At last a study of Bob Dylan’s work that isn’t premised on his being a major-league poet. Ever since the publication of Michael Gray’s Leavisite panegyric Song and Dance Man (1972), literary Dylan fans have been keen to counsel us that their man is the new Keats or Eliot. Ezra Pound said that if modernism were to have a future there’d have to be a merger of poetry and song, but even if you believe – as Allen Ginsberg did – that Dylan was the man who pulled off the deal, you’d have to concede that he’s a rocker at least as much as he is a writer. If Professor Aidan Day gets his kicks ‘Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan’ (the subtitle of his 1988 book Jokerman) then good luck to him. The majority of us prefer to hear them sung to the twang of a guitar.
Sean Wilentz, a professor at Princeton and historian in residence at www.bobdylan.com, is one of that majority. Though Bob Dylan in America is marred by the odd passage of over-enthusiastic exegesis, the book largely takes it for granted that its subject is such a plain-talking writer that his