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Book excerpt: "The Double Life of Bob Dylan"

"The Double Life of Bob Dylan: A Restless, Hungry Feeling, 1941–1966" (Little, Brown), the first of a two-volume biography by Clinton Heylin, is a revelation, rewriting the life and career of the singer-songwriter, as previously documented by earlier biographers and ascribed by Dylan himself.

Heylin, a Dylan scholar who had previously written "Dylan Behind The Shades" and "Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1994," among others, based his latest book on primary source documentary materials from the Dylan archives, lyric manuscripts, and original session tapes never heard before.

Read an excerpt below:

Little, Brown

That all-important intro ... 2–3–4

April 26th, 1963. With barely 5,000 album sales to his name, but evidently a prophetic sense of destiny, Dylan is sat with social commentator Studs Terkel in a Chicago radio studio, talking about writing his life story:

Bob Dylan: I'm writing a book now.
Studs Terkel: And what would the book be, an autobiography?
BD: Yeah, it's about my first week in New York.
ST: Oh, that's a very funny song . . . a talking song isn't it, 'New York Town'.
BD: It's not that kind of [thing]. It's got more to it than that . . . not too much music in it, except maybe a couple of chapters.
ST: This book involves what? Your observations about the Big City?
BD: No, not even about the Big City. The Big City's got nothing to do with with it. It's just about somebody who's come to the end of one road, and actually knows it's the end of one road and knows there's another road there, but doesn't exactly know where it is. He knows he can't go back on this one road.
ST: It's [about] a new birth then ...
BD: Yeah, sort of ... it's got all kinds of stuff in it which just doesn't add up ... thoughts in my head all about teachers and school, and all about hitch-hikers around the country, all about these friends of mine too, [and] college kids, and these are all people that I knew. Every one of them [is] sort of a symbol for all kinds of . . . people like that. And New York's like a different world. I['d] never been in New York before and I'm still carrying them memories with me, so I decided I oughta write it all down.

Thirty-six years later – to the day! – his mind turned again to chronicling his life, as he'd threatened to do in 1963 and 1971. He is in the heartlands of the old Habsburg Empire, between Salzburg and Vienna, on the banks of the Danube 'where the willow hangs down', a place saturated in history, as he knows well.

Linz itself is charming, and the spring tour is going well, opening the curtain on a twelfth year for the subversive construct he had himself christened the Never Ending Tour. It has been eight long (but certainly not wasted) years since the last smartass knowitall tried to tell his story. Maybe the time has come for him to cover the waterfront. To tell it like it is, as the Neville Brothers once sang.

As is his wont, the man with two names has taken some hotel stationery with him to a smalltown cafe, where he pulls out a pencil and begins to scratch out in that telltale spidery scrawl his world view, his thoughts, his dreams, in that interior voice he alone knows ...

It used to irritate me when the media portrayed me as a sixties artist. I never wanted for a second to be a sixties artist but an artist for all time. If it's not for all time, it's not worth doing. My mind works in a timeless way, and anyway I'm not good at dates, ages, names and numbers. Everything to me is timeless. 1976 might as well be 2090 – it's all the same to me.

From "The Double Life of Bob Dylan: A Restless, Hungry Feeling, 1941–1966." Copyright © 2021 by Clinton Heylin. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.

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