Though I'm a big fan of Dylan's music, I always appreciated that he wasn't interested in being a celebrity or being a public character. I never really had any interest in learning the details of his personal life from biographies or movies, but I read a preview of this book some time back, and the fanciful descriptions of New York's folk scene in the 1960s really struck me. I could see the snow falling past the icy gray skyscrapers, and the ill-lit basement taverns retrofitted with a small stage before an audience of day-drinkers.
I have an interest in what I'll call, for lack of a better term, myth-making around popular music. I don't really believe in "art for art's sake;" I think that the stories we tell around musicians and musical scenes play a big role in how we appreciate the songs themselves. Someone could sing all the same notes as Leadbelly, but if they didn't shoot a man over a woman in 1918, it wouldn't sound as good.
So, what I wanted to learn was Bob Dylan had to say about the early folk revival scene, and I wanted it to be as romanticized and far from reality as possible. But it turned out the book jumped around in time, and while chapters on Dylan's early career bookend the memoir, the middle talks about his personal artistic struggles in the '70s and '80s.
Even though I'm not as old or successful as Dylan, I could relate to his disillusionment with the artistic process. It is hard to portray yourself as an artist who is one consistent person when in reality who we are and what we think changes every moment. Luckily for me, no one would ever ask me to perform a shitty poem I wrote when I was 21. In the old days, the press and the fans would turn the artist into a cartoon character, a mythical hero. These days, the artist is expected to cartoonize themselves over social media, even if their art is just mediocre short stories in obscure literary journals.
This is the downside to myth-making around art: while it deepens the connections that people have to the work, it creates unrealistic expectations for the artist to live up to, because at the end of the day, they're not Odysseus, a fantasy figure that remains the same for thousands of years, but a growing and moving human being.