Most of my friends and – especially – my family regard me as a Dylan obsessive. I have every album in almost every re-mastered manifestation. I have thousands of shows. I have complete sets of The Telegraph and The Bridge and Isis. I have signed firsts of Tarantula and Chronicles, the latter in both US and UK editions. I have shelves full of biographies and analysis. I have on my office walls signed photographs and original flybills dating back to 1961. I have attended concerts pretty much every year since 1965. Each morning I check the set lists from his last gig even before the Red Sox box score. And barely a day goes by without listening to the man, quoting him, discussing him, thinking about him.
But I’m an amateur.
In David Kinney’s new book, The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, I don’t figure at all. Because, compared with his subjects, I’m normal.
Kinney is a Pullitzer Prize winning journalist and his research is extensive and meticulous. It tells the stories not only the (in)famous AJ Weberman, the man who hunted through Dylan’s garbage, Mitch Blank, the “hypnotist collector” and Bill Pagel who owns Bob’s high chair, prom ticket, high school year books and even the house in Duluth where he lived his first years; but also of scores of apparently ordinary folk who have quietly devoted their lives to a study of Bob; more, who have lived their lives through Bob.
In Kinney’s words, they fell down “the rabbit hole”. And the further they went, the further they had to go. To visit Hibbing, to see every show, endlessly to analyse lyrics and performances.
The book’s epigraph has the following exchange:
Fan: “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are.”
Bob Dylan: “Let’s keep it that way.”
Kinney doesn't. His book is, in many ways, as revealing of Bob as it is of his fans. Bob is a fan: of Woody Guthrie, Of Elvis, of John Lennon. So we learn about the hike across country to visit the dying Guthrie in hospital, of his kissing the floor of the studio where Presley recorded, of searching out Lennon’s house and Strawberry Fields in Liverpool. And one need not be an obsessive listener to recognise and appreciate the vastness of his listening and reading and the ways in which he incorporated it all into his songs and his art.
The Dylanologists is, however, primarily about Bob’s fans rather than Bob himself. Its subjects include those who lead disappointed lives because they are saddened by Bob’s failure to live up to their expectations and those who, like me, are content to follow where he leads, falling on each new album, each show, with renewed enthusiasm.
Bob is 73 this month. I am 65 in a couple of months. I cannot imagine my life without his. But I am not, in Kinney’s sense, a Dylanologist.
I am just a fan, who enjoys his adventures in the land of Bob, but occasionally visits other lands as well. We need the balance.
Today from the everysmith vaults: I have been listening to an extraordinary series of shows in Japan, in which Bob has found his voice. The singing is powerful and rich and full of nuance. How does he do it?!