Synopses & Reviews
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.
Bob Dylan was the most influential songwriter of his time. Half a century later, he continues to be a touchstone, a fascination, and an enigma. From the very beginning, 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 the question: What can Dylan’s grip on his most enthusiastic listeners tell us about his towering place in American culture?
In exuberant prose, 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 the unyieldingly mysterious songs, collectors snapping up prized artifacts for posterity, travelers caravanning from concert to concert. It’s an affectionate mania, but as far as Dylan is concerned, a mania nonetheless. Over the years, he has been frightened, annoyed, and perplexed by fans who try to peel back his layers. Intensely private and fiercely combative, Dylan makes one thing plain: He does not wish to be known.
Intelligent, entertaining, and insightful, The Dylanologists is a richly detailed work of narrative journalism in the tradition of Confederates in the Attic and an absorbing story about the tension between zealous fans and their beloved idol.
"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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“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.” Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man
“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.” Mikal Gilmore, author of Shot in the Heart
“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.” Daniel Mark Epstein, author of The Ballad of Bob Dylan
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.
About the Author
David Kinney is the author of 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.