If you visit this site from time to time, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a Bob Dylan fan. I’ve long loved his music, and many of his songs have been with me for decades, and have guided me through the waves of time. I finally saw Dylan live last month, paying for front-row VIP tickets to get the best view possible for my first, and perhaps my last, chance of seeing Bob live. (Who knows how long he’ll keep touring?)
But there’s a difference between being a fan of a creative celebrity and being obsessed by one. In The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), David Kinney looks at the superfans, the ones who obsess over Dylan. When you look at how some of these people act, it’s not very attractive. It’s obsessive, and nearly pathological. But it’s all in the name of fun, right?
Kinney isn’t talking about the collectors, the people who buy all the records, go to a few shows, and buy the books. (There are dozens of books about Bob Dylan.) He looks at the ones who have to have every bootleg recording, every scrap of paper they can find, the ones who follow Dylan around on tour, or even go so far as to accost him.
In between the sections about the obsessive fans, Kinney sketches out a biography of Dylan, so if you don’t know the major events of his life and career, you’ll get a feel for them here.
Dylan famously retreated to Woodstock in 1966, after he had become famous, and, already, the obsessed were tracking him. He would find people in his house, wanting to “discuss things with me, politics and philosophy and organic farming and things, you know.” They would rifle through his trash in Greenwich Village, and stalk him.
But there are also other obsessives. The ones who analyze every word of every song, looking for hidden meaning, hidden codes. The ones who rush to the rail in front of the stage at concerts, thinking that Dylan wants to communicate with them.
It’s all a bit creepy. Yes, I like Dylan, and I do read his lyrics as I would poetry. I’m a Deadhead – a fan of the Grateful Dead – and I can discuss which are the best concerts of certain years, and the best versions of specific songs. But I’m a collector. I’ve never followed a band around on tour.
While The Dylanologists looks specifically at Dylan fans – who may be more obsessed than fans of other artists – a lot of what David Kinney presents can apply to other fans. Look at the Star Wars fans who, recently, have been analyzing the trailers for the upcoming movie, frame by frame, looking for clues to the story.
It’s a cautionary tale, showing how the appreciation of an artist can turn into obsession. Some of the people in this book have gone over the edge. Some are still grounded. Maybe some of them took this line from Talkin’ World War III Blues too seriously:
I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours