Decoding Dylan

Making Sense of the Songs That Changed Modern Culture


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About the Book

Taking readers behind Bob Dylan’s familiar image as the enigmatic rebel of the 1960s, this book reveals a different view—that of a careful craftsman and student of the art of songwriting. Drawing on revelations from Dylan’s memoir Chronicles and a variety of other sources, the author arrives at a radically new interpretation of his body of work, which revolutionized American music and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. Dylan’s songs are viewed as collages, ingeniously combining themes and images from American popular culture and European high culture.

Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.

About the Author(s)

Jim Curtis taught at the University of Missouri-Columbia for 31 years. He lives in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Bibliographic Details

Jim Curtis
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 177
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7845-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3649-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v
“Songs for Passersby” by James M. Curtis vi
Preface 1
Introduction 4

Section I: Theories and Practices
1. Bob Dylan: His Biography and His Career 7
2. The Early Years in New York 27
3. Affinities with Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot and Pablo Picasso 51

Section II: Songs and Songwriting
4. Songs of Transcendence—Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde 73
Table 1. Chronology of Songs 74
Table 2. Night Songs 87
5. Songs of Assimilation—John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline 95
6. “Putting a Certain Orderliness to the Chaos” 103
Table 3. Rhyme Forms in Dylan’s Songs of the Early 1960s 106
Table 4. Rhyme Forms in Dylan’s Songs of the Late 1960s 107
Table 5. Examples of Triple Rhymes in Tin Pan Alley Songs 112
Table 6. Triple Rhymes or More in Some American Songs (1968–1984) 114
7.  Dylan and Springsteen 118
8. The Real Revolution of the 1960s 129
Table 7. Chronologies of Early Successes of Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen by Approximate Age 133

Conclusion: Dylan’s Paradoxes 148
Chapter Notes 151
Bibliography 157
Index 161

Book Reviews & Awards

• “An expert look at the life and work of folk singer-songwriter and cultural icon Bob Dylan…an exceedingly comprehensive portrait of one of American’s most important and enigmatic musicians…excellent job of depicting Dylan as a man…certainly a must-read for Dylan fanatics”—Pop Cultural Studies

• “Gives an insight to Dylan and his songs that other books that focus on his life don’t. It’s a refreshing approach and if you’re really into Bob Dylan’s music, you should definitely read it…this book definitely made me appreciate his genius even more than I did before”—Crazy on Classic Rock