Bob Dylan FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Song and Dance Man
by Bruce Pollock (Backbeat Books, £15.58)
DESPITE its title, this book is not a collection of questions and answers about Bob Dylan. Essentially, it’s a loosely constructed biography covering various aspects of the singer-songwriter’s life in short segments of text.
The initial instinct is to read these as a straight story yet fairly soon that task becomes unrewarding, partly because the narrative jumps around chronologically but mainly because the book gradually degenerates into a collection of jumbled lists and thought-pieces that defy any attempt at imposing a structure.
Some of the features — 20 great Dylan songs that he never played live or his 10 most covered compositions — are imaginative and interesting. But it’s not possible to read them in any coherent way and so it’s better to treat this assortment of titbits as a reference work that can be dipped into as and when the fancy takes.
Dylan buffs will be familiar with most of the material that’s contained within but while there’s little identifiably new information, Bruce Pollock does offer some fresh perspectives on Dylan’s life and times, including his “escape into a messianic sort of religious upheaval” in the early 1980s and his loose treatment of the facts in various protest songs, including Hurricane, about the imprisonment of US boxer Rubin Carter and George Jackson, about the killing of the Black Panther leader of that name.
And although Pollock is sometimes far too effusive about his subject — Dylan, he claims, rather ridiculously, “created the sound of the sixties” — he is at least willing to dwell on some of his shortcomings, including his unnecessarily laissez-faire attitude to recording sessions, a chaotic and often selfish private life and a maddening tendency to dissemble about key aspects of his history and outlook.
Don’t go here if you are searching for an introduction to Bob Dylan. But if you already know a good deal about the man and his music, then you may find some entertaining and thought-provoking offerings from an author who clearly knows what he’s talking about.