cover image Dylan: The Biography

Dylan: The Biography

Dennis McDougal. Wiley, $35 (540p) ISBN 978-0-470-63623-7

The legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan matures from “feckless, foolish poseur” to calculating, canny poseur in this gleefully acid-etched biography. New York Times scribe McDougal (The Last Mogul) chronicles Dylan’s project of “‘building a character that will sell’” by transforming himself from a middle-class Jewish boy with nice parents in Minnesota into an ersatz orphaned carnie and hallucinatory folk-rock oracle (and later into a country-western balladeer and born-again Christian). Along the way, he argues, Dylan stole the personas and stylings of other entertainers, and plagiarized tunes, words, and paintings (sometimes copyrighting them as originals). Amid makeovers and appropriations, the truly authentic constants of Dylan’s character in this critical portrait are a hard-nosed drive to succeed, self-centered betrayals of intimates, incessant misrepresentations and voracious appetites for booze, drugs, and women. McDougal eschews gushing exegeses of lyrics and other staples of Dylanolatry; while he acknowledges a body of great music and perceptively analyzes its resonance, he’s happier tossing jibes. (“A tale told by an idiot-savant on PCP” is his review of Dylan’s novel Tarantulas.) Few of his revelations are novel, but McDougal presents his caustic indictment with energy and panache. [em](May) [/em]