The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob

The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob

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by David Kinney

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Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Kinney enters into the world of obsessive Bob Dylan followers (aka the “Dylanologists”) to deliver an immersive work on the artist’s singular impact on American culture.

FAN: “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are.”



Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Kinney enters into the world of obsessive Bob Dylan followers (aka the “Dylanologists”) to deliver an immersive work on the artist’s singular impact on American culture.

FAN: “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are.”

BOB DYLAN: “Let’s keep it that way.”

Bob Dylan is the most influential songwriter of our time and, after a half century, he remains a cultural touchstone, an enigma, and the subject of endless fascination. From the moment he arrived on the music scene, he attracted an intensely fanatical cult following, and in The Dylanologists, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Kinney ventures deep into this eccentric subculture to answer a question: What can Dylan’s grip on his most enthusiastic listeners tell us about his towering place in American culture?

Kinney introduces us to a vibrant underground: diggers searching for unheard tapes and lost manuscripts, researchers obsessing over the facts of Dylan’s life and career, writers working to decode unyieldingly mysterious songs, road warriors who meticulously record and dissect every concert. It’s an affectionate mania, but as far as Dylan is concerned, a mania nonetheless. Over the years, the intensely private and fiercely combative musician has been frightened, annoyed, and perplexed by fans who try to peel back his layers. He has made at least one thing crystal clear: He does not wish to be known.

The story of Dylan’s followers is also a revealing portrait of the artist himself. Here, reflected in the fans he inspired and the cultural movements he helped create, is every twist and turn in a career that has swerved from lefty activist to ultra-hip spokesman for a generation to woodsy recluse, from secular storyteller to fire-breathing Christian evangelist, from punch line to elder statesman. Dylan may refuse to explain himself to his followers, but their lives have become mirrors of his, so profoundly are their stories intertwined.

Told with tremendous insight, intelligence, and warmth, by turns funny and affecting, The Dylanologists is ultimately a book about our universal quest for meaning. It is populated by characters both legendary and obscure, from aging hippies to idealistic twentysomethings and everyone in between—a young woman who, stirred by Dylan, attends law school and becomes a public defender; a man who crams his New York City apartment with memorabilia, transforming it into a pilgrimage spot for Dylan fanatics; a woman inspired by her hero’s redemptive music to go clean after years of drug use. Here is a joyous, soulful, and poignant exploration of the origins and meaning of fandom, the healing power of art, and the importance of embracing what moves you, whatever that may be.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Since he stumbled upon Dylan’s Biograph album as a teenager long after the album came out, Kinney has been consumed with the enigmatic bard from Hibbing, Minn. He eventually discovers he’s not alone in this fixation and uncovers an “entire nation of unreformed obsessives” like himself who are so fanatical about knowing more about Dylan that they collect bootleg tapes, travel on pilgrimages to Hibbing, and even dig through Dylan’s garbage in search of clues that will reveal his identity. In this unremarkable profile of a few of these Dylanologists, Kinney chronicles some of the reasons that they can’t get Dylan’s voice and music out of their heads, hearts, and homes. For example, Nina Goss and Charlie Haeussler make the pilgrimage to Hibbing to “see the coffee shop where he ate cherry pie with his girlfriend” and to get a feel for the small town that produced this genius. Alan Jules Weberman becomes famous for searching through Dylan’s garbage in search of signs that would help him understand the meaning of Dylan’s songs, eventually turning sour on Dylan. Michael Gray plumbs the depths of Dylan’s music in his own detailed book, Song and Dance Man III, as he illustrates the ways that Dylan weaves lines from blues songs into his own music. In the end, none of these die-hard fans comes closer to finding the real Dylan, but they discover over and over just why Dylan’s music means so much to them. (May)
Shot in the Heart - Mikal Gilmore
The Dylanologists is about people who care deeply about Bob Dylan—some obsessively, following him, studying him, as a central and powerful touchstone of meaning and guidance in their lives. Their fixations might seem quaint, even absurd, but David Kinney allows these people their genuine and hard-earned profundity. As we learn about their lives and thoughts, we also learn about Dylan’s, with insights that are compassionate, good-humored, troubling and revelatory, and that feel humane and accurate. This is a valuable and original contribution to the essential literature about a valuable and original artist. It’s also an absolutely pleasurable read.”
The Ballad of Bob Dylan - Daniel Mark Epstein
“We have come to the metafictional stage of Dylan historiography—books not so much about the man as about his fans, his sources, his very relics. Kinney’s is fascinating, from his portrait of a pharmacist who has schemed to purchase not only Dylan’s childhood home but his high chair, to fans who somehow appear in the first row at every show. These are spooky sketches of a fringe culture in the twenty-first century, a world that could only exist because of Bob Dylan.”
Luckiest Man - Jonathan Eig
The Dylanologists is a wonderful book—well written, insightful, and smartly reported. In chronicling Bob Dylan’s fans, David Kinney provides a clear-eyed portrait of the artist and the country that created him.”
"In this lively book, Kinney combines a first-person account of a single derby with a history of the tournament itself (and it's distinctly checkered history, with allegations of corruption and conspiracy, not to mention a few notable fatalities). . . . Fans of you-are-there accounts of sporting competitions will definitely want to read this one."
The Wall Street Journal
Praise for The Big One: An Island, an Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish

“Mr. Kinney … takes up his story with an enthusiasm that more closely resembles that of an embedded war correspondent.”

“A rollicking account of the annual striped bass and bluefish derby on Martha’s Vineyard, spiked with the you-are-there view of the beauty, folly, and humanity of the participants. Kinney follows some of the most intriguing personalities, does a bit of fishing, and documents the at-times tricky relationship between the blue-collar derby participants and the well-to-do seasonal residents of the island.”
Cape Cod Times
“A roaring account … The Big One is a fun, two-fisted read. … I’ve fished the derby before and the excitement that surges through town is electric. Rumors, laughter and accusations fly. Kinney’s book captures these tales of chicanery, one-upsmanship and braggadocio, and just the overall weirdness.”
Martha's Vineyard Times
“What Kinney uncovers in documenting this event is the deep cultural underbelly of a fishing society that few people on the outside will understand.”
“Who knew a book about a fishing tournament could be so damn compelling?”
New York Times best-selling author of Rin Tin TIn - Susan Orlean
“Fish fan or not, you will find the narratives and characters in The Big One rich and intriguing and weird and wonderful. A great read and a great tale.”
New York Times best-selling author of The Downhill Lie - Carl Hiaasen
The Big One is a rollicking true story of a grand American obsession. You don’t have to be a fisherman to relish David Kinney’s marvelous account of the annual striper madness on Martha’s Vineyard, or his unforgettable portraits of the possessed. It’s a fine piece of journalism, rich with color and suspense.”
senior writer, Sports Illustrated - Michael Bamberger
“Catching a fish off a Vineyard beach at Derby-time is about as much fun as you can have with waders on, and in The Big One David Kinney nails the chase and captures the thrill. His book is funny, brackish and moving. A keeper.”
Slate - John Dickerson
“Fascinating . . . Illuminating . . . Deeply reported.”
New York Daily News
“Juicy . . . Artfully told . . . The Dylanologists is an often moving chronicle of the ecstasies and depravities of obsession.”
The Irish Times
“What’s worse, waking up an alcoholic or waking up as the editor of a Bob Dylan fanzine? . . . 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 . . . [and] reveals that Dylan himself is actually a red herring; what Dylanologists are actually after is a meaning in their own lives.”
New York Post
“[A] must-read book . . . While there are countless books about Bob Dylan’s life and music, Kinney approaches Dylan from a different angle—the followers, scholars and kooks.”
The Associated Press
“Entertaining . . . While there’s no shortage of Dylan biographies or analyses of his work, The Dylanologists offers an interesting examination of Dylan’s cultlike band of 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.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating . . . Kinney’s tale of the peculiarly symbiotic triangle between Dylan obsessives, his music, and the inscrutable man himself poses some interesting conundrums. In one sense, the people who follow Their Bob around on tour, scrounge his unreleased studio recordings or buy the manger he was born in are like refugees from a Coen brothers reality show: ‘Inside the Hoarders of Highway 61.’ But there is also a tantalizing sense that Dylan, as hostile or plain indifferent to them as he might appear, has his reciprocal moments too.”
The Chicago Tribune
“The book, a compelling study of Dylan’s most fervent and studious fans, is always lively and sometimes funny, but Kinney never finds humor at the expense of the obsessives he profiles. By presenting sympathetic, respectful portraits of people who were inspired by Dylan to write, read, travel, archive, and rethink their lives, Kinney gives us a new way to think about one of the most thought about men of the twentieth century. . . . What’s more exciting is the way The Dylanologists shifts the perspective of a well-known history: Kinney recounts an important artist’s excursions into electric guitar, Christianity and even Christmas carols not for the purpose of examining what these periods mean to Dylan’s life or artistry, but what they mean for the lives and artistry of the people who experienced them. By celebrating these merits—be they the ingenuity to cull incredible collections or the wherewithal to reinvent oneself—Kinney’s subjects prove themselves more creative than kooky.”
The New Yorker - Ian Crouch
“By getting his subjects to talk about the moment, often years past, in which they were swayed by Dylan’s music, Kinney humanizes the archetype of the pop junkie. . . . Most of the fans that Kinney talks to aren’t fools or stalkers. They have simply developed an usually strong affinity for an artist and his music. . . . Kinney’s own fandom seems to have lapsed a bit into skepticism, yet he never mocks the continued devotion of those who still believe.”
Pacific Standard
“In Kinney’s hands, what might have been a fans-only romp becomes instead a surprisingly touching mosaic of stories about the meanings that people (even Dylan himself) seek so energetically from art and artists.”
Kirkus Reviews
Perhaps the only thing more inscrutable than Bob Dylan is the cavalcade of misfits and muckrakers that parade through this earnest exploration of the artist's even more curious brand of devotees.Bob Zimmerman (b. 1941) started out his career as a rabid fan. So enamored was he of his boyhood idol Woody Guthrie that he tracked down the collapsing star all the way to his hospital bed, plying him for answers that the sick man could not possibly provide. Strange then, that so much of Dylan's remarkable career has been saddled with the same kind of futilely obsessive adulation. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kinney (The Big One: An Island, an Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish, 2009) mixes a lighthearted approach with the serious business of trying to figure out just what makes Dylan's legions of followers tick. All of the most outrageous characters are here: the searchers, the collectors, the tapers, the pilgrims and the many who are pissed off at the artist. Of the whole bunch, however, those who came to believe that Dylan had somehow double-crossed them over the years are the most confounding. Either owing to his evolution as an artist or as a person, the depth of betrayal that he has inadvertently incited in these people—sometimes by going electric, at other times going to church—is truly fascinating. Of course, the expert analysis of some of Dylan's most manic disciples can actually be yet another way of further scrutinizing one of the most already scrutinized figures in American music. Can even more be said about an avowed cypher by looking at the rather uncanny relationship with his fans? In this enjoyable book, longtime followers may be surprised to find out the answer is yes.Alternately funny, intriguing and shocking.
Library Journal
From the time he started out on the folk music circuit in the early 1960s, Bob Dylan (b. 1941) has attracted devoted and obsessed fans. Journalist Kinney (The Big One) takes a close look at some of Dylan's devotees in his engaging new book. The profiles include Bob and Linda Hocking, who own Zimmy's Restaurant in Hibbing, MN (Dylan's hometown); Bill Pagel, who created the website Bob Links; and Glen Dundas, whose mission was to preserve every Dylan show on tape. The author also talks with leading Dylan scholars and critics, delves into the highly competitive world of the British fanzines devoted to the musician, and interviews some of the women who follow each tour and try to connect with their hero. The most fascinating stories are of Scott Warmuth, who is tracking down the original sources of Dylan's lyrics and prose, and compulsive fan Charlie Cicirella, who tries to get front and center for every performance. Some might dismiss these people as fanatics; Dylan himself has told them to "get a real life." Yet Kinney helps us understand why they are drawn to the artist. VERDICT This is a book for truly dedicated Dylan followers.—Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

David Kinney is the author of The Dylanologists and The Big One. A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, his writing has appeared in newspapers around the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe.

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The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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