BOB DYLAN IN AMERICA (BY SEAN WILENTZ)
A memory from the summer of 1966: Across the Top 40 airwaves, an insistent drumbeat led off a strange, new hit song. Some listeners thought the song too explicit, its subject of madness and persecution too coarse, even cruel. Several radiostation directors banned it. Yet despite the controversy, or more likely because of it, the record shot to number three on the Billboard pop- singles chart. The singer-songwriter likened the song, which really was more of a rap, to a sick joke. His name was Jerry Samuels, but he billed himself as Napoleon XIV, performing “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha- Haaa!”
That spring, an equally controversial single, with an eerily similar opening, had quickly hit number two, and by summer “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” had reappeared as the opening track on the mysterious double
album Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan, who said the song was about... CLICK HERE TO READ FULL CHAPTER...
Excerpted from BOB DYLAN IN AMERICA by Sean Wilentz. Copyright © 2010 by Sean Wilentz. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
"Unlike so many Dylan-writer-wannabes and phony ‘encyclopedia’ compilers, Sean Wilentz makes me feel he was in the room when he chronicles events that I participated in. Finally a breath of fresh words founded in hardcore, intelligent research."
"A panoramic vision of Bob Dylan, his music, his shifting place in American culture, from multiple angles. In fact, reading Sean Wilentz’s Bob Dylan in America is as thrilling and surprising as listening to a great Dylan song."
"All the American connections that Wilentz draws to explain the appearance of Dylan's music are fascinating, particularly at the outset, the connection to Aaron Copland. The writing is strong, the thinking is strong—the book is dense and strong everywhere you look."
"Sean Wilentz is one of the few great American historians. His political and social histories of American democracy are masterful and magisterial. In this work, he turns his attention to the artistic genius of Bob Dylan – and the result is a masterpiece of cultural history that tells us much about who we have been and who we are."
—Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University
"Sean Wilentz's beautiful book sets a new standard for the cultural history of popular music in America. He loves the music and he loves America, but his loves do not blind him, they open his eyes. In Wilentz’s erudite and lively account, Dylan’s music, and folk music, and rock music, are all indelibly woven into the whole story of an entire country. This book is chocked with new contexts for old pleasures. There are surprises and illuminations on almost every page. A great historian has written a history of the culture that formed him. Like Dylan, Wilentz is a deep and probing American voice. Bob Dylan’s America is Bob Dylan’s good luck, and ours. It is an extraordinary affirmation of singing and strumming and feeling and learning and believing."
"This should have been impossible. Writing about Bob Dylan's music, and fitting it into the great crazy quilt of American culture, Sean Wilentz sews a whole new critical fabric, part history, part close analysis, and all heart. What he writes, as well as anyone ever has, helps us enlarge Dylan's music by reckoning its roots, its influences, its allusive spiritual contours. This isn't Cliff Notes or footnotes or any kind of academic exercise. It's not a critic chinning on the high bar. It's one artist meeting another, kick starting a dazzling conversation."
—Jay Cocks, screenwriter for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and THE GANGS OF NEW YORK
"Sean Wilentz makes us think about Bob Dylan's half-century of work in new ways. Combining a scholar's depth with a sense of mischief appropriate to the subject, Wilentz hears new associations in famous songs and sends us back to listen to Dylan’s less familiar music with fresh insights. By focusing on the parts of Dylan’s canon that most move him, Wilentz getsstraight to the heart of the matter. If you thought there was nothing new to say about Bob Dylan’s impact on America, this book will make you think twice."
-Bill Flanagan, author of A&R and EVENING’S EMPIRE and Editorial Director, MTV Networks.
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