Book Festival: Ian Bell on Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan

Ian Bell discussed the second volume of his Bob Dylan biography at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Review by WOW247’s Heather McDaid

Bob Dylan
[Bob Dylan satisfies the ‘desire for authenticity’]

“I swore for a long time not to write a book on Bob Dylan,” says Ian Bell. “Now I have two.”

He’s a man whose studio time was once described by Kris Kristofferson as “like John Keats’s words being put to music by Mozart”. He’s a musical legend, poet, artist and enigma – he’s also a questionable live performer and an alleged plagiarist. But Bob Dylan is the reason this room is packed, and all facets of his legend are discussed.

One attendee questions the constant need to try find the man within the madness, when the music speaks for itself. Bell notes that this was “based on his life, his times and his art and how the three connect together. I’m interested in how the politics of Reagan’s America works with his career at the time, or how being a born-again Christian affects his music, or the impression of him.” He attempts to weave pieces together, for better or worse.

But does he, one attendee asks, feel Dylan’s genius can still thrive in a world where Spotify lays millions of tracks at your fingertips?

“I think, ironically, reputation counts for more now,” says Bell. “Technology made things too easy – there’s a desire for authenticity. Bob does authenticity.”

On some level, it seems true. There are young and old fans here, listening intently as they recount the ups and downs of Dylan, as well as the pressure on someone who didn’t want to be a spokesman for a generation. “He was an artist, not a spokesperson or leader,” Bell explains, believing Dylan was “crushed by people demanding to be lead.”

From potential Scottish influences on his work and his own self-critique (describing ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as “20 pages of vomit”), to being ripped off early in his career and accepting every accolade going, the evening is an all-encompassing discussion of a legend, with some cutting humour along the way.

When writing the book, Bell was told by Dylan’s people he was not allowed to quote a single thing from his (“dubious as to fact”) autobiography, despite the majority of it being unacknowledged quotes from others. He thought, “Fair enough, Bob” and re-paraphrased everything a-la Dylan.

But is this rollercoaster over the years who he really is, or just something to keep people interested? “I think it’s a spectacular act of fantasy to believe any artist sits at home and wonders, ‘What will I be today?’ He was just being Bob Dylan.”

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