I never seem to tire of Bob Dylan. Not that he doesn’t frustrate, annoy, anger, or bore me at times, but his work, be it musical, Chronicles, or car commercial, is always worth investment, something to anticipate and heed and relish and dissect. Love him or hate him, there’s inarguably a lot to digest. Bob Dylan is a real meal.
Yet as much as I like Dylan, I’ve never felt the need to attend or bootleg every performance, or scrapbook every lost-and-found lyric sheet, just as, though I’m a bit of a Beatles freak, I’ve never wanted to own a piece of Ringo’s hair.
The title subjects of award-winning journalist David Kinney’s new book, The Dylanologists, are those Dylan super fans who devote time, money, energy, health, love, everything to the pursuit, acquirement, and study of all things Dylan. Kinney, himself an admitted acolyte, goes on a kind of Morgan Spurlock-like quest for others like him, “an entire underground nation of unreformed obsessives.” What he finds are some like him—that is, people with jobs and lives outside of Dylan—and others whose jobs and lives are Dylan.
In quasi-narrative fashion, Kinney begins his story in Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, then globetrots chapter by chapter through the lives and half-lives of various self-proclaimed Dylanologists. There’s a kind of gradation to the subjects: On the extreme end is a figure like the notorious A.J. Weberman, originator of the term “Dylanologist,” a hippie holdover and hard drug repository, who “’spent hours and hours listening to Dylan, taking Ritalin, LSD, mescaline, smoking joint after joint trying to figure it out,’” eventually digging through Dylan’s garbage, staging “birthday parties” outside Dylan’s apartment, and essentially stalking the artist with increasing paranoia.