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New book documents obsessions of Dylan fans

DULUTH -- One fan dug through Bob Dylan’s garbage.

Another filled his Greenwich Village apartment with bootlegs of Dylan recordings.

One has picked through Dylan’s words in search of crossovers in literature — then reported his findings on his popular Dylan-themed blog.

And one fan, David Kinney, recorded stories about his fellow Dylan fans — the collectors, decoders, tour tapers — for the book “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob,” which was published by Simon & Schuster and released this past week. The book includes a culture of Dylan fans, who express this fandom in a range of ways, mixed with biography that put the events in context.

Kinney, an author who lives near Philadelphia, will talk about his book and sign copies as part of the Dylan Days’ Literary Showcase on Friday in Hibbing.

“I’ve been a fan for 25 years,” Kinney said in a phone interview from New York City, where he had just done an on-air interview with WNYC and planned to give a reading later that night. “At some point, early on, everybody I knew hated Dylan. I was in high school and he’d just done Live Aid, and everyone just hated him. I was the kid going through high school telling kids that Dylan was God and doing silly fan-ish things.

“When I realized there was this community of people, I thought they’d make for such an interesting book.”

In a world filled with books about Dylan, Kinney’s collection is generating buzz. The Wall Street Journal described “Dylanologists” as an “entertaining and well-written account of Dylan obsessives,” and Rolling Stone magazine has created a Kinney-inspired list of the Top Ten Craziest Fans from his book.

A reviewer for the Huffington Post said fans will enjoy it, “but so, too, should readers who seek a fascinating examination of a strange subculture.”

Among Kinney’s findings:

-- Peter Stone Brown of Philadelphia first heard Dylan when he was 12 years old and has become a source for detailed Dylan trivia. Once, in a therapist’s office, he played the song “It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” to explain his own feelings. He was there during the great Forest Hills-gone electric concert — and maintained his fandom.

-- Glen Dundas, an accountant  from Thunder Bay, Ontario, was once a great taper who followed Dylan on tour and made illegal recordings. He became part of a crowd of regulars who learned the best bodily crannies for hiding recording equipment and hung with Dylan’s road crew.

-- “Love and Theft” was Scott Warmuth’s go-to album in the early 2000s as he struggled with a health situation. A decade later, he began decoding the album — finding places where Dylan appropriated lines from books and movies. He records his findings on his website Goon Talk.

Kinney’s own fandom is deep, but it doesn’t include souvenir collecting or tour chasing.

“I have a bookshelf of Dylan books and I’ve seen him a bunch of times in concert and I listen to him,” he said. “I don’t own any of his houses or his highchair.”

But when he talks generally about the cast of fans whose portraits are part of this book, he includes himself in the mix.

“We get a bad reputation for being obsessive and crazy and stalker-ish,” he said. “I liken it more to interests people have. Is it that different than having season tickets to your local baseball team and going to see 30 to 40 games a year, following a box score and being in a fantasy league?

“As long as it doesn’t take over your life and crowd everything out, I don’t see a problem with it.”

Kinney’s work has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. So far, both of his long-form journalistic pieces have focused on the obsessions of a subculture. His first book, “The Big One,” followed super-passionate entrants in the Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, a five-week fishing tournament on Martha’s Vineyard.

With “Dylanologists,” the writer traveled around the world to meet the musician’s biggest fans. He attended an academic conference in Vienna, met fanzine creators in the United Kingdom and hung out in New York City, where Dylan-ophiles seek out the regular haunts of the Greenwich-era artist.

He saw Dylan in concert 20 times, he said.

“I got a little obsessed tracking down the story, which is always the way,” Kinney said. “Whatever the topic, it comes to consume your life a bit.”

“Dylanologists” opens in Hibbing, where Kinney spent the 2012 Dylan Days mingling with hometown fans like Bob and Linda Hocking, owners of the Dylan-themed restaurant Zimmy’s (which recently closed), and Bill Pagel, who runs one of the biggest fan sites and owns Dylan’s childhood home in Duluth.

There are commonalities, aside from Dylan, linking the fans he met.

“It’s a love of words,” he said. “You might have been attracted to the music, but it’s the words. There is an independent streak among this group. They don’t look at the world the way everyone else does. There is a soft spot for eccentricity.

“He’s not your usual pop star, and that attracts a certain kind of crowd.”

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