Book review: ‘The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob’

05/24/2014 12:00 AM

05/23/2014 11:59 AM

A Bob Dylan obsession manifests itself in a variety of ways in “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.”

Dylan fans from around the world celebrate his May 24 birthday by converging on Hibbing, Minn., “the capital of the Land of Bob.” They may stop at Zimmy’s, the Dylan-themed bar and restaurant in the town that Robert Zimmerman fled more than 50 years ago before he took on a new identity and became one of the most influential and enduring entertainers of his time.

For the more obsessed, such a pilgrimage is not nearly enough. They acquire pieces of the original windows of Dylan’s home after its most recent owners replaced them. Another bought Dylan’s highchair and the Duluth home where his family lived when he was born.

These Dylanologists, as David Kinney calls them in his entertaining book, include artifact collectors, fans who attempt to record his concerts, scholars who look for hidden meaning in his songs, and those who seek a personal connection with their hero by getting to the front of the house at concerts and trying to make eye contact with him.

Part of Dylan’s mystique is his quest for privacy, which only fuels the efforts of the fascinating collection of Dylan fans who Kinney profiles with affection and gentle humor. The best known Dylanologist was A.J. Weberman, who in the 1960s and 1970s famously sifted through the garbage bins outside Dylan’s Greenwich Village house in search of clues to a secret code allegedly hidden in the singer’s lyrics.

While there’s no shortage of Dylan biographies, “The Dylanologists” is an interesting examination of Dylan followers who seem to put their lives on hold while dedicating themselves to the performer and his music. Fans will certainly enjoy this book, but so, too, should readers who seek a fascinating examination of a strange subculture.

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