Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974-2006
by Clinton Heylin
Chicago Review Press
Clinton Heylin undoubtedly knows more about Bob Dylan than anyone else on the planet — including Robert Zimmerman himself. The answer to if that is a good thing or not depends ultimately on the reader. His prior work in this vein, Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957- 1973, and this title are a song-by-song examination of Dylan’s output. It’s a staggering amount of data (each around 500 pages) that can leave even the most fervent of fans exhausted.
Even the creator of an encyclopedia must make decisions as to what to illuminate, and what to leave out, and it’s here that some fans might find Heylin’s manner off-putting. He’s not afraid to call a lesser work just that — such as “Seven Days” (and he’s right) — but not before expending multiple paragraphs on its creation, concert appearances, and even Ron Wood’s version. Imagine that, for each song Bob Dylan has written, ever. But his tastes are not ours, and songs he deems as castoffs might be personal favorites, and his judgment sometimes errs on the side of harshness.
Still, when he discusses the details of the strained relationship between Dylan and producer Daniel Lanois, or the rejuvenation Dylan found in the Traveling Wilburys, for example, the book shines. His accounting of how Dylan has largely moved from “songwriter” to “lyricist” on old, public domain standards — such as his rewrite of the Muddy Waters classic “Trouble No More” as “Someday Baby” on Modern Times — enunciates the dissatisfaction Dylan’s fans have with his later material. The best of Dylan is most likely behind him, the days of Blood on the Tracks being the last time he soared as high as he did in creating the ’60s, but he’s still America’s preeminent man of song. No matter if it’s his or not. Who knows, perhaps in another 20 years, Heylin will have another book readied, if Dylan’s Never Ending Tour continues to roll on. Likely not, but Dylan is best at surprising us. Until then, Still on the Road will keep the most ardent Dylan fan sated.
Chicago Review Press: chicagoreviewpress.com