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TRUTH ABOUT TAMBOURINE MAN

Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes (Random House, Rs 699).

Don’t keep writing poetry, please don’t. Go to school and do something constructive… get a degree.” Fortunately, Bob Dylan paid no heed to this advice dished out by his mother Beatty in 1959. Now in his 60th year, with innumerable pictures and words charting a detailed trajectory of his life, is there anything new left to say about this man? Apparently yes, as this book proves.

Three years and 250 interviews — that’s what Howard Sounes has put into this biography. While Dylan himself, quite predictably, refused to contribute to it, Sounes has done nothing if not a thorough job, researching almost every aspect of this “song and dance man”.

While he maintains a sympathetic voice throughout, Sounes doesn’t shy away from breaking down the man before building him up again. In fact, in the opening chapters, Dylan is practically pulled down from his pedestal. We discover his propensity for prevarication. We learn that when he made his way to Denver in the summer of 1960, people avoided the “grubby faux hobo” and he couldn’t get a job to play anywhere. We also learn that the young Bob stole albums from his friends, and how, when he became famous, he would often pretend not to know people who had helped him when he was down and out. Perhaps that’s why one of Dylan’s old friends describes him as “a very lonely man. So few people left in the world… that he [can] talk to.”

What ultimately comes through is the image of a wandering musician, fully committed to the Never Ending Tour. Despite his faults and frailties, this performer was born for a life on the road. A peripatetic musician, he often opted to sleep on friends’ couches, because he liked it, even when he owned several properties. What also comes through is that no matter how many biographers may try, the essence of Dylan — what he is “about” — still remains a mystery. As he replied to a question posed in 1966 by Playboy magazine on what his songs were about: “Oh, some are about four minutes; some are about five, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven.”

Thumbs Up: Dylan buffs will love the fact that Sounes manages to ferret out new information on the life of this man whose every move has been scrutinised for the better part of his life. Most notably, he reveals that in 1986 Dylan secretly married one of his backing singers, Carolyn Dennis, who had had his sixth child. While details of this six-year marriage remains a mystery, it does show how adept Dylan was at keeping his life private, making him even more of an enigma.

Revelations aside, the book is packed with anecdotes that offer rare glimpses into Dylan’s life. From the boyish games he played in school to his (busy) sex life, pretty much every fact and story you want to know about the man is contained within the covers of this book. Also, look out for the pictures, which include some of Dylan’s old loves and several of him performing.

Thumbs down: While Sounes’s biography is chock-a-block with information, he loses points on two counts. One, his even-paced, measured style of writing lacks passion at times; previous biographies of Dylan are more stylishly written. Two, strangely enough, while we learn much about Bob the man, the book hardly delves too deep into what made the man who he is — his music. For example, Sounes lets the trinity of defining ’60s albums — Blonde on Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited — go unexplored. This leaves one with a vaguely unsatisfied feeling that the book doesn’t quite manage to get to the heart of Bob Dylan.

t2 tip: Dylan fans, if you want to know more about your man, this is your book. You can flip through this tome for years and never exhaust your supply of Dylan trivia. But be warned — if Dylan is your god, he may appear significantly more human after reading this book.

MEMORIES OF MUMBAI

Mystery and Mumbai have come together in Calcutta boy Rajorshi Chakraborti’s fourth book, Mumbai Rollercoaster (Hachette India, Rs 295), which was launched at Crossword, Elgin Road, on November 24.

Rajorshi Chakraborti at the launch of his fourth book Mumbai Rollercoaster. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray

“I have always loved mystery stories. Another reason behind this book is my mother, a high school teacher, who wanted me to write a novel for youngsters, like her students,” said the 34-year-old.

Rajorshi, who grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in New Zealand, read out excerpts from Mumbai Rollercoaster before an audience of mostly high schoolers.

But why Mumbai? Rajorshi, whose previous three books were either set in Calcutta or gave glimpses of the city, explained that he had lived in Maximum City 20-odd years back. But he confessed that while writing he realised that his memories were of “Bombay” while his novel was set in “Mumbai”.

“Also, I was there as a child, but now I had to look at the city as a teenager,” said the author, whose maiden novel, Or the Day Seizes You, was shortlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2006.

Mumbai Rollercoaster revolves around young lovers Rahul and Zeenat who, like most teens, hide their relationship from parents and meet up secretly in an abandoned building. Finding a vacant space for yourself is a luxury in Mumbai and the couple are happy. Till Rahul finds a body in the old building. Suddenly their idyllic world starts to crumble and as temptations and threats pile up, the big question looming is will Zeenat and Rahul stay together?

“Writing a mystery novel was just as challenging as the previous books. But I applied my thumb rule here — to surprise my own self,” laughed Rajorshi.