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Friday, 20 April, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Dylanology lives on
Bob Dylan
Sounes reveals new information on Bob Dylan
By Bob Eggington

If anybody deserves the title "Legend of Rock n' Roll" it is surely Bob Dylan.

His captivating melodies, mesmerising lyrics and enigmatic personality have given him legendary, if not mythical status in the world of popular music.

Millions of words have been written about him, in books, academic studies, newspaper articles and Internet newsgroups.

His life and work has probably been more closely studied than that of any other musician. Roll over Beethoven.

Howard Sounes
Sounes was born in 1965, so missed Dylan bursting on to the scene
Yet there is always room on a true Dylan fan's shelves for a book that tells a little bit more about this extraordinary, mysterious man.

Howard Sounes has managed, despite difficulties, to come up with such a book. His new biography of Dylan, Down the Highway (published by Doubleday, April 5), earns its place alongside the better examples of Dylanology.

Sounes's difficulties were many. It is not just that he was born in 1965, and therefore missed out on the excitement of watching Dylan burst onto the scene with an outpouring of albums that still remain his best work.

Nor is it just that he was unable to gain access to the man himself or any of his closest friends and family. (Dylan doesn't talk to the Press - and nor does anyone who wants to stay close to him.)

On top of all that, Sounes seems to have been denied permission to quote extensively from Dylan's songs - a terrible burden for a biographer of a man who wrote some of the best lyrics in history.

His disclosure that Dylan married one of his backing singers, Carolyn Dennis, in 1986, and the couple had a child together, was previously unknown

But the young British author plugged away, gathered an impressive collection of new interviews and information and finally came out with the scoop that has ensured huge publicity for this book.

His disclosure that Dylan married one of his backing singers, Carolyn Dennis, in 1986, and the couple had a child together, was previously unknown to the media and therefore to most of Dylan's fans.

I was more impressed, though, by a much smaller disclosure. Like Sounes, I had assumed that Dylan's 1963 song, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, was based on an historic incident.

Black hotel maid Hattie Carroll died after being beaten with a cane by a Mr William Zantzinger, a guest at a charity ball.

It was amazing to read that the incident had happened not in the ancient past, but in the same year the song was recorded. Furthermore, William Zantzinger was still alive and living in Maryland, where Sounes got through to him.

I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon

Bob Dyan on leaving hospital
Zantzinger says the song is inaccurate. And as for Bob Dylan: "He's a no-account son of a bitch. He's just like a scum of a bag [sic] of the earth. I should have sued him and put him in jail."

This biography can be criticised on several grounds - most of it is not new, and I should have liked some more examples of Dylan's dry humour.

One quote that does get through is Dylan's comment after being taken ill in 1997 with an inflammation around the heart. His condition had been described as "potentially fatal".

On release from hospital Dylan commented: "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon."

But he lives on - and so does the fascination with his life and music. Howard Sounes has produced a lively and readable biography to feed the insatiable appetite of Dylan's avid followers.

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