If what Dennis McDougal presents in this biography is in fact true then Bob Dylan is a far different person than the accepted history his celebrity suggests. The tone attached to this appraisal reminds me of a documentary I watched on Hunter S. Thompson some time ago that had him admitting on camera that he lost himself in becoming the person his infamous celebrity had made him. This book as well, almost too eagerly at times, attempts to show how Bob Dylan and Robert Zimmerman became two different people. And to illustrate this ever-widening gulf between the two personalities in respect to all that has been already extensively written regarding Dylan’s life and music offers a novel opportunity for McDougal to move beyond the incessant analysis of his lyrics and well-worn biographical facts. Though often intuited at times to be a “hit piece” of sorts, the book proved to be an interesting read. And as I neared the last fifth of the book I began to see clearly McDougal’s honest fairness presented and redeemed.
The publisher’s opening blurb asks the question, “What happened during the past two decades to transform a heroin addict into one of the most astonishing literary and musical icons in American history?“ I was never aware that Dylan had a heroin addiction, but if true, I am not surprised. And his abusive use of alcohol would explain his erratic behavior both in concert and on the road. I believe I have personally seen him perform to both extremes.
But for some reason McDougal seems to have an unhealthy fixation on Dylan’s sex life and his discarding use of women. Though he does try, McDougal eventually fails in his attempt to portray Dylan as a buck in heat during rutting season. There is no doubt Dylan enjoyed many sexual opportunities due to his royal celebrity. He is probably the most famous American icon who has ever lived. My guess was a woman having sex with Bob Dylan was much different than a tumble in the hay with Robert Zimmerman. The one time I did express a bit of wonder over all these women falling for such a reported mess, with his bad teeth and tendency towards flight, my wife explained, “He’s Bob Dylan. Who wouldn’t want to be with Bob Dylan?”
There is no doubt the man did learn how to live and thrive in a world in which he constantly remade himself even in routinely risking his possible destruction. His work remains vital in spite of his more than five decades continuing to fan the music’s flames. Unlike other long-suffering artists from the sixties, such as the previously amazing Neil Young, Bob Dylan remains an original. And Dennis McDougal makes good use of interviews and available material in which to prove it. I had no idea Bob Dylan was such a real estate mogul. He has countless properties and businesses while remaining silent behind the scenes. Why the man wants as many homes he has is a bit of a conundrum to me, but most likely it is his investment portfolio that directs the management of his financial empire. Hard to imagine Bob Dylan a thriving businessman, but Dennis McDougal diligently follows his winding trail a long way from its humble beginnings on Macdougal Street.