Bob Dylan: American Troubadour

By Bartels, Cynthia H. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2016 | Go to article overview

Bob Dylan: American Troubadour


Bartels, Cynthia H., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Bob Dylan: American Troubadour Donald Brown. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Most Dylan students are familiar with critics' explorations of the enigmas that surround the man. Many have traced recurring themes in his work, analyzed his multiple personas, and have even criticized some of his eclectic and unconventional efforts. Donald Brown's Bob Dylan: Troubadour offers a new twist that bears consideration. Brown posits that Bob Dylan is the embodiment of "the fond myth of ramblin' troubadour, a vagabond in service to music" (6). Dylan told Jonathan Cott in a 1978 interview, "I didn't create Bob Dylan.. .Bob Dylan has always been here..." (Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, 2006, p. 269), a comment that Brown suggests indicates Dylan is a spirit or role (4) rather than a person, a concept of sorts rather than a single musician. He carefully weaves this thesis throughout and offers detailed analytical support through in-depth discussions of songs and albums. The author further proves and strengthens his thesis by situating Dylan in the musical, historical, and socio-political contexts that surround each of the eight phases of Dylan's work. Including astute literary analyses of many songs and exploring Dylan's multiple personas as means of rendering his "service" to music allow Brown to build a convincing argument.

His book offers a chronological overview of Dylan's work from his early days up to his most recent album Tempest (2012), the first book to be this comprehensive. Organized into eight periods, all which include an in-depth chronological discussion of the albums produced during that period, the book is easy to read. Each section also situates Dylan's work within its socio-political, cultural, and musical context. This structural quality contributes to the overall cohesive ness of the book, yet the scholar wanting to study one particular time period or album could easily use any of the sections individually. Readers also can find a useful timeline of events at the beginning of the book. Sound like a lot? It is, and given this fact, the readable flow and amicable voice of the book are commendable.

Brown also offers evidence of Dylan's creative, rebel spirit, further reinforcing the idea that he is an American troubadour. …

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