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Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan

By: Ian Bell
Narrated by: David Thorpe
Length: 26 hrs and 12 mins
4 out of 5 stars (30 ratings)

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Summary

The ultimate biography of Bob Dylan.

Half a century ago, a youth appeared from the American hinterland and began a cultural revolution. The world is still coming to terms with what he did. How he did it - and why - has never been fully explored.

In Once Upon a Time, award-winning writer Ian Bell draws together the tangled strands of the many lives of Bob Dylan in all their contradictory brilliance. For the first time, the laureate of modern America is set in his entire context: musical, historical, literary, political, and personal.

In this acclaimed book, full of new insights into the legendary singer, his songs, his life and his era, the artist who invented himself in order to reinvent America is uncovered. Once Upon a Time is a biographical study of a personality that has splintered and reformed, time after time, in a country forever struggling to understand itself. Dylan has become the puzzle that illuminates. Here, in the first part of a major two-volume work, the puzzle is explained.

Born, raised and educated in Edinburgh, Ian Bell is a past holder of the George Orwell Prize for Political Journalism and the award-winning author of Dreams of Exile, a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. Formerly the Scottish editor of The Observer, he is a columnist with The Herald and the Sunday Herald.

©2012 Ian Bell (P)2013 Audible Ltd

Critic reviews

“This is the best Dylan biography yet - an imagined reliving of an already imaginary life, and a book to sit alongside Ellmann on Wilde, Richardson on Picasso, Ackroyd on Dickens.” (Financial Times)
“As knotty, beguiling, contrary, infuriating and ambitious as its subject ... the most vital Dylan biography yet.” (The Guardian)
“Bell's literary bent is his strength. He brings fresh insight into Dylan's verse.” (Scotland on Sunday)
“Bell's analysis is as sharp and intelligent as his award-winning political journalism. Definitely a ‘must-have’ Dylan book.” (The Herald)"

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Painful and above all dull

You can only listen to this telling of Bob Dylan 's life for so long before either nodding off (don't listen when operating heavy machinery) or switching off the device.

Firstly, the author takes a scathing tone to anyone he encounters. He gleefully addresses their shortcomings before grudgingly accepting that they probably were a genius. This does take it's toll after a while.

Secondly, it's clear that the author got nowhere near to Bob Dylan in terms of contact. So instead he combs through interminable details of conjecture in what other people said or did, public records, newspapers. He spends ridiculous amounts of time pleasuring himself with fruitless philosophical arguments that result from this.

Finally, it is painfully slow. Painfully slow.

Avoid unless you are a hardcore Dylan fan.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • ed
  • 23-05-19

From Birth to Blood on the Tracks

perfectly digestible stuff, nothing too taxing to get one's head around. sometimes feels Bell is telling you what you want to hear, but certainly does tidy up some of the looser ends. he is quick to dismiss some sources constantly, but seems confident in coming up with explanation and replacement. Well read, voice doesn't get too irritating, with a rather entertaining impression of Dylan and slightly drawn out verse readings of the lyrics, which certainly makes you think twice, which you have the time to.

looking forward to get goinf on the sequel. if you have dedicated time to get through something it this length and density then go for it, though some love and previous knowledge of Dylan would be required. I feel if one wants to drop in and out of this, it may be a struggle to keep up with the previous parts .

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Dylan for the purest

A very thorough in depth delivery about a very complicated genius. Not for the casual listener.If you want to know who and what Bob Dylan is all about and how he came about this is a must listen.David Thorpe narrates with top class delivery.

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  • Dermot
  • 13-07-15

A life lived in music and role play

Excellent account of this most unique of celebrities and singer-song writer performers. His talent, his life lived hidden from the public behind his many personas. And the turbulent modern times he lived in. A beautiful written and crafted book: biography, literary criticism, socio-economc history of the USA, & metaphysical treatise. And well read by the narrator, who adds polish to the smart prose bringing the audio-experience to a bright sheen. Highly recommended to Dylan fans and anyone who enjoys beautifal and intelligent writing.