Collectors' item

<strong>The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia</strong>

Michael Gray <em>Continuum, 784pp, £25</em>

ISBN 082

When archaeologists look back on the late 20th and early 21st centuries, they will scratch their beards and puzzle over a strange religion known as Dylanism. They will dig up films, books and magazines, lovingly crafted by the cult's acolytes, and wonder what motivated them to produce such tributes.

The latest of these is Michael Gray's Encyclopedia, which comes complete with a searchable CD-Rom. Its alphabetised entries attempt to locate Dylan in his cultural context, covering the ideas, people and artistic works that were an influence on, or influenced by, his music.

Gray hopes that his Encyclopedia will function as an introduction to this "wider world", but his efforts are only partially successful. An entry on the blues classic "Midnight Special" reveals that Dylan once played harmonica on a version of the track, but tells us little about the song itself.

The book's saving graces are its entries on the shamanic blues singers and counter-cultural icons who provided the background to Dylan's musical development. But here, set beside details of guitar specifications and fan clubs, these magical creatures are pinned down like butterflies on a collector's board, sucked dry of the passion and spontaneity that lies at the heart of pop music.

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