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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Sunday, December 13, 2009


Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, the third and final edition of my study of Dylan's work, was published ten years ago today.

There was a limited-edition hardback edition of 450 copies, each one signed and hand-numbered, and a simultaneous paperback. Both were published by Cassell Academic, in London. Shortly afterwards, there was a management buy-out of Cassell Academic when the whole Cassell group was about to be swallowed up by the Orion conglomerate. The ex-CA division fused with small US publisher Continuum, becoming Continuum International. (Fascinating stuff, huh?)

Anyway, that's why all but the very first printing of the paperback and the hardback have Continuum on the spine. The book has been reprinted many times since, most recently last year, and in theory is still on sale. In practice, the book is always out of stock in the UK and almost no-one in the States has ever heard of it.

It's a book I'm still proud of - it took me much of the 1990s to write it, and I'm thankful I kept going right through to the end - but there'll never be a Song & Dance Man IV. I don't really want to go in for any more long, close-to-the-text analysis of Dylan's work. I'm not sure I could even write an essay as long or as good as Peter Doggett's excellent piece on the latest album. Which is why, when I blog about Christmas In The Heart here very shortly, it'll be with conscientious care but with brevity.


Anonymous Kieran said...

Hi Michael,

It's a pity there won't be a fourth, but it's understandable. It's possibly even the greatest compliment you have paid to Mr Dylan: it takes too much work to keep up with him, regardless of what he's doing.

In this, of course, he has an advantage, but it's a shame that L&T won't be definitively explored and explained, alongside the loose conglom of movie tracks, the best of which is surely Across the Green Mountain.

I love S&D3, though, and some of the best chapters stand, in quality, alongside Alan Lomax beautiful work, "The Land Where The Blues Began."

6:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Never say never', Michael. Mind you there probably would have to be a lot more releases of the standard of "Love and Theft" to tempt you back to close textual analysis.

It seems a pity, to put it mildly, that we haven't got that chapter in a "Song & Dance Man" though.

PS I find it hard to believe a decade has passed already, btw. Homer

7:52 pm  
Blogger Ross McCague said...

As far as that Xmas album goes, I think you're too good a critic to write a barrelful of nonsense about what is essentially an amusing and touching footnote to his overall career and the society he inhabited. I prefer Dylan when we're laughing with him rather than at him, but he's good enough to allow for both and still emerge a defiant, transcendent artist of our times. He just has that many voices. Furthermore, I think you're book has taken the analysis far enough that anyone that reads it can learn to listen to further work he does with your guidance in mind without having it spelled out. I heard and understood Dylan differently ever after reading the first edition. My mother still blames that book for my obsession with him, and I know I'm not the only one.

12:06 am  
Anonymous Yvonne said...

As newcomer to Dylan, I was most grateful for your book which served as a most thorough guide to bring me up to speed. I enjoyed Peter Doggett's piece on the Christmas album, and thought he nailed it perfectly.

I saw Dylan again in Kitchener, Ont., in early November, and he was in fine form. Charlie Sexton made it a real difference in comparision to the performance I saw in Hamilton, Ont., a year before. Dylan was re-energized and you could hear the words - a very enjoyable concert that left us on a high.

We newcomers to Dylan are grateful that he's still around and that with luck we can see him because he tours so relentlessly. Perhaps we are not be as demanding of him as his first converts.

1:24 am  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

one of the most important books ive read...many thanks for all the work you put into writing it.although i certainly agree with the other commenters that it is a real shame there will not be another addition.however I can imagine it was an exhausting process to undertake and the idea of more of the same is one you dont relish.
anyway i can always wish
cheers michael

10:14 am  
Anonymous Bev said...

As a newcomer to this site I'd just like to echo some of the comments above - it's a great book, and if there was ever an IV I'm sure it would also be good (but don't stress yourself doing it on our account...)

6:51 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Your comments are heartening and kind. Much appreciated.

8:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read all the critical works on Dylan, but I think I have read all the major ones, and yours is the only one I really enjoyed; it's also the one I learned the most things from (the only thing that probably taught me more about Dylan is The Telegraph, but then that was a magazine published over a number of years). I wonder how many new Dylan albums we have left to enjoy? It would be a shame not to do one more update, but it's your baby.

10:58 pm  
Blogger Judas Priest said...

I too have enjoyed dipping into Song and Danceman on a repeated basis over the years Michael and would echo the sentiment that it would be very nice indeed to read a full chapter on your one modern Dylan love (or at least strong like-perhaps "love" is pushing it...). If I could cheekily offer one incentive...I think we can take it that the next volume of a certain Mr Heylin's book will almost certainly completely pan Love & Theft. Perhaps you should respond to redress the balance...?(!)

12:20 pm  

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