Just in time for this weekend's Dylan Days – the annual festival in Dylan's Hibbing hometown held each year around his May 24 birthday – comes a new book profiling the singer-songwriter's cadre of superfans.
Some of whom have crossed the line into obsessive.
Pulitzer prize-winning writer David Kinney will be in Hibbing Friday to sign copies of his new book, The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob. It includes vignettes spotlighting fans such as the man who dug through Dylan's garbage, the woman who tried to pass herself off as his sister and stalked him for years, and the archivist whose collection of Dylan recordings, articles, concert programs, business cards, letters, drafts of lyrics and manuscripts are so extensive that director Martin Scorsese consulted with him for “No Direction Home,” his Dylan documentary.
The Star Tribune calls the fans chronicled in the book "curious and compelling" and finds the "oddest Dylan duck" to be Bill Pagel, a now 71-year-old pharmacist who purchased the house next door to Dylan's childhood home, plus "a ticket from Bob’s prom, Hibbing phone directories from the years Dylan lived there and a ceramic candy bowl that once belonged to Bob’s grandmother, among other things. Pagel has many of his artifacts in climate-controlled storage units in Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota."
Writing in Slate, John Dickerson, who calls himself a mere "Dylan hobbyist" to distinguish himself from the hardcores, suggests that Dylan himself was a superfan – of Woody Guthrie. When the young Robert Zimmerman arrived in New York in 1961, he spent time at Guthrie's hospital room where the singer was suffering from Huntington's chorea and "talked like he came from Oklahoma instead of Minnesota."
Author Kinney suggests some fans approach their love of Dylan in ways comparable to how die-hard sports fans approach a favorite team.
"With baseball, you have the opportunity to see 80 [home] games or performances a year. You’ve got that memorabilia thing and you’ve got box scores or set lists," he told the Star Tribune. "Where does it become you’re wasting your life on this stuff?”
Kinney did not talk to Dylan himself but quotes the legendary singer on his devoted fans. In a 2001 Rolling Stone interview, Dylan said, "I don’t feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am, and what I’m about. I know they think they do, and yet it’s ludicrous, it’s humorous and sad. That such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life, please.”
But some of Dylan's fans were deeply influenced by his words and did more than buy albums or concert tickets.
"Michelle Engert offers a secular example of the kind of fan Dylan might like," Dickerson writes. "After following him across the globe during the early 1990s, Engert drops off the Dylan trail and returns to school. She studies maquiladora laborers because Dylan had made her want to help the underdog. She becomes a public defender."
Kinney will sign copies of his books on Thursday at Common Good Books in St. Paul and will be in Hibbing on Friday as part of Dylan Days.