Get Lit: Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan 1957-1973 by Clinton Heylin

Will all due respect to the other major biographers over the years - Scaduto, Shelton, Spitz, and Sounes - it's Clinton Heylin's Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited that stands as the best and most comprehensive book on the Bard of Hibbing. So it's wholly appropriate that the author takes on the whopping assignment of investigating and explaining the more than 600 original, copyrighted songs written by Dylan - this being the first in a two-volume series.

Tackling them chronologically when they were written rather than recorded or released, we get as good as possible glimpse into Dylan's mind as his songwriting skills progress from the 15-year-old who penned "Song to Brigit" to "Wedding Song," the last track off 1974's Planet Waves. But Heylin also notes that - as most Dylan fans know - none of his songs are ever truly "finished." To this day, he often changes lyrics or uses radically different arrangements and vocal inflections in concert. Just compare "Lay Lady Lay" on Nashville Skyline to the live version on Hard Rain.

What's most interesting about Revolution in the Air, though, is counting the sheer number of efforts that flowed from Dylan's pen but are unknown to someone who even has all of his official releases. These "lost songs" exists only in covers by other artists, studio outtakes, hotel room recordings, the rare stage performance nor even just copyrighted lyrics alone.

Ever hear "Won't You Buy My Postcard?" "Gates of Hate" or "Dusty Old Fairgrounds" alongside "Masters of War," "Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat" or "Forever Young"? Didn't think so. Thus, more casual fans will probably want to read Tim Riley's Hard Rain for capsule info on the released material.

In the age of the Internet, Dylanology has become something of a scientific religion. And information sharing has come a long way since A.J. Weberman was sifting through the Dylan family's New York garbage cans for clues as to How the Master Worked (or at least see what kind of groceries they ate).

But just like any other religion with a deity, that information can be interpreted a lot of different ways or completely made up - and Heylin chastises the Blogging Bobbers for their rush to judgments and erroneous facts. Which are then, in true fashion, are compulsively forwarded and taken as Gospel Truth.

Revolution in the Air is not an easy, breezy read, but that's not what its target audience wants to devour anyway. It does stand - along with Heylin's biography - as one of the most important volumes in the already-groaning Bookshelf of Bob. I don't think Napoleon in Rags had as many words spilled in his honor!

Chicago Review Press, 496 pp., $29.95.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero