk Memories 21

3 Woody Junior 33

4 Li'l Abner on Bleecker Street 41

5 Folk Messiah 51

6 The Zimmerman Letter 61

7 From a Buick 6 69

8 The Hallucinated Alphabet 91

9 Bob Gets Wired 99

10 How Does It Feel? Self-Portrait at 24 Frames per Second 117

11 Ballad of a Thin Man 127

12 Godzilla vs. Mothra: Two Icons of the '60s Meet Under False Pretenses 141

13 That Wild Mercury Sound: What Are Shakespeare, Memphis Minnie, Jackie Deshannon, John Lennon, Achilles, Napoleon XIV, Lesley Gore, Johann Sebastian Bach Doing on This Album? 151

14 After the Ambulances Go 161

15 Somebody Got Lucky but It Was an Accident 173

16 Fifty-Four Minutes Inside Bob's Brain 183

17 Who Is Tiny Montogomery? 195

18 The Cowboy Angel Rides: John Wesley Harding 205

19 The Invisible Man Goes to Nashville 215

20 The Amnesia 225

21 How Dylan Became Dylan, Sort Of... 239

22 Under the Rings of Saturn 249

23 The Second Coming of Bob 259

24 Bob's Wild West (Village) Show 269

25 Epiphany in Room 702 279

26 Down the Road 289

27 When I Paint My Masterpiece 311

28 The Enigma Variations 323

Bibliography 339

Notes 345

Acknowledgments 369

Index 373

Photo and Illustration Credits 383

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Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
bakersfieldbarbara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even though Bob Dylan came into our homes via the media,swearing to be an orphan, his father Abe, who died in 1968 and his mother Beatty, were his parents, exposing Dylan's creation myth. His mother, Beatty Zimmerman, was clearly instrumental in Bob's belief that he was marked out for great things. From the book, we learn that his mother's love granted him a dark narcissism and a deep vein of selfishness. His personal relationships included callous dismissals of old friends and loyal retainers, and an utter disregard for others when it suited hm. Even though he was an on and off Liberal Arts student, most of his education came from hanging out in coffee houses. He lived at home when young but always with one foot out the door, figuratively. First, a new name, and he eventually chose Bob Dillon, which then became Bob Dylan. The author, David Dalton, follows the evolution of Robert Allen Zimmerman AKA Bob Dylan from his birth on May 24,1941, to the present day and the reader is pulled along wondering in each chapter "Who is That Man?"For those of you who think they know Bob Dylan, prepare for an enlightenment, for, after reading this well-researched and documented book, I don't think even Dylan knows who he is. I recommend this book for those who came through the Bob Dylan RockMusic years and for those who are just beginning to listen to and learn about him and his talent. The author did an outstanding job in integrating actual events with Dylan's words and those of people who know him most intimately. A great gift book and a great collectable.
Dakota1116 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was dry and boring.
morningwalker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoy memoirs and biographies occasionally, but never read anything on Dylan, so I selected this book from Early Reviewers on a whim (and because I loved the cover). My friend of many years claims to be his #1 fan and I have listened to her accolades of him forever, and I thought if I won this book, I could read it and pass it on to her. Upon receiving it, I was astounded by the amount of books written on Dylan that were listed in the bibliography, and my first thought was ¿How can anything more possibly be said about the man?¿ After finishing it, because I never read anything prior, I¿m not sure anything new was said about him, but I do know I am now a bit more hip to the hipster. In the beginning I almost felt as though I should have taken a prerequisite course on Dylan because I didn¿t have a clue about most of the references the author was using (I never even heard of Tarantula or Eat the Document). Sure, I¿ve listened to most of Dylan¿s songs, listened to my friend¿s die hard defenses of his antics over the years, even watched clips of a documentary on him, but I really never indulged in learning any Dylanology beyond that. So with that said, I¿m not sure I¿m the right person to write a review on a book about this man. I mean, I¿m just in it for the story. But, here goes my opinion. About half-way through the book I was getting frustrated with the many explanations of the myths; what the songs really mean, who they¿re about, and there was too much space given to too many lyrics, and I started thinking, the title should be changed to ¿What Are The Meanings of This Man¿s Songs?¿ I didn¿t want to know what the songs meant; I wanted to know who the man was. I know you can¿t write about one without the other, and maybe to die-hard Dylan fans, this would be exactly what they wanted to know, but as a novice Dylanite I was growing bored. And then somewhere beyond the middle, something seemed to change. I grew interested again (due to the writing or due to me??? I don't know) and was eager to continue the journey through Bob¿s life. I'm glad I continued.When I finished, I found it to be a great historical account of the music scene in the 60¿s and 70¿s, a complete chronological timeline of Dylan¿s music, and an in depth look at the mystery of the man, but do I think it answered the question of the title? Come on, can anyone really do that?
RaucousRain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely devoured this book. I have always been a fan of Bob Dylan¿s voice ¿ in the sense of loving both his singing voice, as well his unique way of voicing the times in which I came of age. I still love listening to his sound, but admit my knowledge of his life was sketchy. Sure, I have always known him to be an eccentric fellow however this book really fleshed out the myth of the man for me. David Dalton did a fabulous job researching and writing this biography, which weaves the history of Bob Dylan¿s life and his music with the history of his contemporaries in popular music and culture. Highly recommended!
TomKitten on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Is there any genre of music that has inspired more overblown, pretentious and just plain silly writing than rock 'n' roll? And is there any figure in pop who has inspired more nonsensical musing than Bob Dylan? It's almost as if everyone who writes about him feels obliged to try to mimic the great man's penchant for obfuscation. Mr. Dalton certainly has a great deal to say about Bob Dylan. In fact, he has a lot to say about a lot of things, some of which are only tangentially relevant to a book about Bob Dylan. For instance, he very much wants you to know how many books he's read, how much music he's listened to and how many movies he's seen and the cultural references come hurtling at you at bargain basement prices. Why cite one book/song/film when you can cite a dozen? He frequently substitutes cultural laundry lists for more thoughtful analysis. He just as frequently manages to get things wrong and/or makes inferences that are simply astonishing in their presumption and audacity. I found myself scribbling in the margins more than once -"How could he know this?" The book is rife with bizarre statements like, "People make fun of Dylan's voice and imply he made it despite it, but to this day almost no one can cover his songs." Really? Really?? And what did I learn about the real Bob Dylan? Not much at all, I'm afraid. However, the book did make me want to listen to "John Wesley Harding" and "Blood on the Tracks" again and for that I suppose I'm just a little bit grateful. Otherwise, Mr. Dalton, "you just sorta wasted my precious time."
KatyBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a highly readable, comprehensive portrait of Mr. Zimmerman. As a bonus, it's also a fascinating view of the folk/rock music culture in the U.S. from the late 50's on. Dalton is a smart researcher and does an amazing job of writing an honest biography of this elusive legend. This is definitely a book for Dylan fans and for the rest of you, here's a test. What do you think of this quote from the book? "...Dylan has been one of the great fabulators, both in his life and art. He forms his persona and creates the characters in his songs around the outsider hero, intuitively conflating Robin Hood and Jesse James. To Dylan, all these types - hillbilly, outlaw, rebel, cowboy, outsider - were all really the same character..." If the quote makes you curious and ready to read more, you will love the author (a founding editor of Rolling Stone) and his writing style. The advance reader copy didn't have all the photos in place so I'll be seeking out the final published version of the book to find out what photos they've included. It appears that there are full-page B&W photos to introduce each chapter which is a great touch.
chgstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a disappointing book. I was looking more for something about Dylan's life and how he came to be the person he was. Instead, the author tried to analyze him and his music. The author shifted back and forth between past and present tense, which drove me nuts. It seemed the author was trying himself to be a Bob Dylan.
themiraclesnook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow was I excited to win this book. I must stay that I was a bit dissapointed in though. I found that the stories of Dylan were sort of hints for me to make my own decision as to what happened. I get that Dylan was a hard man to pin down because of his dislike of interviews and his aloofness. I was amazed at how he was so I hate to use the word but stuck on himself but that is how I felt when reading that he did not even speak to people. I found Dylan to really odd however I think that makes him so creative. It took me a while to read this as it did not catch me and I love music and biographies. I am giving this three a three star book rating for that reason.
ijustgetbored on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Who Is That Man? This book isn't going to tell you that, but, in large part, what this book attempts to do is show you that you can't reasonably hope to answer that question-- which is what makes Dylan so interesting. And that's okay by me.What you will not get in this book: extensive personal autobiography. If that's what you're seeking in a bio of Dylan, look elsewhere. This is much more a examination of his music, his filmmaking ventures, his writing-- his cultural imprint. Trying to do all that an delve into Dylan's personal life too would have been, in my opinion, confusing and trying to do too much for one single book. The single-minded focus keeps things on track and allows for a coherent discussion of how Dylan, as a cultural icon, has evolved (constructed himself?) over time. A more narrow focus, in this case, is better.Dalton isn't exclusively Dylan-minded though: he's very well-versed on what else is going on in the musical world at any given time he's writing about, to an impressive extent. At any time he's discussing Dylan's work, he can contextualize it perfectly with what else is going on at that time that relates to Dylan's work, and external sources and quotations abound. It's extremely well-researched. I thought the early Greenwich Village days were particularly well contextualized and fleshed out-- and this is important, given the weight that people would attach to this particular image of Dylan even to the present day.No album, however commercially unsuccessful or dismissed by fans, gets passed over, Tarantula is not forgotten, and even Eat the Document receives critical analysis. Dalton really leaves no stone unturned as he charts Dylan's first picking up a guitar until his present touring days. This book is comprehensive, extensively researched (with a great bibliography and index), and well-contextualized. Definitely recommended.