The latest addition to the never-ending industry revolving around Bob Dylan clocks in at well over 500 pages, is but part one of a two-volume work, and attempts to place Dylan in the historical, sociological, political and musical context of America. It should come as no surprise, then, that Volume 1 takes the story only as far as 1975, with a 34-year-old Dylan having just released Blood on the Tracks. Depending on which version of events you prefer to believe, this was an album either inspired by the short stories of Chekhov (as per Dylan's own Chronicles) or Dylan's marital problems (as per Every Other Dylan Biography Ever Written). The strength of Once Upon a Time is that it draws on all the existing texts in order to if not exactly get to the truth of the matters, at least shine a light on some of the contradictions. The result is a work that is as knotty, beguiling, contrary, infuriating and ambitious as its subject. Perhaps it is even the most vital Dylan biography yet. Roll on Volume 2.
WB Gooderham is a freelance writer