I finished reading David Kinney’s new book, The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, yesterday. In some ways it violated the conceit of this blog, because there was a lot of talk about what I think of as “future Bob” or the “Dylan who has yet to be” in terms of this writing project. Overall I think that it’s good, but it’s not essential.
Parts of the book are very appealing. He does a good job with a lot of his material, and Kinney writes well. He jumps around, forward and back, from character to character, and this creates a fair bit of interest and mystery in the volume. If there is a drawback, it probably comes from my own expectations and hopes. By interviewing many of the world’s best known Dylan collectors, for example, I was hoping for more details about the nature of their collections and their processes. There are many hints of this – descriptions about the culture and practice of those who record shows, for example – but I personally would have liked a lot more of it.
Certainly the best chapter in the book is the one about the study of Dylan’s “plagiarism”. This is a complex and vexatious story that I will deal with around the time of Love and Theft and of Chronicles. Long story short: the Dylanologists have demonstrated a remarkable degree of citation in Dylan’s late-period work, and now wonder what it is that he’s trying to communicate. The Daily Beast ran a pretty good overview of the whole thing, if you don’t have time for the book.
The most striking thing for me is the feeling of decline. Kinney is talking to today’s fans, and while many of them seem to have an almost religious attachment and devotion to Dylan, he also talks to many who were once the most rabid Dylan fans, but who have lost their faith. I don’t see much of myself in these people at this point in time. Yes, it is true that I hope Dylan’s current tour will bring him somewhere close enough to me that I will see him perform this year (he has just announced his tour will take him to Australia, that doesn’t help), but it is more out of intellectual curiosity than from a genuine desire or excitement to hear him play again.
So, not yet a Dylanologist. Working on it. I did note a factual error, so maybe there’s hope for me….