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Gary Younge

Power packed: Bob Dylan
Blowin' the gaff: Dylan to tell all

Dylan, who at the age of 63 is planning to go on tour with Willie Nelson this summer, is set to focus on significant and influential periods of his life in the first of three books called simply Chronicles: Volume One, according to his publisher.

Both icon and iconoclast, Dylan once said: "The easiest way to do something is just don't ask anybody's opinion. I mean, if you really believe in what you're doing. I've asked people's opinion and it's been a great mistake ..."

The result was a wilful and unpredictable star who rose to prominence in the early 60s with a musical range that extended from folk to blues and from rock to gospel and an aesthetic style that drew from the beatniks and hippies.

His rise and influence produced a small industry of critics, polemicists and sociologists, who have examined both his lyrics and his broader social significance

Meanwhile, Dylan, who converted from Judaism to become a born-again Christian and then went back again, shifted from acoustic to electric guitar, and entered a secret marriage, has managed to reveal relatively little about himself.

Now, in a book his publisher describes as "extraordinary, revealing and surprising" and "a beautifully written, singular achievement", he is going to speak for himself.

The 304-page tome is due out on October 12, published by Simon and Schuster and will be followed about a week later by an updated edition of Lyrics: 1962-2001, a compendium of lyrics to nearly every Dylan song.

Born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan left the University of Minnesota, where, stirred by the poet Dylan Thomas, he changed his name and headed for New York's Greenwich Village scene at the start of the 1960s.

It was a familiar journey for a young man with a guitar and an attitude. The folk singer Joan Baez remembers seeing him play in the early days: "I heard a squeaky little rat singing in the Folk club in the Village and I was just stoned. I mean he was obviously one out of a couple of million."

But inspired by the folk leg end Woody Guthrie, Dylan soon made his mark. A review of one of his concerts in 1961, which described his voice as "anything but pretty" and his career trajectory as "straight up", helped to propel him to stardom. Next day, John Hammond signed Dylan to Columbia Records.

His songs Blowin' in the Wind and The Times They are a-Changin' became anthems for a generation in the throes of a sexual revolution, mass opposition to the Vietnam war, and civil rights protests. Later, he would shift to more introspective material, and later still added electric instrumentation as he helped to create the folk-rock sound and scored a big singles hit with Like a Rolling Stone.

More recently, even as he was introduced on tour as the "poet laureate of rock 'n' roll," both he and his music appeared in a lingerie commercial for a United States chain, Victoria's Secret.

While Dylan sold millions of records on his own, some of his songs are best known through recordings by others, such as Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, The Byrds and The Band.

Dylan was given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammies in 1991 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen in 1988. He previously published Tarantula, a 1971 volume of poems.

· Simon & Schuster Inc. is the publishing arm of Viacom.

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