Like a loony stone: Dylanologists enflame the fan in fanatic
What’s worse, waking up an alcoholic or waking up as the editor of a Bob Dylan fanzine?
That’s the question one of the contributors to a new book asks himself about his near-pathological interest in his subject. Others realise they have a problem when they can correctly answer the question: “What’s the name of Bob’s maternal great-grandmother?” Those less stricken by all-consuming fandom content themselves with buying up the houses the Zimmermans used to live in and paying mad money for the high chair little Bob used to sit in.
David Kinney’s The Dylanologists is the best book about music that has nothing to do with music. By holding a mirror up to the obsessives, the completists, the weirdos and the garbologists (those who literally go through Dylan’s bins looking for clues), Kinney provides the final word on the tragi-comedy of intense, unrelenting fandom.
Of course, there are many among us who take an unhealthy interest in the life and times of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Bay City Rollers. But very few have taken the final step – as they do here – in subsuming their own lives into that of Dylan’s. These are fans whose homes are shrines, who spend endless hours, weeks, months and years poring over studio logs and set lists and organizing and publishing recording session data.
In their defence, Dylan is the artist who keeps on giving: from the “spokesman of a generation” to going electric, to born-again Christian to sage elder statesman. As Dylanologist Peter Stone Brown notes: “No other performer fucks with his fans like Bob Dylan”.
The seriously hardcore obsessive AJ Weberman (author of the Dylan to English dictionary) intellectualises his over-attachment: “How was I to know I would have been to Dylan what Verlaine was to Rimbaud?” Others here are in such a bad way (lives and relationships left on hold) as they chase yet another Dylan tour and compile bootleg recordings in their spare time, you feel a 12 step programme is required.
The internet has opened up the private and cloistered world of the obsessive fan to all. There will always be those who believe that an understanding of musician will enhance their understanding of the music itself. It’s a thin line. Best to remember that there are very good reasons for the saying “never meet your heroes”.
We do hear of happy endings: the woman who eventually “decodes” Dylan’s lyrics and gets herself clean after years of drug abuse; the young man who, fired up by Dylan’s early songs about injustice, puts himself through law school and becomes a public defender.
It’s all reminiscent of Monty Python’s Life of Brian in that whenever Dylan denies his Messianic status, the Dylanologists nod their head and say “Only the true Messiah denies his Divinity”.
Kinney’s book reveals that Dylan himself is actually a red herring; what Dylanologists are actually after is a meaning in their own lives.
Spit on me, Bob: ‘No other performer f---s with his fans like Dylan’