Bob Dylan: A Biography by Anthony Scaduto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of the better Bob bios on the market, the best being Bob’s self-penned Chronicles: Vol. 1.
Originally published in 1972 this could be said to be quite behind the times, ending as it does just after Bob’s 1971 New Morning LP. However having less of a time-period to cover than most bios means it can focus with much more depth on Bob’s youth and the first ten years of his career.
Scaduto’s bio is unique in having been vetted and approved by Dylan whilst still in the manuscript stage, something he didn’t normally do – reading books about yourself written by other people would feel understandably and decidedly weird after a while no doubt. Bob was moved to cooperate with Scaduto by fears (supposedly implanted by infamous Dylanologist and Garbologist AJ Weberman) that Scaduto would concentrate on the rumours floating around the Village in the early 70s that Bob was a heroin addict. He wasn’t, claims Scaduto.
Bob met with Scaduto at his recording studio after reading the manuscript and argued over it, while later filling in gaps in the story so graciously that Scaduto admits he became suspicious of Bob’s motives - afraid he was trying to seduce him into a white-wash. Scaduto stood up for himself however – this is man that has written books on the Mafia after all, a point that apparently impressed Dylan.
Most importantly Bob for the first time analysed his lyrical content, something he always claimed impossible when attempted by others. He paid particular attention to the violently surreal lyrics from Another Side of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde.
A few years before meeting Scaduto, and while recovering from the motorbike accident that almost killed him at his Woodstock home, Bob had an epiphany that all those bitter tirades against folkniks and fallen women were actually the author subconsciously aiming his superbly sarcastic blade at his own cynical self. He says his [at that stage three:] later albums are also about himself but that at least by then he knew he was doing it. He feels he is now a more whole and less fearful person, and hence free to less cynically celebrate his life and his young family with albums like Nashville Skyline.
Most interesting for Australian readers is the revelation that Bob worked on songs for the Blonde On Blonde album whilst on tour here, in particular whilst stuck in a hotel room in Perth, accompanied by Robbie Robertson from The Band and a woman who is only described as a ‘prominent Australian actress’ of the time whom he befriended through their mutual friend the Melbourne poet Adrian Rawlings. This mysterious actress (whose identity I am determined to discover) was hired by an un-named national publication to do a piece on Bob, but at Bob’s request she went off the idea - although she happily spills the beans for Scaduto under the condition of anonymity. This gets to the root of why this book works, and no doubt why Bob himself says,
“I like your book. That’s the weird thing about it.”
People really open up to Scaduto. Joan Baez talks very honestly and openly for a whole chapter, and old school friends tell tales such as how when a young Bob would get drunk at parties back in Hibbing, Minnesota they would trick him by saying,
“Hey Bobby, Woody Guthrie’s outside, he says he wants to me you.”
Little Bobby Zimmerman would then run out into the snow looking for his hero, calling his name and catching pneumonia while his friends chortled at the window.
Scaduto also talks to the Manhattan musicians Bob put on his manager Albert Grossman’s payroll then piled into a car to drive across America with him – playing shows to itinerant labourers, Dallas university students (two months after JFK’s assassination) and bemused elderly poets whose addresses he’d tracked down, it all ending in a dope fueled mess in a pre-psychedelic San Francisco – and all the time with a jar labelled Marijuana on the dashboard refilled by picking up certain packages at post offices along the way.
Bob himself talks extensively to Scaduto. This being less than a decade since he had been frightened by mobs calling him a messiah and then a Judas in quick succession, both of which he found equally terrifying – as he puts it, (to paraphrase) ‘Jesus was a messiah and look what they did to him!’ Hence Bob explain how he just wants people to realise he’s just a musician, and even if he was some kind of pop-cultural superhero then there’s no reason to follow him, constantly reiterating what he feels is his most important lyrical message,
“Don’t follow leaders,
and watch the parking meters.”
Benito Di Fonzo
21 Jan. 2010
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