Tan­gled up in BOB

Freewheelin’ devo­tees can’t ex­plain Dy­lan’s draw

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

THE Bob Dy­lan pub­lish­ing in­dus­try has pro­duced no short­age of ti­tles with du­bi­ous an­gles. Last year, for ex­am­ple, a U.S. busi­ness writer came out with one, For­get About To­day, ar­gu­ing that the per­pet­u­ally scruffy song­writ­ing ge­nius missed his call­ing as a self-help guru. So a book de­voted en­tirely to the Bob­ster’s ob­ses­sive fan base would seem to be long over­due, given that it has been more than 40 years since the no­to­ri­ous Dy­lan “gar­bol­o­gist” A.J. We­ber­man rooted through the man’s trash in Man­hat­tan’s Green­wich Vil­lage. In The Dy­la­nol­o­gists, an en­thu­si­as­tic though largely su­per­fi­cial ef­fort, Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist David Kin­ney proves him­self an adept prose stylist and a knowl­edge­able guide through the Dy­lan canon. A self-con­fessed Dy­lan ad­dict with one other pre­vi­ous book to his credit (about fish­ing, of all things), Kin­ney has also worn out much shoe leather to track down dozens of his fel­low Dy­lanophiles, the men and women (though mostly men) who cat­a­logue his live con­certs, col­late his record­ing out­put, col­lect his per­sonal de­tri­tus and comb through his ev­ery ut­ter­ance. In Au­gust 2010, Kin­ney made it to Stur­gis, S.D., for a Dy­lan con­cert at the town’s mas­sive an­nual biker rally. “It’s (bleep­ing) in­san­ity!” he quotes an un­named Win­nipeg­ger who had driven 11 hours to catch the show. “What is this place?” This tends to be the aver­age fan’s level of in­sight. Only slightly more sat­is­fy­ing is Kin­ney’s pil­grim­age to Dy­lan’s home­town, the hard­scrab­ble min­ing town of Hib­bing, Minn., which he de­scribes as a “quin­tes­sen­tial melt­ing pot” and “more bustling than you’d ex­pect from a lit­tle fly­speck in the mid­dle of nowhere.” Every­where Kin­ney goes, he talks to Dy­lan nuts. Nina Goss, an English PhD, writes about the artist “in thickly lay­ered sen­tences that un­furl like fran­tic at­tempts to grasp the truth.” Mitch Blank, an ar­chiv­ist, claims to own 180,000 record­ings of Dy­lan songs. Bill Pagel, a col­lec­tor of me­mora­bilia, owns Dy­lan’s red Nau­gahyde high chair and wants to pur­chase his boy­hood house in Hib­bing. One Cana­dian gets sev­eral pages. Glen Dun­das, “a quiet ac­coun­tant” from Thun­der Bay, Ont., spent the ’80s and ’90s9 il­lic­itly tap­ing Dy­lan con­certs all over the world and “es­tab­lish­ing him­self as a re­spected hub in a global tape-trad­ing net­work.”n Ob­scu­ri­ties out­side theirt cho­sen ob­ses­sion,s these people are well-known to each other. None of them, how­ever, can per­sua­sively ar­tic­u­late why they are so drawn to their hero, be­yond the most ob­vi­ous of plat­i­tudes. “He’s al­ways done what he wants to,” Kin­ney quotes Dun­das as say­ing. “It’s awe­some, re­ally.” Dy­lan, of course, has long been scorn­ful of those who tramp around af­ter him. But Kin­ney points to the irony that Dy­lan him­self at 19 trekked to New York to wor­ship at the hospi­tal bed of his idol Woody Guthrie. A big­ger irony here is that the best parts of the book are not Kin­ney’s fan profiles, which too of­ten end with­out a point, but the re­count­ing of Dy­lan’s ca­reer high­lights and mu­si­cal ac­com­plish­ments that he in­ter­weaves be­tween the main events. He makes his big­gest con­tri­bu­tion to Dy­lanol­ogy in the chap­ter about Scott War­muth, a New York-born disc jockey and blog­ger who has scoured the In­ter­net to cat­a­logue the bits of his songs Dy­lan has lifted from oth­ers writ­ers’ po­ems, sto­ries and books. As if to demon­strate his ob­jec­tiv­ity, he gives the well-known Bri­tish-born Dy­lan bi­og­ra­pher Clin­ton Heylin a plat­form to pan the last decade or so of Dy­lan’s so-called Never-End­ing Tour: “The band stinks, Bob doesn’t know the words, he can’t sing for shit.” De­spite what cyn­ics might say, Dy­lan’s con­tri­bu­tion to pop­u­lar cul­ture is unas­sail­able. In that light, the idol­a­try Dy­lan continues to at­tract makes sense, even if his wor­ship­pers can­not fully ex­plain it. A for­mer Free Press books edi­tor, Mor­ley Walker loves Bob Dy­lan al­most within the bounds

of rea­son.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Even Bob Dy­lan’s red Nau­gahyde child­hood high chair is cov­eted by fans.

The Dy­la­nol­o­gists: Ad­ven­tures in the

Land of Bob

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