What on the surface would seem to be a somewhat sordid tell-all book turns out to be a fast-paced, witty and altogether self-deprecating story of a Bob Dylan fan. Britta Lee Shain is devoted way past the point of familiarity most of his followers ever attain, but anyone devoted to this man’s work more than just superficially should be able to see themselves in the author.
Seeing the Real You At Last is an insider story that sounds true to life, with little apparent embellishment and, as such, is a work the likes of which its subject might’ve wanted to quash via legality at some point in his career. It helps that most of the action, so to speak, takes place during the mid-to late Eighties period when, despite some blatant ennui and slightly-camouflaged self-abuse, Bob Dylan took part in some of the most curiously fascinating endeavors of his storied career, namely, touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead. Shain offers little more than a dilettante’s insight into those two collaborations however, as her curiosity about Dylan’s working methods don’t extend far enough to move her sufficiently to wrangle her way into rehearsals
Written in a sort of diary format, Shain’s able to avoid over repetition to a point by injecting Bob Dylan anecdotes judiciously enough to generate some suspense when the rounds of parties, concerts and other special events might turn predictable. It’s not necessary to read the blurbs on this book’s dust cover to know the author’s affection (and latent) desire for Dylan, but she shrewdly parcels out his expressions of interest in her, so much so, in fact, anyone reading this has to wonder where fact ends and fiction begins. But if you’re a Dylan fan—and only those would and should read Life and Love on the Road with Bob Dylan—that’s a moot point.
Especially because by the time the book stutters and stumbles to its conclusion, it becomes all too plausible the title refers to the author as much as the object of her affections. By the time the couple consummate their relationship, it’s anticlimactic and taking into account Shain’s study of psychology and her therapy sessions, plus the random liaisons Dylan arranges even when she’s on tour with him minus her significant other, it’s hard to fathom how she much she struggles to grapple with the fracture of their relationship and subsequently bring that segment of her life to some measure of closure.
In the end, had Seeing the real You At Last might better have come to a much quicker end, with its epilogue used as its forward, and a quick summary of the aftermath of the Dylan dalliance. Then, the underlying (and presumably intended) premise of the book would be more clear; this writer’s highly-personal, intimate experience with Bob Dylan is most fans’ experience from afar. Any devotee of the man with a modicum of objectivity would admit to being inspired and/or fulfilled by Bob’s work, yet still teased, disappointed and seemingly abandoned by his behavior during the course of his extended career. As much as Britta Lee Shain may have written Seeing the Real You at Last for herself, she wrote it for all such loyal followers of The Bard From Minnesota and deserves kudos for performing that act of psycho-analysis by proxy.