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Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s

by Mike Marqusee, published by Seven Stories Press in October, 2005.

A revised and expanded version of the book first published as Chimes of Freedom in 2003. This new edition, in paperback, includes a discussion of Dylan’s Chronicles and Masked and Anonymous, as well as new material on Dylan’s relationship to country music, on Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.

“In this remarkable reflection on the culture of the sixties, Mike Marqusee restores the forgotten moral and political contexts of Dylan’s supernova years. In doing so, he rescues one of the most urgent poetic voices in American history from the condescension of his own later cynicism.”
– Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

“An extremely entertaining and significant work that speaks to the challenges of our present tense as much as it hymns a lyric genius for all times.”
Time Out

“A fascinating and detailed analysis… his narrative [has] freshness, vigour and purpose.” – Times Literary Supplement

“Buy This Now … Marqusee proves an able explainer of the tether between [the songs] and their era.” – Rolling Stone

“Complex yet accessible, this is a fascinating and entertaining book, enjoyable for the casual listener and the hardcore fan alike.” – WhatsonUK

“A brilliant history… analyses Dylan’s finger-pointing songs with clinical precision… ” – Uncut

“Fascinating and extremely well-written.” – Robert Elms, BBC Radio London

“An absolute joy to read… I’ve probably learned more from Chimes Of Freedom than any other Dylan book I’ve read over the past couple of years… both compelling and full of original insight.” – Derek Barker, editor, Isis

“A superbly constructed, researched and written book that captivates you from the opening pages … Marqusee comes across endearingly as a fan, without jeopardising his role as a clear-eyed and objective historian and interpreter of Dylan’s songs.” – Andrew Muir, editor, Judas!

“Marqusee knows his Dylan – in all of the artist’s complexity…. Marqusee’s history is aimed as much at the political future as Dylan’s past. The author has balanced fandom and intellect, politics and aesthetics, and history and pop in such a remarkable fashion as to unearth wisdom for the next generation without ever appearing didactic or strident… writing that manages simultaneously to rise to the level of it subject and respectfully shake it to its roots.”
– Jefferson Cowie, Reviews in American History

“In 2003, Marqusee published the excellent study Chimes of Freedom: the Politics of Bob Dylan’s Art. This refocussing of the attention upon Dylan’s early political songs – the so-called Protest Songs – was a timely and useful counterweight to the long general pull of Dylan studies and of opinion among Dylan aficionados that these songs are his least interesting. At the same time, Marqusee is eloquent on Dylan’s abandonment of such overt political writing, and acute on the difference between that and the abandoning of political consciousness itself. … Finally, Marqusee is unique among authors of books on Dylan in having given a series of public talks about Dylan in India in 2005.” – Michael Gray. The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia

From the Seven Stories Press catalogue:

A nuanced analysis of Bob Dylan’s response, through his music, to the political and social forces that shook America in the 1960s.

Bob Dylan’s abrupt abandonment of overtly political songwriting in the mid-1960s caused an uproar among critics and fans. In Wicked Messenger, acclaimed cultural-political commentator Mike Marqusee advances the new thesis that Dylan did not drop politics from his songs but changed the manner of his critique to address the changing political and cultural climate and, more importantly, his own evolving aesthetic.

Wicked Messenger is also a riveting political history of the United States in the 1960s. Tracing the development of the decade’s political and cultural dissent movements, Marqusee shows how their twists and turns were anticipated in the poetic aesthetic – anarchic, unaccountable, contradictory, punk – of Dylan’s mid-sixties albums, as well as in his recent artistic ventures in Chronicles, Vol. I and Masked and Anonymous.

Dylan’s anguished, self-obsessed, prickly artistic evolution, Marqusee asserts, was a deeply creative response to a deeply disturbing situation. “He can no longer tell the story straight,” Marqusee concludes, “because any story told straight is a false one.”

First published under the title Chimes of Freedom, now revised and expanded.