Like a Rolling Stone

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Bob Dylan and his music have been part of the American fabric for more than forty years. In the early 1960’s, Dylan established himself as one of America’s most complex and insightful singer-songwriters. Since then, his lyrics have been scrutinized, fought over, and picked clean by scholars and fans alike. Over the years, much has been written about Dylan. There is a whole mythology about the man and his music that seems to have a life of its own. In 2004, Dylan published the first volume of his memoirs, Chronicles: Volume One. In this intriguing work, he makes it clear that he began his career with large ambitions. He wanted to become a songwriter who made a difference, who was a force of nature. He admired the likes of artist Pablo Picasso for being able to revolutionize the world that he inhabited.

Dylan’s first record album, Bob Dylan, was released in 1962. At this point in time, the artist clearly was part of the folk tradition. He had been influenced by such American folk music legends as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Little did the music world know that by 1965, Dylan would become almost “larger than life.” He shocked the folk music community at the Newport Folk Festival that year by playing an electric instead of an acoustic guitar. As evidenced by his performance, Dylan was not going to allow himself to be put into a restrictive box where innovation would be impossible. He was marching forward with a musical vision that would explode all preconceived notions of what a song could do.

During the late 1960’s, his stature as a cultural icon grew in exponential fashion. For his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan wrote what has come to be considered one of the greatest rock songs ever to be recorded. “Like a Rolling Stone” opens the album with its cutting and cryptic lyrics “Once upon a time you dressed so fine/ Threw the bums a dime, in your prime/ Didn’t you?” and “Never turned around to see the frowns/ On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did/ Tricks for you,” Here Dylan is in the listener’s face, in the faces of all those who believe that they are better than others. The long, strange history of this song and how it finally saw the light of day is at the core of Greil Marcus’s Like a Rolling Stone.

In the fall of 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published its list of the five hundred greatest rock songs of all time. “Like a Rolling Stone” was at the top. Marcus would concur with this ranking and, in his book, he gives the reader more than 250 pages of both persuasive and over-the-top arguments to make the case. Marcus began writing articles about Dylan in the late 1960’s. As he must have realized, no one who was seriously interested in writing about popular culture in general, and rock music specifically, could ignore Dylan. Throughout the years, Marcus has been an enthusiastic proponent of rock music. He is first and foremost a fan of the musical form. His enthusiasm has always been a part of his writing style. No matter what critical points he may make in his writing, at its core is a healthy love for what rock music can do for the American psyche.

Marcus began his career as a music critic in the late 1960’s at Rolling Stone. In 1975, his influential book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music was published. This landmark study of rock music was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Since the publication of this breakthrough study, Marcus has gained the reputation as...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Booklist 101, no. 14 (March 15, 2005): 1255.

Choice 42 (July/August, 2005): 1996.

The Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2005, p. 17.

Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 5 (March 1, 2005): 277.

Library Journal 130, no. 6 (April 1, 2005): 96.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 10, 2005, p. 6.

The Nation 280, no. 16 (April 25, 2005): 25-29.

New Statesman 134 (May 30, 2005): 49-51.

The New York Times Book Review 110 (July 3, 2005): 12.

Publishers Weekly 252, no. 8 (February 21, 2005): 169.

San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 2005, p. E1.

Sunday Telegraph, May 15, 2005, p. 12.

The Washington Post, April 6, 2005, p. C10.