I was raised on Bob Dylan. Was obsessed with his Self Portrait album when I was three, four. Asked for an easel and paints before kindergarten, took up painting because of that album cover, painted by Bob himself. I wanted to paint, I wanted to sing. He sparked that artistic urge in me.
I moved on to the earlier Blonde on Blonde in first grade—it baffles me now almost as much as it did then—and when Blood on the Tracks came out when I was in second grade, I was an instant fan, serenading anyone who would listen with my own rendition of “Tangled up in Blue.” My parents, my aunts and uncles, even my grandparents were fans. My grandmother sang along to Dylan and the Band doing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” My aunt was at Bob’s Hurricane concert; my uncles caught him on the Rolling Thunder Revue. For a while there was a game we played that involved talking to one another for as long possible using strictly Dylan lyrics.
As a teen, I fell in love all over again with Infidels, working lyrics in to my AP American History papers. I couldn’t afford Biograph when it was released my senior year of high school, but the next summer I taught private tennis lessons to wealthy kids whose parents didn’t have the sense to realize I was a pretty lousy tennis player myself and bought a copy my local record dealer had held for me. It was much better than the Dylan and the Dead stadium show I saw the same season.
I stuck with Bob during the rest of the tough 80s and 90s, right into his resurgence in the new century. I’ve seen him in concert twenty-four times. Amazing shows, shitty shows, mediocre shows. In New York, in DC, in Jackson, Mississippi, in Mexico City, in New Orleans. I’ve been trying to catch him singing “Visions of Johanna,” my favorite song, but never have.
I’m one of those people who gets something new from Bob every single time I listen. Sometimes the new thing is a familiar; sometimes it’s strange, which is a lot like Bob himself. His lyrics move me, make me consider the world anew, make it larger, make it open outward and then again. “…to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea….” That’s how I experience the world, courtesy of Bob. I’m lucky. Bob will get you through.
Here’s a Dylan reading list, including his own sublime Chronicles and a couple of others put out by Bob himself. A lot of books about Dylan are garbage—often written by hacks, sometimes erroneous and often sanctimonious—but I like all of these. I hope you will, too.
- Chronicles by Bob Dylan
- Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Gue
- Forget About Today: Bob Dylan’s Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution by Jon Friedman
- Forever Young by Bob Dylan and Paul Rogers
- The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-1966 by Bob Dylan
- Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads by Greil Marcus
- The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob by David Kinney
- Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews by Jonathan Cott
- Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz
- Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes
- A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo
- The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan by Kevin J.H. Dettmar (Editor)
- Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs by Bob Dylan
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