Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bob Dylan in America

Bob Dylan is many things to many people, not all of them flattering.  Here, Sean Wilentz gives us a historical view to Dylan, digging into the background of both the man and his songs to give the reader a better sense of the time and place that shaped Dylan's music.  Reviews of the book are positive with Tim Rutten offering this glowing review for the LA Times.  Geoff Dyer points out Wilentz' shortfalls in his review for The Guardian.  And, here is an interview with Wilentz on the book in SFGate.  Discussion will start October 1, but feel free to drop comments beforehand.


  1. We have a book! Should make for a great, wide-ranging discussion. Thanks, Gintaras!

  2. This should be fun.

    So much controversy exists around Dylan over the years. His antiwar stance, his social criticism, and his supposed deal with or selling his soul to the devil. And the talk of whether his conversion to born again Christianity was true or does he (or did he ever) adhere to progressive Judaism. There is much to discuss about Dylan.

    One last thought for now is a note re the fact that he is not regarded as highly here in Minnesota as he is in New York. But if anything this proves the old saw about a prophet not being appreciated at home.

  3. Well, like Mozart, he definitely sold his soul to the devil. How else to explain all that talent?

  4. Here's a good discussion that gives much perspective on Dylan:

    A couple of thoughts:

    I agree that he was a product of the 40s/50s, not the 60s. The discussion goes into the many influences on his music and life from that earlier era which certainly proves that point. Dylan has never viewed himself as an inventor but one whose work was influenced by others and by the times he lives in.

    As discussed on the other thread - today's youth greatly appreciates Dylan's work. Back when Wilentz went to college (same years as I did), young people thought Sinatra and others of the 40s played or sang 'dead' music. Most young people back then only liked contemporary music. Today's youth listen to and greatly appreciates the music of the 60s even though more time has passed from that era than from the 40s to the 70s. This is a rather interesting matter and says much about today's art and music scene.

    The discussion goes into MacDougal Street. Here's a link to that subject:

    One last item is the talk of plagiarism. This is what they meant:

    VERY interesting stuff, indeed!

  5. This youtube discussion looks great! I look forward to watching it.

  6. Since we're leading into the discussion, I will relate that my admiration did not go as far as a "true believer" Dylan fan I dated once upon a time in D.C. When we went to his apartment and I saw the Dylan poster that dominated one wall, I commented "Oh, it's Bobby Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota" and that, as they say, was that.

    Oh dear, hijacked by flashback...

  7. You guys enjoy this read. I'll be gone much of October and unable to participate. See you in November!

  8. What a surprise!!!!....I never expected the book to begin as it did. I went to NYU in the Square in the sixties (to SCAF for those who know NYU) I frequented the 8th Avenue book shop. I remember Izzy an I remember Sean Wilents' father. During my meanderings around the Square, which lasted into the 1970's I met Allan Ginsburg. I recall some of the places mentioned early on in the start of the book. I don't recall Sean Wilentz, but we probably frequented the same bars and coffee houses.
    This is going to be an enjoyable read, at least in the beginning. I never got into music in my life--but the memories wrought so far are vivid even after fifty years. WOW!!!

  9. Cool! Sounds like a great book for us to discuss. I will get my copy sometime next week.

  10. RW meandered around the 8th Street Book Store?

    Why am I not surprised? After all, I did that, too and with great relish. Of course, there were a few other stops such as at the Strand (E 12th), shops at West 4th (near the Waverly theater which was my favorite movie house), the East Village, Barnes & Noble, and even in the upper West Side (the West 70s/80s).

    But being the loyal Brooklyn Boy that I always was, my favorite book shops were in down town Brooklyn. The best places to go being along Montague Street which leads to the famous Promenade which has been featured in so many movies and commercials. For a dollar or two I could buy an armful of books back then. Because of that, my home library exceeded a couple of thousand books, many of which were rather rare. Years later, I gave most of them away to churches and charity. They sure gave me many good memories!

  11. Great anecdotes. For years I wanted to live in New York, but the closest I came was visiting my sister, who lived in the upper West Side, on several occasions. When I took the family to New York in 2008, I bought my son an Epiphone guitar at Rudy's Guitar Shop. Rudy was there to help him, and my son prizes the photo I took of the two of them together. Who knows, maybe one day Rudy will prize the photo himself, as he commemorates other musicians who bought their guitars at his place.

  12. Trippler:
    I meandered to all of those places---and its time, after the winter of my discontent, to return.I plan to hop a bus soon and return to my old haunts and maybe stay a night at the Chelsea Hotel.My recovery is over--I'm OK to go. I wat to sit on my old bench once again--the one in the Square itself--and the walk to the Strand,Union Square, and Barnes and Noble--with a side trip to Cooper Union.NY is 2 1/2 hours away from home--a nice bus trip--there's a great Sea Food place in Union Square whose name escapes me---the Blue Fin? I'll find out!!
    BOB DYLAN book is very good.I've read about 20/30 pages. I read about 50 pages a day--no bad under the circumstsnces

  13. So great to know that our very good friend RW is doing well.

    As for old haunts, I'm sure Bob that you spent a while in the old Gotham Book Mart and likely met Miss Steloff. The shop has new digs just a few blocks away from the old one. It has lost some of its old character but at least it is still there.

    Blue Fin seafood restaurant? I just checked and there are two listed is in Midtown, not the Village or Union Square.** The Blue Fin I recall was in the West Village in a small side street whose name escapes me.

    **Blue Fin Restaurant ~ 1567 Broadway, New York City, NY
    Tel: (212) 918-1400

    **Blue Fin ~ 12 East 32nd Street
    New York, NY 10016
    (212) 213-0077

    Ah! I was about to post but made a last second check and found this:

    Blue Water Grill
    31 Union Square West
    New York, NY 10003-3203
    (212) 675-9500

    Is this the restaurant?

  14. GOD you guys are good--The Blue Water Gill it is, although I've been to both Blue Fin place--both are exellent. This trip eillbe to the Blue Water--I remember the side entrane and it being on the west side of the Square.Thanks

  15. Got to go...its been a good day and good weeekend.Thanks for the posts and for the resturaunt info. Bob

  16. I might join you after all. The kindle price came down to what I consider normal for a new book. I got a sample (still need to read) and will probably buy it.

  17. I just started the Dylan book and so far it is GREAT. When I heard that he compares Dylan to Aaron Copland, I was not very excited about reading it -- but he's working on linking the early leftist music scene to the foundation upon which Dylan built his career. Fascinating. I had no idea about Copland's political activism.

    And there's even references to theatre -- like The Cradle will Rock.

    And Gintaras you may know this already but both Copland and Dylan are of Lithuanian origins.

    Look forward to the discussion. Great book to read here. Hope you can join us Marti.

  18. I'm still waiting for the written book to arrive but have gotten a recorded book. It is comprised of 10 CDs and I just listened to the first one. Don't know what chapter or page I'm on at the moment but the emphasis in the narration is of Aaron Copland's music and influence, especially the great musical piece "Fanfare For the Common Man'':

    Dylan, like so many other great artists in the modern era, was greatly influenced by this outstanding musician/composer.

  19. Trippler, that's Chapter 1. I started Chapter 2 today which switches to the beats and Alan Ginsburg, which he sees as a continuum. Fascinating look at left wing art in general and music in particular.

    In his intro, he sort of apologizes for not bringing Dylan in right away, but this foundational information is fascinating. I hope he doesn't give up this approach entirely as he focuses more on Dylan -- or maybe that's the entire point of the book (i.e., American cultural history).

  20. Also interesting to see the influence of left wing Jewish homosexuals at a time when you would think their cultural impact would have been socially restricted. So far Wilentz hasn't made much of that, but I would guess that is fairly significant given the time period.

  21. "The Cradle Will Rock" story is in this? I did a lot of reading for a research paper on the federal theater long ago and have never really gotten over my interest in it and other phenomena of the times.

    OK, the book just moved up my list. I may be a lagger in the discussion, but I'll certainly be paying attention.

  22. Good evening: Dylan starts shortly. Do we go chapter by chapter--or free wheel it? I interupted the book with two or threee chapters to go, so I could practice reading from the hard copy. I'm trying to see if I can train my brain to re-route itself back to normal.I'll start again tomorrow and if if it works with the Dylan book, I'll be overjoyed. If not, I'll return to my Kindle copy. So far I find the book veryenjyable and informative.I'm not into music, but Wilentz is holding my interest.
    I just finished PAUL REVERE'S RIDE by David Hackett Fisher (Kindle edition & Hard Copy for reading practice to get in shape for Dylan discussion. My goal is to read a hard copy of a book in full by December 31--18 months AD (after the diaster)( BC is Before the Catastrophe)

  23. I've set up a separate heading for the discussion.

  24. Bob Dylan New show confirmed: Nov 16 in Poughkeepsie, NY

    Chicago and Binghamton on sale tomorrow
    NYC almost sold out

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