There is some insight and a good deal of pure hooey in historian and Princeton prof Sean Wilentz’s book “Bob Dylan in America,” which Doubleday is publishing a couple of weeks hence. The New Yorker is offering a chapter from the tome on its Web site; perhaps more interestingly, the mag has also posted an interview with Wilentz by Alex Ross, the magazine’s esteemed music critic. (Ross’ “The Rest is Noise” is a must-read.)
The mag’s excerpt — the book’s second chapter, about the influence of Beat writers on Dylan’s writing — is one of the more readily digestible parts of Wilentz’s work. At times his writing gets so overheated that the book threatens to burst into flames in one’s hands; the chapter on Dylan and Aaron Copland, to which Ross refers, is a real stretcher.
But we’ll leave it to you to say “yea” or “nay,” and we’ll give Wilentz some credit for sticking up for Dylan in the face of recent accusations of plagiarism. Take that, Joni!