The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait By Daniel Mark Epstein Harper Books, 512 pp., $27.99
Another biography of Bob Dylan? Does even the most rabid fan at this point need another rehash of Hibbing, Woody Guthrie, folksinger-goes-electric, that "wild, mercury sound," Nashville, Blood on the Tracks, Jesus, the crappy '80s, Time Out of Mind redemption, and senior citizendom?
With The Ballad of Bob Dylan, it turns out, yes. For while it can indeed be classified as a "biography," author Daniel Mark Epstein's wonderfully written prose and insightful glimpse into Dylan's mind and music is quite unlike any book to come before it. That's at least partially due to Epstein's background as a poet, or his unique structure tentpoling the story around four different Dylan shows he attended in 1963, '74, '97 and 2009.
Epstein is not so concerned with the facts and chronology of Dylan's career, although there are plenty of those here. Instead, his aim is to illustrate how Dylan has evolved as a person, and how the songs he writes at any given time reflected that over the course of almost half a century.