The body of scholarship on Bob Dylan rivals that on Shakespeare or James Joyce. Literary critics like Christopher Ricks have written a books about him, Rolling Stone‘s first reviews editor, Greil Marcus, has added three of his own and Princeton professor Sean Wilentz has served as the “historian in residence” at bobdylan.com.
And then there are the real fanatics – the Dylan obsessives who dig in the singer’s trash, buy the high chair he used as a baby and crash his sons’ bar mitzvahs. It’s those devotees who are the subject of The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, a new book by Pulitzer Prize–winner David Kinney examining the well worn legacy of rock & roll’s biggest enigma through the theories and fixations of his most devoted zealots. Here are 10 of the weirder episodes in the long, not-so-distinguished history of extreme Dylanology.
1. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
Recent owners of Dylan’s boyhood home in Hibbing, Minnesota, replaced 19 windows and gave the old ones to various fans (including one guy who named his sons Bob and Dylan). “It’s like the 4,000 fragments of the true cross,” said one recipient.
2. Motorpsycho Nightmare
A.J. Weberman, the man Rolling Stone once called the “king of all Dylan nuts,” is notorious for digging in Dylan’s garbage. Dylan reportedly once roughed him up on the street, tore off Weberman’s “DLF” – Dylan Liberation Front – button and rode away on his bicycle.
3. In the Kitchen With the Tombstone Blues
A tape of Dylan made in St. Paul in 1960, then thought to be the earliest recording of him performing, surfaced in 1978. When fanzine writer Brian Stibal asked for a listen, the owner’s husband insisted on doing the dishes as they played it. As the husband suspected, the writer had hidden a tape recorder in his jacket. The subsequent bootleg became known as the “armpit tape” for its awful sound quality.
4. One More Cup of Coffee
Concert tapers have used many innovative methods to smuggle recording equipment into Dylan shows, with one obsessive who stuffed his gear inside a pillow, strapping it to his “pregnant” girlfriend’s belly. Another created a coffee thermos with a false bottom that would hide his video camera lens.
Dylan fanatic Robin Titus made her son a sweatshirt that read “Bob Dylan” on the front and “Won’t Let Go Can’t Let Go” (from his born-again song “Solid Rock”) on the back. The kid ended up wearing it in all his class pictures – she made bigger versions for him every few years.
6. Throw Your Panties Overboard
On one of the rare occasions when Dylan approached fans outside a venue, he bantered with a woman who claimed she’d brought red lacy underwear embroidered with the name Bob. The pleasantries ended abruptly when another female fan asked whether Dylan had been breast-fed as a boy.
7. No Secrets to Conceal
After confirming that chunks of Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles, were cribbed from other sources, Edward Cook told no one for a week. He wanted to feel like he had “a secret with Dylan.”
8. You Cut Me Like a Jigsaw Puzzle
Well-known fan and blogger Scott Warmuth, who decodes the sources of Dylan’s lyrics has studied puzzles, circus sideshows, magicians and cryptography to gain more insight. One description in Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles, was drawn from The 48 Laws of Power, Warmuth discovered: from a section called “The Science of Charlatanism, or How to Create a Cult in Five Easy Steps.”
9. The Psychiatric Couch
Fanzine editor Andy Muir spent his weekends in the office of his employer, British Telecom, photocopying 35,000 pages for his 750 subscribers. Running out of room for his vast collection of concert tapes, he hollowed out his couch for more storage space. It collapsed.
10. Like a Complete Unknown
One woman might have spoken for all Dylan freaks when she explained her lifelong dream to meet the man. “He and I have been through a lot together and he doesn’t know it,” she told the author. “I just think it’s not fair that it’s a one-way relationship.”