The Ballad of Bob Dylan

A Portrait
The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait. Harper: HarperCollins. May 2011. c.496p. illus. index. ISBN 9780061807329. $27.99. MUSIC
Poet and historian Epstein (The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage) mixes personal observation, interviews with insiders, and rehashed highlights from well-known biographies in this well-written but frustratingly incomplete portrait of Bob Dylan. The author, a longtime fan who does not hold back his strong opinions on Dylan's career and private life, frames his book around personal concert experiences in 1963, 1974, 1997, and 2009, leaving large gaps in Dylan's life story. Epstein skims through Dylan's mid-1970s renaissance and almost completely ignores his gospel period, instead focusing on his early Woody Guthrie fixation, late 1960s/early 1970s home life, and recent touring. Epstein draws heavily from Dylan's autobiography (Chronicles) and previous biographies by Robert Shelton, Anthony Scaduto, and others. There seems to be no original research here other than new interviews with friends, bandmates, and Don't Look Back filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who provide fresh and surprising glimpses into Dylan's personal life.
VERDICT This minor work is only mildly recommended to well-informed readers interested in what the interviewees have to say about the musician's character and private side.
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