In an episodic debut memoir, Kemp, with Friedman (Cowboy Logic, 2006, etc.), recalls his lifelong friendship with a world-famous musician.
In 1953, when he was 11, Kemp went to summer camp in northern Wisconsin and met Bobby Zimmerman, a confident 12-year-old who carried a guitar around and told everyone he would grow up to be a rock star. Zimmerman, of course, later changed his name to Bob Dylan, left his Midwestern roots behind, and found fame and fortune in New York City. Kemp poses the book’s driving question early on: “What happens when your closest friend from childhood becomes one of the most famous people in the world, seemingly overnight?” The book’s answer: Keep him close. As Kemp colorfully details, their bond was never music, but shared memories of youth and the easy affection of childhood friendship. Thanks to “Bobby,” Kemp rubs elbows with celebrities. As such, the book offers numerous cameos, as when Kemp visited Dylan on the Mexico set of the Sam Peckinipah–directed film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, met musician/actor Kris Kristofferson, and went on a road trip through the country with actor Harry Dean Stanton. Overall, this book offers readers a remarkable look at the nature and meaning of a friendship that lasts through the years, and, throughout, Kemp tells of how he admires and cherishes Dylan’s talent without coveting it. Still, he can’t help comparing himself to his friend: “Bobby had become Bob and had started changing the world,” the author writes. “I had built up a very successful fish business. Not bad for two small town dropouts!” That said, the author does seem overeager to establish bona fides with name-dropping at times; at Dylan’s shows and on tours, including the 1975–1976 Rolling Thunder Revue, which he produced, Kemp tells of meeting Cher, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and other dignitaries of 20th-century popular music. The tone of Kemp’s writing is nostalgic and warm, if mostly reportorial; fortunately, this strategy works well for the material, and the presence of Dylan, a vital and enigmatic figure, gives the book a charge that prose itself sometimes lacks.
An earnest account of a friendship featuring anecdotes of celebrity encounters.