As I write this, it is late in the evening on Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday. I hope he has had a fine day, celebrated by those he loves. Meanwhile, we who don’t know the man, but are intimate with the music, also wish him glad tidings, and many more productive and expressive years. Certainly he seems as active as ever, with a tour of Europe coming up, followed by Australia in the late summer, and rumored dates in the States in the fall. Not to mention a new album to be released sometime soon. It’s difficult to imagine how he can handle such a life at that age, but he’s clearly made of tougher stuff than most, and I guess it’s the life he knows.
I am grateful that he keeps on keepin’ on.
Unluckily, here in Seattle there seems to be no musical celebration of Bob going on tonight, so I am left to sit on my couch and contemplate, without the fellowship of “my people,” as David Kinney calls them in his new book titled The Dylanologists. These are individuals he describes in many ways, but for tonight, I think it will be sufficient to say, that these are individuals who didn’t need to be told through social media, that today is that day.
If you follow.
For really, as Dylan himself addressed us from his website a couple years back — when there was the little kerfuffle about whether the songs he was playing in China had been censored or preapproved by that government; when he felt a need to say that was a load of shit — he called us “my fans and followers.” It was surprising, I thought at the time, both that he spoke to us so directly, and that he called us “followers.” But let’s face it, he was right. I am both fan and follower. I follow his old music, I follow his new music, and sometimes I quite literally follow him from city to city on tour. I am fanatical about his art because it touches me deeply and has intersected with my life in incredible, mystical (I say without the least hesitation) ways.
But just because I follow, I don’t think that makes him a leader, and I am also pretty sure I am not a “Dylanologist.” Well, I can’t be I suppose; I didn’t make the book. Just as well. I don’t specialize in the study of Dylan or the science of Dylan. I just live my life (school librarian, father, gardener, etc . . .) and he keeps showing up. When he shows up, with a new record or in my city or a city not too far away I go visit. It’s the least I can do.
I’d be willing to bet that most of “my people” are of a similar shade, some a little darker, some a bit lighter, some with more sparkle, others with finer hats. So I am really not sure about this whole “Dylanologist” thing. Who wants to be “ologized?”
I’m also not sure if this is a book review. I will say I enjoyed the book tremendously. I devoured it. As “a fan and follower” of Mr. Dylan, I am fascinated by these stories of other lives that have intersected so profoundly with his art. I am amazed by the different levels of meaning people have found, such as Scott Warmuth’s discoveries, and the various folks who found solace for hard times in some phase or another of Bob’s output. Kinney does a great job reporting on these folks.
But the book also made me feel kind of queasy and upset. For one, if these truly are “my people,” why are they pushing me so hard as we scurry to get to the rail? We are not truly close, “my people” and I. Unless we are squished there up front listening to Bob. It’s strange that way. I don’t actually know them, any more than I know Bob Dylan.
When you first encounter personal meaning in Dylan’s music, when you first hear the bits that seem to apply so directly to your situation and your days, there is none of the self-awareness implicit in this tome. There is none of the meta-cognition of affect, there is only the affect. It’s disturbing to be analyzed so, and it’s ironic as hell that those who are supposedly “ologyzing” Dylan are being “ologyzed” in this book. And Mr. Kinney, who claims to be one of "us," seems to be watching me and taking notes. Hmmm . . .
To say it plainly. When I was a boy and Bob blew my head open — when I watched “Hard Rain” on my little black and white TV at sixteen, when I went to the Blackbushe festival at eighteen and discovered sex and real love, and even when I played “Time Out of Mind” a thousand times as a newly middle-aged man — I was not analyzing or collecting anything at all. I was living. I cared no more for those other two hundred thousand people at Blackbushe who came to see Dylan than I did about any random crowd of two hundred thousand you might pass by. But I cared very deeply about the woman I fell in love with there, the one who seemed to come out of a Dylan song. Love minus zero. Silver bracelets on her wrists.
I suppose, when I go to a show and I try to get close, so I can pay attention better, hear better, see better, I am studying Dylan. It’s true, I am trying to learn and understand. And now I write. But I am going to reject this “Dylanologist” thing. I think it simplifies something that is very complicated and very personal. Count me a fan and a follower, please. Happy Birthday, Bob.