Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan by David Dalton (Hyperion, $26.99, 383 pages)
“Hibbing, Minnesota, is the site of the biggest man-made hole in the world, an existential allegory if there ever was one… Hibbing cannibalized itself… If the biggest hole in the world had an effect on (Dylan), why hadn’t it shown up in any of his songs? Or has it? Is that what he’s been doing, filling it up?”
David Dalton’s overly-psychedelic look at Bob Dylan never comes close to telling the reader who “the real” Dylan is. There are a number of problems with this account, the chief one being that, instead of de-mythologizing the legend and presenting a human being, Dalton regurgitates every myth in circulation and then proceeds to create additional ones. The all-too-clever Gonzo-journalism style, 45 years or so out-of-date, is often painful to read, as when Dalton writes about “…the hallucinatory negativity of Blonde on Blonde.” Really? (What album was he listening to?)
It gets worse, as when Dalton refers to Hank Williams, one of young Bob’s first idols, as “the hillbilly Shakespeare” (groan). Although Dalton may now and then redeem himself (like when he notes that Dylan looks at America with an immigrant’s eye), the sometimes-fascinating portions of this work are fully overwhelmed by its dreadful aspects. It may appeal to some – such as those who love middle-school style humor – but the writer tries much too hard to be as hip as Dylan’s old album liner notes. Not recommended for hardcore Dylan fans, although some quirky readers who like humor and sarcasm presented in the guise of serious musical criticism may be inexplicably drawn to it.
All in all, this is Positively 4th Street.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Note: As an example of Dalton’s excessively strange style of covering Dylan’s recording career, he comes up with eight so-called reasons why Dylan’s two-record set Self-Portrait was relatively unsuccessful. He cites as reason 5 the fact that someone failed to tell the Byrds that they were scheduled to play on the album, and so they “flew home.” This is not factual nor is it funny.