Bob Dylan

Like a Complete Unknown

David Yaffe

View Inside Price: $15.00

June 19, 2012
192 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
1 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300181876

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Bob Dylan is an iconic figure in American musical and cultural history, lauded by Time magazine as one of the hundred most important people of the twentieth century. For nearly fifty years the singer-songwriter has crafted his unique brand of music, from his 1962 self-titled debut album to 2009's #1 hit Together Through Life, appealing to everyone from baby boomers to the twenty-somethings who storm the stage at his concerts.

In Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown, literary scholar and music critic David Yaffe considers Dylan from four perspectives: his complicated relationship to blackness (including his involvement in the civil rights movement and a secret marriage with a black backup singer), the underrated influence of his singing style, his fascinating image in films, and his controversial songwriting methods that have led to charges of plagiarism. Each chapter travels from the 1960s to the present, offering a historical perspective on the many facets of Dylan's life and career, exploring the mystery that surrounds the enigmatic singer and revealing the complete unknown Dylan.

David Yaffe is assistant professor of English at Syracuse University and the author of Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing. He is a music critic for the Nation and has written articles for the Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan, the New York Times, Bookforum, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, The Village Voice, and other publications.

"Writing with deep respect and affection for his subject, David Yaffe gives us an exhilarating tour of Bob Dylan's astonishing career. This book sings."—Brian Morton, author of Starting Out in the Evening


"A Dylan rethought for modern times."—Barry Shank, The Ohio State University

"With a keen ear for Dylan's musical influences, vocal changes, and literary borrowings, David Yaffe captures the dramatic twists and turns of Dylan's creative life, especially his chamelon-like shifts of identity, his protean elusiveness."—Morris Dickstein, author Gates of Eden and Dancing in the Dark

"A song of Dylan's many selves, David Yaffe's stirring, allusive book captures Zimmy's refractory brilliance with verve, wit, and an immense range of reference. As entertaining as it is edifying."—Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

"David Yaffe’s Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown is beautifully written, and its explorations of the artist’s legendary turnabouts—politically, lyrically, vocally—are original and incisive."—Alice Echols, Professor of English and Gender Studies, University of Southern California

"The best writing on Dylan yet (that's not by Dylan)." —Mark Edmundson, University Professor, University of Virginia

"Exhilarating reading....One finishes the book not with a diminished, but rather a much augmented and far more nuanced appreciation of Dylan’s lifework....The voice is lively, witty, colloquial, endlessly comfortable....Dylan studies now bulks rather large; Yaffe’s book promises to whip the field into a kind of shape."—Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Pomona College, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan

"Steeped but not drowned in cultural studies, David Yaffe offers fresh and sometimes prickly insight about Bob Dylan's art. Yaffe reads closely and listens hard, and his book will have you saying, 'aha!' again and again."—Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of History, Princeton University, and author of Bob Dylan in America

"David Yaffe is to Bob Dylan what Andrew Delbanco is to Herman Melville and what Farah Jasmine Griffin is to Billie Holiday—a writer whose authority is so vast and whose thinking is so fresh that he makes reading about his long-familiar subject an act of discovery."—David Hajdu, Columbia University; author of Positively 4th Street

“…fascinating for obsessives who think they know everything and want to know more.”   — Kirkus Reviews

“Far more nutritious are the four long, discursive essays in David Yaffe’s Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown…..Reading these books you’ll more than once come across what Dylan has said is his favourite line from Rimbaud: ‘Je est un autre’. Only Yaffe gets anywhere close to following Dylan’s drift”—Christopher Bray, Literary Review

"Mr. Yaffe has excellent chapters . . . approaching at times the intensity of prose poetry."—David Yezzi, The Wall Street Journal

". . . based on the depth and breadth of his knowledge exhibited in this book, [Yaffe] must actually be a full-time Dylanologist.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[P]rovocative perceptions and stylish writing…”—The North Coast Journal

“Yaffe] takes some risks a more established Bob scholar might shy away from . . . and for such fearlessness – and for keeping it all to the point – [he] deserves our gratitude.”—The Montreal Gazette

". . . fun, funny, learned as hell as well as plain smart, and subjective in the best possible sense."—Guy Crucianelli, PopMatters
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