Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and One Hella Nation Under God

[image-1]And now, in Revolution in the Air, Heylin sets out to write an essay on every song Bob Dylan has written. This is the first of two proposed volumes and it focuses on Dylan’s writing from his high school days to his re-emergence from a fallow period in 1973.

If you’re a fan, books like these are swallowed whole. And that’s easy to do – a real compliment to Heylin’s writing, which might explain his arrogant-with-portfolio attitude. (And the occasional shots at his fellow rock writers.)

Heylin’s essays on Dylan’s best-known work are some of the best things written about the artist. The pieces on the never-released . . .  hell never-even-recorded . . . songs are tantalizing.

Dylan remains one of the most interesting figures in popular culture and – along with[image-2]

But it’s nice, while he is still an active artist (his 52nd official release, Together Through Life, hits stores on April 28), to have Heylin around to help us appreciate the accomplishments of His Grand Exalted Mystic Bobness.

ON THE ROAD . . . AGAIN: Dylan listed Jack Kerouac as a major influence on his life and art. Who of Dylan’s generation was not affected by Kerouac’s monumental-and-immediate On the Road? But the young readers whose impressionable adolescence paralleled  the Beat Generation are well into their AARP years now.

For young wannabe hipsters, there needs to be a cram course in Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs and all of those other writers who  shook up the world a half century ago.

[image-3]Now there is. The Beats (Hill and Wang, $22) is a great primer on the major writers, works and events of that generation. It’s written and illustrated by a committee of 17 authors and artists. It’s a graphic history – done in comic form – and it is both hugely informative and massively entertaining.

The bulk of the book is by Harvey Pekar, the former staple of David Letterman’s show and the man behind American Splendor. Pekar writes the narrative of the Kerouac / Ginsberg / Burroughs storyline and that narrative is illustrated by Ed Piskor. The text is lively and often quite funny. The art matches Pekar’s style and if Piskor’s Kerouac doesn’t much look like the man we see sad-eyed in those well-known photographs, after a while, you just don’t care because the book is so good.

Half the book is devoted to Pekar / Piskor’s work. The remainder pulls together a variety of styles and approaches and tries to touch on every Beat writer of significance.

Let's not forget Kerouac's strong ties to the Bay Area (he died in St. Petersburg at age 47) or the Kerouac House over in Orlando. This part of the state played a significant part in the writer's life.

This subject could have easily spawned some boring academic treatise that wrung the life out of the energy in the writers’ work. Instead, The Beats matches the work of its namesake generation with wonderful writing and an innovative graphic look.

Like the Dylan book, The Beats can be swallowed whole.

TALKIN’ BOUT MY HELLA NATION: You might find yourself lingering more over  Evan Wright’s [image-4]

Wright’s approach makes me wonder what Kerouac might have been like as a journalist. (And maybe he was. But that’s a discussion for another day, preferably with an icy Shock Top involved.)

Wright did time gaining life experience before turning to journalism, when he started as articles editor at Hustler. Kids, this might not be the best career path for someone interested in a Serious Literary Career, but it worked for Wright.

These pieces appeared originally in Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, Vanity Fair and, of course, Hustler. They include his twisted look at white supremacist groups, skateboarding and the world of porn. Hence the title.

It’s not the prettiest picture of the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it’s certainly honest.  Comparisons to Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson (the name most often evoked in describing Wright’s work) don’t do the guy justice. He’s original and this Hella Nation he’s dealing with would make Kerouac run for cover and perhaps even scare the bejeebus out of Dr. Thompson.

Curl up in bed with Wright’s brilliant book and thank your Spiritual Being du Jour that you are not . . . out there.

COMING TO INKWOOD: Here are a couple of events bearing down on us at Inkwood Books, 216 S. Armenia Ave., Tampa:

Friday, 7 p.m.: Donald Morrill and Ellen Dore Watson will appear for a reading and signing. Morrill’s new collection of “intimate prose pieces in varied formats” is called Impetuous Sleeper (Mid-List Press, $16). It’s been called (by Library Journal)  ”a compelling amalgamation of musings, journal entries, dreams, memories, letters, stories…and the detritus of the mind in twilight states of consciousness. By presenting insight into the inner workings of the author’s mind, the book forces readers to confront their own dreams, histories, and ideas.” Morrill is interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Tampa and former director of the Writers at the University series. Watson’s fourth poetry collection, This Sharpening (Tupelo Press, $15.95), covers the big ground of marriage, divorce and motherhood. Critic Robert Pinsky called Watson “eloquent, passionate…tender, (and) wildly inventive.” 

Sunday, 2 p.m.: Vincenza Scarpaci will discuss her recent book, The Journey of the Italians in America (Pelican, $40).  Brooklyn-born Sicilian-American Scarpaci is an immigration expert and has taught history p at Seton Hall and the University of Oregon. The new book traces the Italian influence on American philosophy, politics, science, art, and of course, food. Communities across the country - including Tampa - are featured, with narrative as well as hundreds of photographs.

BEAM ME ACROSS THE BAY, SCOTTY: Author Steve Kelley will speak between 3-4 p.m. Saturday at Haslam's Books, 2025 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, about his new release Star Trek: The Collectibles

(Krause, $24.99). 

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist. 

It might be fun to watch some of these big-time rock critics take each other on in a creamed-corn wrestling match. Some of them have such bile and bitterness that it might be nice to see them exorcise their anger in a tub of gooey vegetable product.

And what makes them so angry? Why, each other, of course.

British rock critic / historian Clinton Heylin has always been amusing because of the jabs he takes at other rock writers in his books. Mention Heylin’s name in the presence of Springsteen’s Boswell, Dave Marsh, for example, and Marsh is likely to go apoplectic. (All unfair, I might add. Marsh remains one of the best and most literate of all rock writers. But Heylin left him out of his huge anthology of rock writing, The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing. That’s like leaving one of the apostles out of the Bible.)

So Heylin takes some of his usual shots at that huge subset of rock writers called Bob Dylan Experts in his new book, Revolution in the Air (Chicago Review Press, $29.95). Slamming other rock writers is just part of the territory for Heylin.

Heylin is no stranger to Dylanology. He wrote Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades in 1991, an oral history biography that has been once revised. He also meticulously went through Columbia Records’ archives to produce Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, an indispensible book covering Dylan’s studio work from 1960 to 1994.

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