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Book Review: Still On The Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974 – 2006 by Clinton Heylin

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Was anyone besides me surprised to see Bob Dylan on the same show bill as Merle Haggard?  Was anyone as naïve as me to think that they might actually perform together? 

Miss Bob and I saw their show in Asheville, North Carolina in 2005.  It was the first time we had seen either in concert and we were in for a surprise.  Haggard opened and was great! We certainly got our money’s worth just with his performance.  When Dylan came on, I didn’t recognize the opening number and it’s one of my favorites.  It was only after the concert that I read of his penchant for changing up melodies and re-arranging his songs in live concerts.

For some, Dylan is — and has been — an enigma. For some, he’s been a mentor/role model. For others, he’s anathema (due to his protest songs no doubt). For Clinton Heylin, he’s been the subject of several books.  Still On The Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1974 – 2006 is the second of Heylin’s works that deal specifically with the Dylan canon and the fifth of his more than 20 books dealing with Dylan in some shape or form. 

Still On The Road is a sequel to Revolution in the Air and continues with song 301 (“Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”) from 1974 and ends with song 600 (“Huck’s Tune”) from 2006.  Heylin explains in the introduction, “Just Like Another Intro,” that this is not a book simply about the lyrics. In fact, he provides other sources for lyrics. This book is about the stories and influences that fostered the lyrics along with some historical information and anecdotes about Dylan and the subjects of his works.

Here is another book that readers can, and most likely will, enjoy piecemeal.  I suppose an obsessive fan with an unquenchable thirst for everything Dylan might read it cover to cover, but it’s definitely an excellent resource.  My favorite section was the one dealing with songs Dylan contributed to the super group “The Traveling Wilburys”. Consider these lyrics from the song, “Political World”:

We live in a political world,
World of wine, women and song,

You could make it through without the first two,
Boy without the third, you wouldn’t last long.

Sentiments with which I can identify since my wife and I began practicing politibacy.  Perhaps it’s difficult if not impossible for Dylan to escape his roots as he manages to slip a line of war protest  into “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.”  “Tweeter was a Boy Scout ‘fore she went to Viet Nam, and found out the hard way, nobody gives a damn.”

Anyone with an interest in Dylan, his lyrics and the stories behind them will find their library incomplete without this volume.

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