Technically speaking, Heylin’s approach hasn’t changed much in the 30 years since his last outing: his method is mostly chronological (with backward glances where the call of the past becomes irresistible, and the odd scurry where rock and roll history disappears in a cloud of smoke); and his style is easy-going conversational, with periodic lurches into alliteration (‘the Hibbing hustler’ etc) for intensifying effect. It works well; a more academic tone would have created a rupture between the book and its subject (Dylan has always had an anti-intellectual streak, as Heylin himself acknowledges), and anything more laid-back would seem like a subversion of biographical duty.
“I’d like to think my access to the vast archive... has produced a cohesive portrait akin to when some Renaissance masterpiece is restored to its truer self,” Heylin says in the introduction. It took me a while to realise that the Renaissance masterpiece he meant was his own Behind the Shades, which he also proclaims to be the most “factually reliable of all Dylan biographies”.
I can’t share Heylin’s astoundingly high regard for his own work, but if you do want to strip away the mystery and get a logbook on Dylan’s inescapable reality in time for his 80th birthday in May, this is the one for you.