The Aaron Copland / Bob Dylan connection

Do I have your attention now?!

I am about 2/5th's the way into an amazing book that anyone with the slightest interest in American art forms should find well worth his or her time. It was written by Sean Wilentz, a Professor of American History at Princeton, and author of a few books on that subject. But the book I'm reading is entitled Bob Dylan In America, and it is, hands down, the best writing on Dylan I have yet to read. And I have read a lot about Dylan!

Wilentz starts the book by laying out the context within which Dylan's work will be examined and discussed, starting with the very American music of Aaron Copland. I guarantee you, you have never before heard what Wilentz has to say about the connection between that composer and Dylan. The next section is about the overlap between the Beat writers and the Folk singers of the late 50's and early 60's, but not without tracing their origins back to the 1930's. The relationship between Dylan and Allen Ginsberg is discussed in great detail, and continues into future chapters. It is fascinating stuff.

Wilentz finally gets to Dylan himself, and provides details on the writing and recording of Bob's first six albums, as well as the live shows coinciding with them, culminating in by far the best examination of his masterpiece, "Blonde On Blonde", I have read. Every song, every recording session, every musician involved (there are some surprises!), all examined with fanatical attention to detail. I thought I already knew a lot about the album, but I learned much more than I already knew. Absolutely fantastic!

I do believe this may be the best book I have ever read on the subject of, not just Dylan, but of any artist. I found it at my Public Library, but I'm going to buy a copy. That I'll want to read it again I have no doubt.

Thanks for the heads up and great review.  Like the best positive reviews, it makes one want to find and read the book.  Haven't looked yet but am curious when this might have been published first.  The fact that you found it at the public library suggests it has been out for a little while, at least.  Will be checking Amazon next.  Thanks again.

Thanks! for sharing- bdp24-

you are correct in that there are no shortages on books about Dylan.
Please suggest the books, authors, that offer the best of the Bob Dylan arsenal.
It's apparent that you are a fan of Dylan and his music, so I would like to ask you what you think about his work in recent years as compared to his more famous earlier work.

nice. Thanks for mentioning that book.

That book seems pretty incisive on a portion of Bob's life and work.

It did not take long for me to begin finding out the ties between one musician’s works and some other musician. Regularly current works when the history is reviewed, often it can be found out someone else actually wrote it years, even decades before!

Even riffs and just plain influences from different musical genres are contributory to how another artist goes about constructing or reconstructing new works. It is fascinating to dig deeper into where something actually originated. Suprising too, as with this tie to Copeland.

Despite influences, artists like Cash, Prine, Kristofferson, Parton, Rodgers, Dylan and others are songwriters with few parallels. Still fewer crossed over as many platforms or influenced as many later artists as did Dylan IMHO.


Agreed- blindjim
I love these types of books that tells the story of influence and impressions on a certain artist. in this case,  Dylan. We all know that someone, somewhere, had an impact.

Sidenote: Dylan's last (3) releases- tributes to Sinatra- are all outstanding!
Shadows in the Night
Fallen Angels

Jafant  - you really can't say with all due sincerity that the last recorded work by Bob Dylan was any good. It is just god awful and painful to even listen to. " Time Out Of Mind '' was his last offering in which his voice was still there and the songs had any strength. How anybody can listen to his music now is beyond me. I have seen him live about 25 times and the last time was about 10 years ago and if it was any other performer I would got up and walked out but I didn't out of respect. I have never seen him again live and will not buy anymore of his music .......Bob there is NO ONE behind you, there will NEVER be anybody like you or close to you EVER again, but give it up your voice and singing are gone    
garebear, you and I have a different take on Dylan's more recent work, I think Modern Times is up there with Time Out of Mind, why not give it a few spins, unless you have already.  He will be in Philly twice in November, I have tickets for both, and unlike you I still get great pleasure from being and hearing him and the band play.  
......Modern Times is again okay at best, but he is absolutely ruining his own legacy. C'mon how can you honestly say that is voice is worth listening to ? If he came on now as a new performer......he would be booed off stage. The last time I saw him was ten years ago and it was painful and I took a date who looked at me and said with a sneer ;'' this is Bob Dylan '' ? The first time I saw him was in the late 70's but now he is totally in auditable. However, through those years he has at time .....given me some great memories. The one in particular was in late 1995 ........we was half way through the show and the band and him just walked off stage. I thought something or somebody ticked him off and ; Bob being Bob .....was done with the show. Dammit as was a good show .......he came back on and did and acoustic, acoustic ....'' Friend of the devil '' in a memorial tribute to Jerry Garcia who had just passed. There was not a dry eye in the place and was a memory I will take to my grave. Ohhhhh his band is very good if you are going to see just those musicians. Not surprised I have not heard back from Jafant who just posts things here and leaves on to the next thread. Don't have that kind of time I guess. Mr. repluso enjoy the show as live music is still live music.                      
garbed, thanks for your perspective, its (again) different than mine.  I appreciate, for example, his version of September Of My Years in Triplicate, or Skylark on Fallen Angels.  I guess its a matter of expectations?  Not sure really, but like you I have seen him many many times, at least 50, and maybe the highlight was 1979/80, I was living in San Francisco, he played the Warfield for a number of night, and I went the last night, Bill Graham introduced him, a fantastic concert, this while he was in his "religious phase"; also saw him at MSG years later, one of the lowest, a kind-of Las Vegas style show.  By the way, have you hear Red River Shore, on one of the "bootlegs"?  Its, in my view, up there with any song he has ever written.  Worth a listen

also On A Little Street In Singapore, such a great version of this, at least to this old and getting older person.  Minor key, fantastic.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend my Dylan-fan-friend!
I am a huge Dylan fan. However, I won't buy everything he does (although I am guilty of buying just about everything). So let me ask those who praise his Sinatra albums: If these album was released by a person with the voice you hear on the album and it was NOT Bob Dylan--do you think it would sell more than 6 copies?
 Nevertheless, I will be seeing the Man at The Beacon Theater in November.  
I like the issues raised here since my posting, but left yesterday morning for an out-of-town gig from which I have just arrived home, and am beat. I’ll add some more thoughts tomorrow. Thanks everybody!

Absolutely agree with your, "if it was released by anyone else" comment about Dylan's great American songbook-inspired albums.   Stayed up late for his performance on the last David Letterman show; a track from Shadows In The Night (The Night We Called It a Day?) it was entertainingly bizarre.  

FWIW (and probably little) l don't completely agree with @garebear 's
assessment of Dylan's post Time Out of Mind recordings; i.e., Modern Times, Love & Theft, Together Through Life, & Tempest (haven't heard Christmas In The Heart).  I appreciate his opinion on the others but TTL seems a very strong recording and solid contribution to Dylan's music legacy.  

All right, I’m back.

jafant, here are the major books on Dylan:

- No Direction Home by Robert Shelton. Shelton wrote the rave review in The New York Times of a Dylan Greenwich Village live performance in 1961 that got everyone’s attention. A basic biography.

- Behind The Shades by Clinton Heylin. A good examination of Dylan by a British writer, Brits having a special appreciation of Bob for some reason.

- Bob Dylan: A Biography by Anthony Scaduto. Written in the early 70’s by a major Rolling Stone writer, I didn’t like it as much as the above two, but it’s worth reading.

- Chronicles by Dylan himself. Ya gotta read his autobiography, right? It’s hard to know how much of it is literally true---it is Dylan, after all ;-).

- The Old, Weird America: The World Of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes by Greil Marcus. This you HAVE to read. A really deep, well-researched examination of old songs that were important to Dylan, and the re-recording of them (along with new songs of his own) with The Hawks (aka Band) during 1967, in both the basement of Big Pink and in the living room of his nearby Bearsville house. Fascinating!

Dylan was a sponge, instantly absorbing everything he heard. He settled in with The Hawks for a year, giving that Canadian (heh) band a crash course in American music. The Basement Tapes became a primer for the emerging Americana-style music that was the hippest being made in the late 60’s and early 70’s, a counter-Counter Culture movement that rejected the Hippie ethos. It literally rewrote the rules for making music, as did The Band’s debut album the following year, 1968’s Music From Big Pink. Bob was a good teacher, and The Hawks/Band excellent students!

Let me again praise the book in the original post, Bob Dylan In America by Sean Wilentz. Wilentz’s father owned a bookstore in Greenwich Village, one that the Beat writers and Folk singers frequented. The elder Wilentz was himself a poet, and Sean grew up surrounded in immersed in the Beat/Folk world. He has an unusually good knowledge and appreciation of American music, poetry, and writers---Dylan included, not to mention the historical context within which those art forms are created.

When I left off, I had just finished the chapter on the recording of the Blonde On Blonde album (THE best writing on Dylan’s music I have read), and Wilentz jumps from that period to the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue era, mentioning only briefly the intervening years. I assume he’ll come back around to them---the fantastic John Wesley Harding and New Morning albums, the 1974 tour with The Band (his first since the 1965-6 World Tour with The Hawks) and subsequent album recorded with them, the very cool Planet Waves.

roxy54---I have just finished reading the chapter in Bob Dylan In America in which Sean Wilentz discusses Dylan’s "Love and Theft" album. Bob is so productive I haven’t been able to keep up with all his releases (plus the nature of some of them doesn’t interest me. Dylan sings Sinatra? Uh, I’ll pass.). But "Love And Theft" I loved from the instant I heard it, moreso even than Time Out Of Mind. Whereas TOOM was produced by Daniel Lanois, Dylan himself produced "LAT" (under his Jack Frost alias). I’m no fan of Lanois’ production in general, and really dislike the sound he created for TOOM, plus some of his musical choices and decisions. Dylan felt the same way---the two butted heads throughout the making of the album.

"Love And Theft" is now one of my all-time favorite Dylan albums. The songs are great, and Dylan seems to be in unusually high spirits (perhaps from having survived almost dying immediately following the completion of TOOM?). There is a lot of humor in the lyrics and their delivery---he sounds like he’s having a lot of fun. And he has one of the best bands he ever worked with, perhaps the best outside of The Hawks/Band. Certainly far better than The Grateful Dead and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, two ill-advised choices as accompanists/collaborators.

Wilentz has deepened and expanded my appreciation of the songs on "LAT". He has a vast knowledge of both music and literature (a rare combination), and cites the sources for a lot of the songs on the album, both musically and lyrically. The sources?! Dylan is what Wilentz calls a "troubadour", an old term for the tradition of songwriters "borrowing" from the work of those who came before, appropriating their ideas and incorporating them into their own. Have you noticed the title of the album is not Love And Theft, but rather "Love And Theft"? You will learn why if you read Bob Dylan In America, the most insightful book I have read on the subject of Dylan. Fanfreakingtastic!

I have now finished the book, and it is my number one recommendation for insight into, and plain ol' info on, Dylan. This Wilentz guy is really somethin'! I suggest taking notes as you read it, as there will be stuff you want to later check into, but won't remember. A lot of work went into this book; it is a landmark reference source on not just Bob Dylan, but all American music and literature!
have you picked up the new "Trouble No More" bootleg series set?
Happy Listening!
Not yet jafant, but I did look over the LP and CD boxsets at my record store during the week, and the double-disc releases as well. The boxsets contain a lot of material---unreleased songs, out-takes, live recordings. I really liked the Christian albums when they came out, but I'm not sure how much more of that material I need! We shall see---right now I have higher priorities.
There is an upcoming Dylan release I AM really looking forward to: "Love And Theft", an album I love, on a double-LP, just announced by Sony for the near future.
if you really liked the Christian albums (Dylan's 1st trilogy IMO) spring for the super deluxe set. Yes, it is alot of material to digest, very well assembled.
Happy Listening!
jafant, the current Mojo Magazine has extensive coverage of the trinity albums, lots of great info.

Thank You-  bdp24

I am looking forward to more BD releases in 2018. 

Happy Listening!

Yup @jafant, I put it on my Christmas list for the sisters. I’m so backlogged with CDs and LPs waiting for their first spin that I can wait. I have the original LP, the version with back-cover liner notes by Pete Hamill.
Which material will the Bob Dylan bootleg series (Vol. 15) machine bring us in 2019?  Happy Listening!

did you take stock of "The Cutting Edge" bootleg set?
If so, was it the 6-CD set or 18-CD set (Big Blue) or Vinyl set?

Happy Listening!


Rolling Thunder Revue 1975 Tour (14 CD) set this Summer.

Still leaves the door open for another Bootleg Series set this Fall.


are you up-to-date on this Bootleg Series?
Travelin' Thru: Bootleg Series Vol.15 in November.

Happy Listening!

early predictions or thoughts on the next Bootleg Vol. 16 from Bob and company?

Happy Listening!

@jafant, is Vol. 16 actually available? I tend to take my time getting each new volume, and actually only fairly recently got Vol.15. I would have preferred more from John Wesley Harding and less of the Johnny Cash recordings on that one.

There is a new book on Dylan coming early next year from Clinton Heylin (whose writings on Bob I quite like): The Double Life Of Bob Dylan Vol.1 1941-66; A Restless, Hungry Feeling.

What with the recent sale of his archives and song publishing, I get the feeling Dylan is preparing for his relatively imminent demise. His passing will leave as large an unfillable artistic void as I will have witnessed in my life. The largest since Hank Williams', imo. I was alive when that occurred, but just barely!


any prediction for this year's Bob Bootleg Series?
I am looking forward to the new book as well.
@jafant: If Columbia (and Bob, one supposes) keeps to chronological order, I guess the next bootlegs will be 80's material, not a favorite Dylan decade of mine.

I picked up the latest Dylan release, a triple CD (only) package entitled 1970. It contains unreleased material recorded during the New Morning and Self Portrait album sessions, and is not essential. Mostly early takes of songs that are far inferior to the released versions. But it's cheap (around $20), so what the heck, may as well have it.

Excellent! Keep me posted should you read about the next Bootleg release.

Happy Listening!
Well Dylan fanatics, the Clinton Heylin book, The Double Life of Bob Dylan; A Restless, Hungry Feeling 1941-1966, is finally on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Or at least it was (I bought the only copy) at my local branch. And it shouldn't have been, as street date is not for a coupla days.

Heylin has written a lot of books on Bob, and it considered the best writer on the subject:

- Robert Hilburn: 'If you really want to know the story of Bob Dylan (and everybody should), this is where you must start."

- Rolling Stone: "British writer-historian Clinton Heylin is perhaps the world's authority on all things Dylan."

- New York Times: "The only Dylanologist worth reading."

- Graham Nash: "So, you want to know more about Bob Dylan? Read Clinton Heylin's new book. You'll get all you need."

- Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth): "Whether you've read one book on Bob Dylan or one hundred, THIS is the one you want to read and refer to from this day forward. It leaps a couple light-years ahead with much newly revealed material and deep scholarship. If somebody's got to tell the tale, we can all thank our holy electric pickups and mystical typewriter keys that it was up to Clinton Heylin."

If after reading the above quotes you aren't compelled to immediately find a copy, you REALLY aren't interested in Bob Dylan. ;-)

Not sure what you mean by your assertion that Americana "rejected the hippie ethos". . . 

There are striking parallels between the music of The Band and early 70's  Dead, for example.


I concur, Americana certainly embrace Hippie ethos to my ears.
Nice correlation between The Band and early 70's Dead (American Beauty & Workingman's Dead) are pivotal.

Happy Listening
Though American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead were radical departures from the music The Dead had been making prior to those two albums, if one knew about Garcia’s early involvement in Folk and Bluegrass music during his formative years (I love those pictures of Garcia playing banjo---banjo!---on the Palo Alto Stanford campus, not far up El Camino Real from where I was growing up in Cupertino), it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. And as the music being made by some of the Dead’s friends and contemporaries (Crosby, Stills, and Nash, etc.) was trending towards the acoustic/short song/harmony singing format and style (as opposed to the Dead’s long, free-form---in terms of song structure and improvisational nature), it was a natural transition for them to move in that direction.

To see who were the actual leaders in that back-to-the-Country movement, and who were the followers, watch the documentary film Festival Express. Then remind oneself of the two albums The Band made in 1968 and ’69, and compare them with The Dead’s two contemporaneous albums: 1968’s Anthem Of The Sun and 69’s Aoxomoxoa. Not to mention Dylan, who had been recording in Nashville long before any other Rockers of his generation. Compare John Wesley Harding (’68) and Nashville Skyline (’69) with Anthem Of The Sun and Aoxomoxoa, recorded and released contemporaneously. Dylan had earlier (1965) completely changed John Lennon’s approach to songwriting. "You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away" was nothing more than John’s Dylan imitation.

But ya’ll missed the point about the Hippie ethos: In The Last Waltz (and in Martin Scorsese’s later documentary on The Band), Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko discuss not sharing in many regards the sentiments of the Hippies. Not to mention Dylan, who, after almost single-handedly codifying the basic tenants of the counter-culture that emerged in his wake (it would be an exaggeration to claim he created it), turned his back on that very community.

While The Airplane on the West Coast, The MC5 in the Midwest, and politically-minded "radicals" on the East coast were calling for revolution, and rejecting all that American (and in fact all Western) civilization embraced, The Band posed with their parents, grandparents, and other relatives on the inside gatefold cover of the Big Pink album. So much for hating your parents ;-) . When Dylan and The Hawks toured Europe and England in 1966, Bob hung a giant American flag behind the stage, sticking his finger in the eye of the growing hate-The U.S.A. sentiment embraced by his audience in those countries.

I love what Rick Danko said in one Last Waltz scene: "We’re not trying to save the world, only improve the neighborhood." Hillbilly wisdom ;-) .


Right On! with The Band/The Dead common thread.
Today, Dylan is 80 years old (or young). Celebrate.

Happy Listening!