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Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography, Part One

Part one of a look at the rise of an icon, from his beginnings in Minnesota to his heights in Greenwich Village

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan on Issue No. 104

Following is the first of two lengthy excerpts from Anthony Scaduto’s authoritative biography of Bob Dylan, to be published by Grosset & Dunlap on February 29th. Together, the two Rolling Stone segments add up to a total of approximately 35,000 words, which is substantially less than a third of the book’s length. Thus, the book in its entirety is recommended to serious followers of the Dylan legend — and who among us these days isn’t that?

Anthony Scaduto is a former police and court reporter accustomed to ferreting out hard facts and making them stick. This he has done in tracing Dylan’s development as both man and artist. The end product is a richly-detailed and penetrating portrait of Dylan — and what Dylan mirrors of our times.

— Grover Lewis.

Dylan used to tell us that he came out doing it — out of the womb, singing and playing and writing,” folk-singer S. David Cohen, formerly known as Dave Blue, likes to recall. That’s an exaggeration, certainly, but possibly not by that much; at least, Bob Dylan said it so often, with so many variations, that he must have come half way to believing it. A man who is cloaking himself in myth must believe in his own magic to make it all work. “After a while,” a close friend from the early days recalls, “he didn’t seem to know any more what was truth and what was his own creation.”

During one of our talks, Dylan conceded that I was “right on target” in discussing the inner Self that he could not repress, that brought him so much pain he had to make himself invisible, and provided him with the strength to reach for higher levels of consciousness.

Eric von Schmidt, folksinger, songwriter, illustrator, writer of children’s books, was close to Dylan in his early professional years. He recalls: “Dylan’s mind seemed to make strange jumps, like electricity. His mind was the most exciting . . . like a calypso mind, making instantaneous sorts of connections, relating seemingly unrelated things and putting them together into something marvelous. He doesn’t go from A to B to C and so on — he can jump from A to G while other people are plodding on. He doesn’t need to plod. He is able to make connections, not out of something he studies, but viscerally.”

Von Schmidt recalls: “Dylan was continually inventing himself,” as a circus hand, carnival boy, road bum, musician, and many other roles in what have come to be called the Dylan myths. One of those myths was that he had started running away when he was ten, got picked up by the police and sent home, and ran away again. But he never actually ran away as a child; he ran from, and within, himself, because of what his parents wanted him to be, what the educators wanted him to be, what Hibbing, Minnesota, wanted him to be.

He was going to be Bob Dylan (whoever Bob Dylan might be), not Robert Allen Zimmerman. As he matured, he built a new identity every step of the way in order to escape identity; he would pursue privacy as some pursue notoriety.