The second volume of Clinton Heylin’s magisterial biography takes us from Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle accident to the present day. We meet a man who is determined to confound expectations; yet whatever he does only seems to confirm his iconic status to fans and critics alike.
There are peaks and troughs. Long periods of writer’s block are followed by sudden bursts of creativity that produce some of the best work of his career, including perhaps his most celebrated album, 1975’s Blood On The Tracks. There is the unpredictable recording process, with Dylan often including on his albums the worst takes and leaving off the best songs altogether. On the Neverending Tour he reinvents his songbook on a nightly basis, at times without recognition. Then there are the albums and songs that reveal the genius of an artist whose lyrics draw on centuries of American culture but who refuses to be shackled to his own past.
Today his voice is almost unrecognisable from his 1960s peak, and the man whose songs had been devoted to dissecting his romantic relationships has become focused on mortality, solitude and getting old. Yet his albums continue to top the charts, 2020’s Rough And Rowdy Ways being his fourth No. 1 album of the twenty-first century.
There is no other living artist whose creative output has remained constantly intriguing, often baffling, sometimes infuriating but always fascinating for over sixty years. Clinton Heylin’s definitive, scrupulously researched and revelatory life, based on unprecedented access to the official Tulsa archive and other new sources, paints the fullest and brightest portrait yet of an iconic figure that has defined contemporary culture.