REVIEW: “Astonishing focus and intensity” “Highly illuminating” “Endlessly fascinating” (from Shelf Awareness)

Writing in the trade publication Shelf Awareness, reviewer John McFarland has this to say about BOB DYLAN: Prophet, Mystic, Poet:

With astonishing focus and intensity, Seth Rogovoy shows how Bob Dylan arrived in New York City as a poor and obscure 20-something determined to carve out a path to fame and fortune. His close-up of Dylan along with the icon’s psychology and sources of creativity should prove endlessly fascinating for his fans.

“Lyrics serve as the trusty guide for Rogovoy’s exploration of Bob Dylan, as both songwriter and performer. While engrossed in study of the Torah, Rogovoy was struck by how familiar some of the verses seemed. Why, he wondered, did he recognize, ‘The soles of their feet . . . their appearance was like fiery coals, burning like torches,’ and ‘No man sees my face and lives?’ He then realized that he knew these lines (or slight variations) from favorite Dylan songs.

“Viewing Dylan as engaged in a form of midrash (riffing on Biblical texts to create new meanings), Rogovoy began to analyze the Dylan songbook from the beginning (‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is linked to verses from Ezekiel and Isaiah; ‘Masters of War’ is tied to Isaiah) to his most recent work. Rogovoy concludes that as early as his arrival in Greenwich Village in 1961, Dylan began using his knowledge of Biblical texts as jumping-off points for his compositions.

“The more he studies the lyrics in depth, the greater awe Rogovoy develops for Dylan’s originality, wit and energy. … He offers much food for thought about the genius who wrote, ‘I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.’

To his credit, Rogovoy, burnishing the luster of Dylan, celebrates his star to the heavens and yet, miraculously, brings us closer to him.”

In sum, writes McFarland:

Bob Dylan gets a loving close-up in a highly illuminating and idiosyncratic biography.”

[N.B. Quotations have been revised to apply only to this book; original review also deals with a new biography of Steve McQueen.]

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