New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
28 May 2014

Why Bob Dylan can never shake off his fans

By the mid-1980s, Dylan had long been playing down the notion that he was the “voice of a generation”. Such strategies failed in the long run. 

By Yo Zushi

In 1986, Bob Dylan sat in his trailer, his face worn and his nose running. It was early evening, just bright enough to inspire the singer to pick up a pen and start a scratchy portrait of his latest media adversary – a BBC interviewer called Christopher Sykes. “I’m not going to say anything you’re gonna get any revelations about,” he warned, his attention divided between doodle and interlocutor. Sykes, undeterred, asked Dylan about his fans’ conviction that he had all the answers – that he was “some kind of shaman”. A withering glance. “Shaman? I don’t know,” Dylan replied. “I don’t like that scene.”

By the mid-1980s, Dylan had long been playing down the notion that he was the “voice of a generation”; as early as 1965, he was exhausted by the “fancy labels” the media would place on him. “They got all these preconceived ideas about me,” he moaned. His often desperate attempts to shed that burden ranged from expressing identification with Lee Harvey Oswald while accepting a civil liberties award, weeks after JFK’s assassination, to releasing a deliberately patchy album “to get people off my back”. “The reason [1970’s Self Portrait] was put out [was] so people would . . . stop buying my records,” he later confessed.

Such strategies failed in the long run. “Don’t follow leaders,” he snarled in one lyric. “Trust yourself,” he exhorted in another. But as David Kinney confirms in his new book, The Dylanologists, the singer’s biggest fans are only too willing to be led. Collectors would search out relics, from school yearbooks featuring the young Robert Zimmerman to Baby Bobby’s high chair; the “Dylan pilgrim” Bill Pagel bought his childhood home in Duluth. A woman who masqueraded as Dylan’s sister led an itinerant life, following her idol on tour, and one day vanished, seemingly the victim of a serial killer operating in California.

Dylan has been unkind to his most loyal fans – having concert queues reversed, for instance, so that those who have waited longest get in after the stragglers. In his 2004 autobiography Chronicles, he dismissed his old audience as “past its prime”. But he, too, has always been a fan – of Woody Guthrie, of Elvis, of contemporaries such as John Lennon (whom he eulogised in the 2012 song “Roll On John”).

This month, Dylan released his version of a 1945 Sinatra tune, “Full Moon and Empty Arms” – a swoon of a recording that is unabashed about its indebtedness to Frank, to the extent that he even struggles to get his pitching right at the same tricky note (“The moon is there . . .”) that confounded Sinatra. It’s a beautiful performance that has had Bobcats in a flutter, speculating about a possible album that may or may not be due this August. And it will have them thinking: “He’s one of us!” For, as every Blonde on Blonde-quoting waistcoat-wearer in shades knows, emulation is the surest sign of fandom.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Yo Zushi‘s new album “It Never Entered My Mind” is released in July by Eidola Records. The single “Bye Bye Blackbird” is available now

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change