DANIEL MARK EPSTEIN The Ballad Of Bob Dylan: A Portrait (Souvenir Press)
There’s something usefully ambiguous about the subtitle appended to Daniel Mark Epstein’s weighty hardback tome. What the “poet and biographer” has delivered here isn’t a biography, in the same way that Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles Volume One” isn’t an autobiography. It hangs its selective memories on the pegs of a few key occasions, Dylan concerts that Epstein has attended across the ages. His commentary on the Washington DC concert he attended in 1963, as a 15-year-old, is remarkable for its second-by-second detail – Epstein remembering more about the occasion than I can about the Dylan gig I went to last night – although its later revealed that he was taking copious notes, clearly anticipating which way the wind was blowing. (By the time of a 1997 Tanglewood gig, on the opposite side of the hipster spectrum, the author would be stuffing paper napkins in his ears to dampen down the noise.) He fleshes out the narrative with interviews, reminiscences and analysis, but the resultant portrait is as partial as Dylan’s own in “Chronicles”, examining a handful of facets of a man it can’t hope to grasp whole.
Perhaps the worth of the book is best summarised by the subject himself, who concluded a state of the (Chinese) nation address disseminated via his website earlier this year thusly: “Everybody knows by now that there's a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I'm encouraging anybody who's ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.”