WUMB June Program Guide

Bob Dylan, Transparent Enigma

It’s been about ten weeks since this virus made everything go haywire, and we’ve all been trying to cope in any way we can. One of my coping mechanisms has been to read more books. And, in my case, reading more books generally means reading more music biographies, such as Robbie Robertson’s Testimony, which I wrote about for the WUMB community a while back.

Today, I am here to praise a book that is not only one of the best about one of the biggest musical artists of all time, it’s also seen as one of the first serious music biographies written about a rock star. The writer, Anthony Scaduto, worked for the New York Post when he decided to start researching Dylan (published in 1972), leaving behind his work as a police reporter who also covered organized crime. The ability to do investigative research turned out to be critical for a journalist trying to uncover the story of the inscrutable Bob Dylan. He talked to Joan Baez, Jack Elliott, and many others; read diaries and other source material, and ultimately uncovered loads of previously unknown aspects of the Dylan story, especially his early years, growing up in Minnesota and later arriving in Greenwich Village.

Scaduto takes you into the high school gym where Bobby Zimmerman and his band performed in 1959, after a basketball game, depicting a teenage Dylan standing at the piano earnestly doing his best imitation of Little Richard. I know, I would have liked to have seen that one, too. There’s a deep dive on some of the most iconic moments, such as his infamous Newport show in 1965, tours of England and Europe, his recovery from the 1966 motorcycle accident, and his deepening relationship with the Band.

But we also learn about such nuggets as Dylan’s early 60s couch-crashing, a distastrous open mic performance, an interview with Studs Terkel, and a six-week cross-country driving trip with pals in 1964.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of this book is that while you learn about his unfolding genius, you also witness how badly Dylan sometimes treated people then, including friends and lovers, such as Joan Baez. But Dylan approved of the book. He read a near-complete draft of it and did a few interviews with Scaduto. He seemed okay with his portrayal as yes, a brilliant artist, but one who took his pain out on others and enjoyed confusing people when it came to the facts of his life.

Nearly fifty years later, Scaduto’s Dylan remains one of the fullest Dylan portraits ever, but, at the same time, it’s a brilliant study of the challenges that arise from acquring rapid fame.

Join us as we celebrate Dylan’s birthday this week, all day, on Friday, May 22, and over the following weekend—Highway 61 with Albert on May 23, and on Sunday Morning Brew, with Perry on May 24. Dylan will be 79, but he’s still releasing intriguing music. You’ll hear it all this weekend.

One final note, I just want to express my gratitude and admiration for Perry Persoff as the host of Sunday Morning Brew during this period when I, though healthy and not incarcerated (I swear), have been unable to come on campus and do my show. I’m blown away by the labor and care he puts into programming the show. It’s been a blast talking show strategy from time to time, and really fun to hang at home and listen. Thank you, Perry, and all WUMB hosts for helping us all get through this challenging period.

~ Rob Hochschild

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