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Review: Once Upon a Time & Time Out of Mind-The Lives of Bob Dylan

The last two decades have seen dozens of rock critics and Dylan scholars step up to the plate and take their whack at Hibbing’s favorite son, so it’s a bit of a surprise that Ian Bell’s comprehensive two-volume biography of the old groaner can make for such a fresh and original read.

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Bell makes the case for Dylan’s being a cultural sponge who absorbed influences as diverse as Woody Guthrie, Allen Ginsberg, John Berryman, Little Richard, and Blind Willie McTell and fused them into the persona of an unlikely protest singer who dared go electric.  It helps that Bell genuinely likes Dylan and gets his sense of humor, so when he occasionally takes him to task for banal lyrics or slipshod production values it’s done with a certain amount of affection.

 

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