[see my discussion of volume one: Once Upon A Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan (2013)]
Picking up where volume one left off, Time Out of Mind explores the (self-)creation that is Bob Dylan from the mid-1970s down to the present. It is a detailed, careful, fascinating chronicle of an artist's evolution through the decades, his years of struggle to produce a worthwhile album after the inspired rush of creativity in the '60s, and his ultimate vindication (beginning in the late '90s) through music that could only have been written by an older, wiser Dylan.
Bell's approach, and not just the kaleidoscopic details of Dylan's life, is what makes this biography so eminently readable and enjoyable. Whether he's discussing critics' reviews of Dylan albums, or relating stories from the artist's so-called "Never Ending Tour," Bell holds nothing back. Politics? He jumps right in. Postmodern theory? BRING IT. Time Out of Mind is conversational without being casual, and comprehensive without being overwhelming.
Early on, Bell tells us exactly what he aims to do with a biography of a man who defies biographical analysis:
In these pages it will be argued...that in the process Dylan created a body of work - less sumptuous, less startling, less intoxicating - to match any of the products of his 1960s. He did it, moreover, while contending with everything, the whole accreted legend, the multiplicity of identities, that 'Bob Dylan' had come to mean. He did it while contending with age, with the fact of time, and with the burden of memory.
We learn here, for instance, about the Dylan's acceptance of evangelical Christianity beginning in the late '70s, even as he continues to observe Jewish traditions to the present day. We learn about his uneven performances on tour and Dylan's claim that only when he's on stage does his artistic life find its true meaning. Bell further breaks down and demolishes critics and academics who scour Dylan's work in search of plagiarized texts, when at the heart of the man's music is the folk and blues tradition that stretches back through America's past.
Bell effortlessly moves back and forth between careful readings of certain Dylan songs and broad analyses of American cultural history during the last forty years. It is this combination of detail and overview that makes Time Out of Mind stretch beyond 500 pages, but as with the first volume, it's worth every page.