Books

Tracing the Mythos of Dylan, One Fan at a Time

The Dylanologists doesn't give up any answers about Dylan, but it does ask the right questions of people, on the trail through Dylan's America.


The Dylanologists: Adventures In the Land of Bob

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Length: 241 pages
Author: David Kinney
Price: $25.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-05
Amazon

Bob Dylan is America's very own, homegrown obsession. But do we really need another book about the reigning supremacy of Bob the Legend? His mysticism and magnetism are well-documented, and they are two of the elements that turn his fans into followers and his followers into obsessives.

Indeed, Dylan's textual trail runneth over; from scholars to sketchers, poets to portraits, every inch of Dylan has been combed over time and again. And yet, and yet, we’re still no closer to understanding his ways and means than we were in the beginning.

The “obsessive” title gets bandied about more than just a little in David Kinney’s intense and supremely smart book, The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, a hyperreal road trip through the meetings and the minds of some of Dylan’s more loyal followers and hardcore fans. The “obsessive” tag bothers most fans of Dylan that Kinney turns to in the book. One super fan, Bill Pagel, the owner of Dylan’s highchair, insists he is “not obsessed but dedicated” and asserts that, when it comes to Bob, no matter what lengths he goes to, “his heart is in the right place.”

Kinney posits that Pagel and others like him aren’t far off, but he also offers that Dylanology is what gives those followers meaning. “It was written in his code,” Kinney says of Pagel. And so it goes with most of those who pursue Dylan beyond casual fandom. They are not obsessive, they’re just seekers who have found their white whale to hunt.

One gets the sense that their only issue is that there’s no attainable level beyond obsession—besides madness. And that’s where all of them draw the line, although some fans walk perilously close to that cliff. (One fan, “The Man in the Fedora”, insists on remaining nameless, and one or two others have a tenuous grasp of reality, at best.) Still, if you’re a Dylan fan, there’s always room for dedication because his career lends itself easily to study.

Kinney, like Dylan, Kerouac, and Guthrie before him, is on a road trip through Dylan’s America, cataloging, digesting, and ruminating on the nature of Dylan’s eternal pull. Whereas other Dylan books have traced the artist’s career from point to point, Kinney reverses the authorial roles and examines Dylan through the complexities of his most fervent adorers.

As with the cloaked and cowboy-hat adorned mythos, he discovers what many of us have known all along. There’s no understanding Dylan, there are only theories and futile devices to deconstruct him through his songs, crude maps with red herrings that Dylan has fashioned for those silly enough to attempt a revelation; a bread crumb trail in a maze that simply loops back on itself, like a snake eating its own tail.

That kind of indictment doesn’t stop Dylanologists—and Kinney, occasionally—from attempting deconstruction and interpretation. In a meta-fictional manner, Kinney is both author and hunter, too. His text occasionally reminds you that he’s the man behind the notepad profiling the subjects, but he’s also on the trail himself, excavating the Dylan mythos, as well. Kinney doesn’t hide behind the veil like other biographers of Dylan have done; instead he hurls himself into the fray, waiting in line for 16 hour stretches to see Dylan concerts, tracing bootleg tapes down on the internet, and visiting spots and haunts where Dylan occasionally appears.

As much as we’d like to remove ourselves from that type of Dylanological pursuit, the mere act of reading The Dylanologists thrusts us headlong into the puzzle that is Dylan and forces us to confront real and personal issues about our lives. What does it mean to define our time by someone else’s work? Where does that magnitude of creativity come from? And finally, how much of our time is wasted—or not wasted—on the pursuit of the impossible?

Kinney has uncovered some Dylan fans that have been motivated and moved to achieve goals in their lives that they might not have otherwise. For example, Michelle Engert, after she was questioned by Bucky Baxter, Dylan’s guitarist, is inspired to become a public defender. (“Dylan had made her a better lawyer,” Kinney states unequivocally.) Other fans have found comfort and emotional peace in his lyrics and albums.

For others, however, Dylan is a source of innate negativity, a man who is incapable of delivering on the promise of his former greatness. The word “betrayal” comes up a lot for some fans; they feel betrayed by music, betrayed by his scorn for hardcore fans, betrayed by the words he works to conjure. That type of betrayal is made manifest and amplified by accusations of plagiarism in both his music and his own memoir, Chronicles: Volume One.

Kinney’s chapter addressing these accusations, “Down the Rabbit Hole”, is by far the most intriguing of the book, not just because Kinney gets in on the fun, too, by lifting phrases and peppering them in the chapter (I spotted a Thomas Hardy reference and went back to find what else Kinney had left for us), but also because Dylan may have wittingly begun the biggest debate about musical authenticity and authorial ownership since earlier this year when Led Zeppelin were sued for musical plagiarism.

All of this is to say, Kinney’s book runs deep and fast, allowing our own inner Dylanologist to have some time in the sun. A new book about Dylan, no matter what angle or element, will hardly bring us any closer to unraveling the enigma of Dylan. But what we pull away from it, and what Kinney demonstrates with force and aplomb, is that the worn out maxim of relishing the journey, not the destination, might be the only consistency we’ll ever get out of Dylan.

It’s not an answer, but it is the right question. And the journey is a hell of a lot of fun, too.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image