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.