Notes: Probably the most popular Dylan biography among RMDers. Thoroughly researched with tons of short quotes from Dylan interviews, as well as quotes of others who knew and worked with Dylan. Although it tells the story of the
events in Dylan's life, the emphasis is on Dylan's music, with lots of discussion of his recording sessions, albums, and concert appearances. Heylin devotes a large portion of the book to Dylan's life and work in the 1970's and 1980's, which sets it
apart from the other biographies. Extensive notes detail the source for the many quotes in the book. The Dramatis Personae appendix gives short descriptions of the many people referred to or quoted in the book. The Sessionography appendix is
an early version of what later developed into Heylin's book on the recording sessions for the official releases.
Subjects: Dylan, Bob, 1941- Singers -- United States --
ISBN: 0-671-73894-1 (hb) $24.95; 0-671-79155-9 (pbk) $14.00
LCCN: 91-8858 /MN
Review: Seven page review by John Hinchey in Telegraph 39, Summer 1991. Also reviewed in Record Collector 1992 (#160), p. 150.
Clinton Heylin's Dylan: Behind the Shades is the fourth full-length biography of Bob Dylan, but it so far outclasses its predecessors that it may as well be the first. In fact, I suspect that Heylin's biography, along with Paul Williams' Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, will soon be recognized as one of only two truly indispensable books about Dylan that have yet been written. Heylin is the first of Dylan's biographers to give equal attention to the full plan of his career, and he is the first to keep his undistracted attention on what really matters: the relation between Dylan's art - the songs, the recordings, the performances - and the personal context out of which he created it. Heylin's book is not as racy or as rich in anecdotes as Anthony Scaduto's ground-breaking Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography (1971), Robert Shelton's messy but fascinating No Direction Home (1986), or even Bob Spitz's godawful Dylan: A Biography (1988). But the story Heylin tells is more complete, more pertinent, and in the long run a lot more compelling.
I don't want to overstate the case. Behind the Shades is not the ultimate Dylan biography. Heylin received no help from Dylan, so lots of important questions remain unasked. Despite his title, Heylin doesn't actually probe very deeply into Dylan's private psyche or creative mind. His narrative is sustained by a workable but perfunctory notion of Dylan's life as the record of incessant challenges to "re-invent himself" in order to remain faithful to his demanding, difficult, ever elusive muse. Like his predecessors, Heylin acknowledges the teenage Dylan's initial attraction to the world music opened to him as a means of escape from the stultifying imaginative confinement of his native Hibbing, but that's the stereotypical story of millions of kids since the dawn of rock 'n' roll. Why has Dylan - like perhaps no other pop music devotee and like precious few artists of any kind - remained so stubbornly faithful to his muse for so long, and why has he kept this faith - as Heylin himself observes in his book's somewhat grim final chapters - at the apparent expense of every other relation in his life? Why has Dylan's commitment to his art always been so combative? So solitary? So perverse? So primal? Who is this guy, anyway? Heylin offers no answers to these sorts of questions, perhaps wisely declining to clutter his narrative with speculations about private matters Dylan himself has so far always refused to discuss with any degree of thoughtfulness or candour. (The ultimate Dylan biography will of course shirk this wisdom, with or without Dylan's help. A true biographer doesn't speculate but like any other fiction-maker simply reinvents his protagonist.)
Nor do we learn a lot from Heylin about the nature of Dylan's muse. Heylin pays fruitful attention throughout Dylan's career to important new developments in his approaches to songwriting, recording, and performing, and he offers sensibly pertinent observations about crucial shifts in Dylan's thematic preoccupations. He also regularly makes plausible - and refreshingly independent - distinctions between Dylan's great works and his dubious or plainly forgettable creations. But if you're looking for a critical biography, this isn't it. Compared to the likes of Paul Williams, Heylin is a superficial and unambitious - though certainly not uncomprehending - critic of Dylan's art.
Notes / ..... 441
Dramatis Personae / ..... 454
A Selected Bibliography / ..... 464
A Bob Dylan Sessionography 1961-90 / ..... 467
Index / ..... 479
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Last updated: 6/21/96