Author Clinton Heylin is well known in Ohio for his book, From The Velvets to the Voidoids, which positioned, for the first time, Cleveland, Akron & Kent, Ohio as an epicenter of punk, along with New York and London. He’s better known elsewhere as the worldwide authority on Bob Dylan, having written ten books on the artist.
CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready spoke with Clinton Heylin about his latest book, The Double Life of Bob Dylan: A Restless, Hungry Feeling 1941-1966, in a lengthy interview covering a wide range of topics from Dylan’s first masterpiece to why so many of Dylan’s most famous songs were made famous by other people. View the video interview here.
Clinton Heylin was a guest on the recent Dylan 8.0 livestream celebrating Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, which also featured CWRU professor Daniel Goldmark and former Rock Hall archivist Anastasia Karel, with Dylan songs by The Modern Electric, Papi and the Smears, Vanity Crash and Jenna Fournier. If you missed the show, you can watch it on demand anytime this week here.
Find the new book, The Double Life of Bob Dylan here.
The Double Life of Bob Dylan cinematically outlines the early days through the first five years of the Nobel laureate’s storied career, using flashbacks and foreshadowing to spotlight connections, references and back stories, right up to the motorcycle accident that changed his life. Here the book ends abruptly, whetting one’s appetite for Heylin’s second and possible third book in this multi-volume biography.
The level of detail in The Double Life is so intimate, it is recommended that the reader familiarize themselves with the outline of Dylan‘s life and career before delving in. Rather than attempting to create the definitive version of this mercurial story, Heylin doubles down on the multitude of conflicting reports and Dylan’s own unreliable versions of events and anecdotes, offering ever more tantalizing shading and flavor to three-dimensionalize the ever-changing portrait of one of the most enigmatic figures in music history.
In 2016, Bob Dylan sold his personal archive to the George Kaiser Family Foundation at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma for an estimated $22 million. Once they started unpacking the boxes, however, they had no choice but to call Clinton Heylin at his home in Somerset, England, to help assess the motherlode they had just received.
As soon as he gained access to those archives (original lyric sheets, film outtakes, abandoned projects, master tapes), Heylin, who has already written numerous (6? 8? 10?) books on Bob Dylan (one book on all Dylan’s recording sessions, two on each song he’s ever written, one examining his life day-by-day…), along with a slew of other books (on the Sex Pistols, The Velvet Underground, Bruce Springsteen, the music publishing business, madness in British rock…), immediately got started on The Double Life. He jokes that if this first volume of 704 pages covers only the first five years of Dylan’s career, the remaining 55 years would probably deserve 7744 pages. Following the endlessly fascinating career, life and music of Bob Dylan guarantees that Clinton Heylin will indeed be a very busy man for a very long time.
The Double Life of Bob Dylan meticulously documents Dylan’s fully-formed talent and astounding performance personae, right from his earliest days. Heylin achieves this through his access to and comprehensive knowledge of between-song banter on master tapes, the “wavy-gravy” typewritten drafts of songs scrawled with Dylan’s hand-written changes & corrections, cutting-room outtakes of documentary films Don’t Look Back and Eat The Document, rough drafts of Tarantula, Dylan’s book of poetry, and Chronicles, Dylan’s ostensible autobiography, and Heylin’s masterful recall of every bootlegged version of every live Dylan performance. Probably not surprising from the guy who wrote the bible on the subject, Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry.
Illustrating this, when we asked Heylin to give us his first thoughts off the top of his head as we threw song titles his way, the author calmly responded by naming the date and venue where the artist performed his finest version of that song, in the author’s estimation, versions only available on bootlegs. And to hear that Heylin believes that only two artists have recorded Dylan songs that top versions by the artist himself, particularly for an artist as universally covered as he is, defies the imagination. (Television’s version of Knocking On Heaven’s Door, and Van Morrison’s take on It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, in case you’re as incredulous as we were).
Here’s how we suggest you read The Double Life: strap on your best set of Bluetooth headphones, pull up your favorite streaming service (we recommend TIDAL or Qobuz, but you may need YouTube for some of the rarities), and follow along, listening to each song and album as Heylin mentions them, peeling back layer after layer, revealing new interpretations, fresh connections, transformative revelations. It’s guaranteed you’ll come away with an updated favorites playlist, and a more tangible understanding of our greatest songwriter.
In an era of Twitter-induced shorthand, Heylin’s exhaustive (but not exhausting) deep dive is a welcome indulgence.
Find the new book, The Double Life of Bob Dylan here.