The verses and songs of Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, articulated the angst and aspirations of an entire generation. His lyrics and tunes, sung and recorded zillions of times, continue to enthrall thousands, even those who know nothing of the anti-establishment mood of the '60s.
Over the decades, Dylan changed drastically, as did his music. His seminal The Times They Are A-Changin became an advertising jingle for an accountants' firm, while a track from his 2001 album "Love and Theft" was used to promote lingerie. Dylan had fallen long before he became an abiding icon.
London-based Mike Marqusee has written as much about Dylan the man and his music as he has about the popular culture and politics of a decade. It may seem amazing to those who look at today's neo-con America with trepidation that a slogan of the early '60s used to be: "Communism is 20th century Americanism".
As Marqusee reminds the reader at the outset, despite sales of more than 35 million records, tapes and CDs, Dylan has been outsold not only by the Beatles and Elvis Presley (both over 100 million) but also by Prince, Madonna, Elton John, Michael Jackson, the Eagles and Aerosmith. Yet, he writes: "What matters in the history of popular culture, in the end, is not merely how many people buy a product but ... its shaping power over their imaginations."
Highly recommended not only to those above 40, the book attempts the difficult task of "looking for the aesthetic in the political and the political in the aesthetic". It is these attempts that raise the level of the book above the run-of-the-mill biography and manage to link one man's work to his milieu. After all, Dylan's work of the '60s "has long outgrown its national origins, just as it has outlived its era".
Marqusee captures the spirit of an epoch that has gone by but still lives within many of us. In Dylan's own words: "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now".