Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet

Scribner  2009


Even with all the books that have been written about Bob Dylan, it’s great to have one that takes this approach. Seth Rogovoy’s gushing biographical work looks at the extraordinary singer-songwriter through a distinctly Jewish lens, placing him squarely in the prophetic tradition as he mines Dylan’s songs for references to Jewish texts. While acknowledging that Dylan’s songs also draw from concerns about politics, social issues, and identity, as well as his sometimes tortured love life, Rogovoy finds likely Jewish sources for lyrics in many of his songs, even locating a possible source for the song title “Idiot Wind” in the Talmud. This is no easy task, particularly given that Dylan has, for decades, proved to be a most unreliable source of information about himself and his work.

Rogovoy can’t help but deal with Dylan’s Christian period of the late 1970’s–early 1980’s, but even here he manages to point out that Dylan always maintained a connection to the traditions of his birth. One can fault the author for some heavy-handed observations on politics, other musicians, and even on the definition of tikkun olam, but the depth of his research is marvelous and his expertise on Dylan’s music (both his landmark songs and many of his obscure ones) is superb. This is a worthwhile addition to the growing library on one of America’s most important cultural figures. Bibliography.

Read Seth Rogovy's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album (Part 1)

Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: The Jewish Contribution to the ‘Holiday’ Genre (Part 2)

The Meaning of Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: The Music (Part 3)

Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: What Good Is It? (Part 4)

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