Of all the Sixties artists who remain active in the 21st century — McCartney, the Stones, Brian Wilson — none can hold a candle to Bob Dylan for productivity. He has toured incessantly produced three strong albums and an award-winning single (“Things Have Changed”), and has hosted several seasons of the delightful, improbable “Theme Time Radio Hour.”
In particular, 2001 was a milestone year for Dylan: he turned 60, released one of his strongest albums since the 1970s, and was the subject of several major books. While David Hadju's Positively Fourth Street and Clinton Heylin's updated Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited are both welcome additions to the literature on Dylan, neither sheds much light on his personal life. Down the Highway—The Life of Bob Dylan, however, concentrates on the living enigma’s mysterious private life, with less emphasis on his music than the other major biographies.
While Howard Sounes’ writing is sometimes only serviceable, he rightfully touts his research, which certainly unearthed some surprises about one of the most mysterious figures in pop culture. Dylan’s second marriage, to backup singer Carolyn Dennis, was a major disclosure when Sounes’ book appeared, one that must have registered with Dylan himself. Within months of this book’s publication, Dylan was not only admitting to the second marriage in interviews, he said he’d been married “lots of times” and that he had “never tried to hide” that fact. It may even be that this book prompted Dylan to announce plans, finally, to write his autobiography.
Down the Highway reveals unprecedented details about Dylan’s family with first wife, Sara, and their years living near Woodstock. This depiction of Dylan — a homebody and family man who protects his home with a rifle (“the great equalizer”) — may be Sounes’ most dramatic disclosure, a vision of Dylan totally at odds with the singer’s public image. Other interesting details are woven through Dylan’s story, such as the estimated $402 budget to record his first album, his unsatisfactory encounter with poet Carl Sandburg, and his proposal to Mavis Staple. Revealing and entertaining quotes liven up accounts of familiar events, like the 1978 world tour that saw his "backup singers dressed like hookers” and the band looking like “a large aggregation of pimps.” That cash-grab tour — which resulted in the widely-reviled, Vegas-y “At Budokan” album — found him studying Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan to relearn songs demanded by Japanese promoters.