Book Review: ‘The Dylanologists’

 

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With The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob (Simon & Schuster, $25, due May 13), author David Kinney pays tribute to the influential singer-songwriter’s most obsessive fans — the kind who don’t just memorize ever lyric, but buy every piece of Dylan’s life they can acquire.

“Once you own Bob Dylan’s highchair, it becomes easy to rationalize any other purchase,” Kinney writes.

Oh, does it? Actually, once you buy and own Dylan’s highchair, no rationalization is left to you. Rather, you’ve branded yourself as no better than the most obsessive fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, Elvis, James Dean, the Beatles, Harry Potter, Spider-Man or any other real or imagined figures who are — at least to fans — larger than life.

This is a tribute to Dylan and his awesome influence? I think not. Dylan would probably be embarrassed to read this book — not just for himself, but for those who, as Bill Shatner famously said, need to get a life.

Yes, adore the man and his work. Embrace the majesty of his music. But what does that have to do with highchairs or pilgrimages to his long-ago Minnesota haunts? That’s behaving almost like paparazzi: stalkerish. And it’s losing sight of what really matters about an adored figure — or target.

This doesn’t make Dylan collectors and superfans any worse than the kind of fans Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would devastate with cutting comments while they waited in line in costume for a new film, book or album. But it doesn’t make them any better, either — and it doesn’t do justice to Dylan, who surely wouldn’t want his life picked over in these ways.

At any rate, superfans of Dylan, this one’s for you. You can add it to your house full of Dylan items and take comfort that you aren’t alone.

Me, I’ll go back to listening to  Changing of the Guards, recalling my favorite of many Dylan concerts I attended (Nov. 23, 1978, Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, OK, on the Street Legal tour) and keeping my love of the artist in what, for me, is a proper perspective. To each his own, as they say. I just don’t need to write a book to justify my approach to revering a cultural figure.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

 

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