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new in Popular Music
The Lives and Work of Bob Dylan

For a recent article in Popular Music discussing writings on Bob Dylan, Simon Frith reviews Timothy Hampton’s Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to access the full article or see the button to the left. An excerpt appears below:

Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work is the best analytic study of the songwriter’s craft that I have ever read.Hampton is a close listener rather than a close reader. His focus is on ‘how Dylan gets his job done’ and his starting point is that.

As a master of citation, a combiner, a collagist, a paster, a thickener, Dylan is able to add a new density to song. His singing persona functions as a kind of medium or vehicle through which a listener can glimpse or hear the sonic landscape of some other moment or territory where‘Bob Dylan’, the composer, seems to roam … He turns again and again to the relationship between the ‘now’ and the ‘future’, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the archaic, the premodern, the quaint. To a degree unrivaled by any popular modern artist Dylan is a miner of old forms, an expeditionary heading back into the hoary world of predigital models of expression – old songs, old sentences, old images, old chords.

Hampton’s analyses have a similar kind of density, a similar offer to the reader to go roaming in Dylan’s songworld, to meet with Woody Guthrie, Arthur Rimbaud and Bertolt Brecht, to eavesdrop on Plutarch and Kerouac, St Augustine and Jay Gatsby. Hampton argues that Dylan’s work ‘unfolds through a shifting set of innovations and discoveries – different ‘poetics’ if you will – that often involve engagement with other types of writing or singing’.”