Saturday, December 29, 2018

Book Reviews Reloaded: Another Side of Bob Dylan

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on April 7, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Another Side of Bob Dylan -- Victor & Jacob Maymudes
St Martin's Press
304 Pages

I have a confession to make. I am a big fan of Bob Dylan. I know that some people love to hate him, while his biggest fans are rabid. I am definitely a big fan. So, when I saw a book at the library on the new, nonfiction book about Dylan, I grabbed it before anyone else could.  Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor and Jacob Maymudes is billed as an insider’s account of Bob Dylan’s life. Sadly, this simply is not the case.

The book presented barely touches upon the life and times of Bob Dylan. It is transcribed from tapes left behind by Victor about his life. His son, Jacob, wrote this book from those tapes and slapped on a title to lure in the unsuspecting reader.

The book does have some interesting stories to tell from the 60s and 70s. Victor Maymudes was Dylan’s tour manager in the early 1960s and then again 1986-1996. Theoretically, he would have a unique insight on the life of the elusive Bob Dylan. However, he is more interested in name dropping all the famous people who owed their success to him than telling us about the rock star.

The book begins with a heartfelt story about the loss of Jacob’s mother’s house in a fire. Their handbuilt home was gutted by fire and all their possessions destroyed, including the urn and ashes of Victor. However, Jacob had at his own home the tapes his father had dictated in preparation of writing a book about Bob Dylan. It’s a great setup for the book. Now only if the ensuing work lived up to that potential.

Victor talks a lot about himself and meeting Dylan. At the very beginning, we get a good look at the young bard and his entry into folk and rock music. Dylan returns to the narrative near the end of the book, but is relegated to a shadowy presence throughout the rest of the book. Honestly, although his name appears in the title, we get very little of him.

The tapes gives the reader a meandering tale of a man who, near the end of his life, wanted to cash in on his position as tour manager for one of the biggest draws in music. Fired and broke, he sold the idea of a tell-all to a publishing house. When he died suddenly in 2001, his son took up the reigns after discovering the tapes in his possession.

What we’re given is the voice of a man who had ideals he tried to live up to in a turbulent decade, desperately trying to hold on to those ideals long after they were relevant. Frankly, you can’t rail against the corporations and their money, stating that money really means nothing, and then run to those very same corporations to score a lucrative deal when you actually have no money. It smacks of hypocrisy.

This could have been a good book, with some conditions. First, either the title would have to be changed, or actually written about the subject for whom it was titled. Secondly, the incessant name dropping would have to cease. Most of the time, the people mentioned have absolutely no bearing on the story being told and serves no purpose other than to stroke an ego. Lastly, get over your own self-importance and tell the story of what was going on around you. Victor was not solely responsible for the success of the protests of the 1960s, nor was he responsible for the successes of those people around him. In his own history, Victor Maymudes made himself the center of not only his universe, but also that of everyone around him.

I was completely duped by this book. The publishing company should be ashamed of billing this as a Bob Dylan biography. They were cashing in on a name and left me high and dry. It was disappointing to say the least. The stories contained could have stood on their own merit as a life on the road, but relied too much on mentioning every celebrity of the era and drawing on the mystique of Bob Dylan.

As with any oral history, the tales told are disjointed and sometimes inarticulate. The editor (Jacob) needed to not only relay the words of his father from the tapes, he also needed to give the readers some historical context. Of course, Victor knew exactly about what he was speaking. However, being so familiar with the subject he often skipped over pieces that he assumed everyone knew. It makes the story difficult to follow at times.

Another Side of Bob Dylan may be for the completists, just for the tiny bit of new information added to the Bob Dylan canon. However, in my opinion, this book was a complete false flag relying on name recognition to draw the reader into a story about nothing in particular. I was very disappointed with the time I spent on this book. This was a memoir of a man who worked with Bob Dylan. Interesting, but it was not about Bob Dylan.

Craig Bacon isn’t related to Kevin Bacon, but he thinks he is. He also knows William Shatner, Scott Leffler, and Prince Charles. Really, he does