In 2001, an intense Bob Dylan fan named Bill Pagel bought the Duluth, Minnesota house where Robert Zimmerman lived before he moved to Hibbing, Minnesota. Five years later, Pagel settled permanently in Hibbing and attempted to buy the other Zimmerman house, the one where Bob lived while growing up, attending high school, etc., before taking off for Minneapolis, New York and stardom.
Kind of puts ones own obsession in perspective — right?
Pagel is one of the serious Dylan fans that Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Kinney writes about in “The Dylanologists,” a book that will be published this May.
Kinney describes himself as a Dylan fan in the book’s introduction:
I first found Dylan in the dusty basement of my childhood home. In the summer before my junior year in high school I was flicking through a pile of vinyl left behind by my older brother. I found a heavy box with five records inside. The man glowering on the front cover looked like he didn’t take orders from anybody. I liked that. I pulled off the top of the box, slid one of the records from a sleeve, fitted the vinyl onto the turntable, and dropped the needle into the groove. The music started, and a switch flipped in my head.
The album was called Biograph, a retrospective of the first two decades of a recording career still very much in progress. Dylan’s folk ballads were jumbled together with wailing mid-1960s rock classics; his gospel songs shared space with tomfoolery. A maid is beaten to death. A good man is sent to jail. A husband abandons his wife to hunt for treasure with a shadowy figure, and all he finds is an empty casket. There were songs about girls, and war, and politics. I didn’t know who all the characters were: Johanna, Ma Rainey, Cecil B. DeMille, Gypsy Davy. I couldn’t honestly say I knew what Dylan was saying half the time. But the lines were riveting. I wore out those five records. I leaned every word and made them mine, and Dylan grew into an outsize figure in my universe.
I’ve just started reading advanced proofs of the book and it’s very good. There’s a great section in which Dylan shows up in Hibbing to attend a funeral, as seen from the perspective of Linda Hocking, co-owner of Zimmy’s Downtown Bar & Grill, who is hopeful that the great man will stop in for a meal at her restaurant — or at least a piece of cherry pie.
After all, ten years earlier, shortly after the restaurant was renamed Zimmy’s and decorated with Dylan photos and other paraphernalia, Dylan’s mother Beatty stopped in for lunch, and when asked what she thought of the place, she replied: “Honey, it’s about time somebody did something nice for my son in Hibbing.”
Kinney seems to have combined a biography of Dylan with stories of obsessive fans and so far it’s working.
I’ll post a review in late April or early May, once I finish the book and it’s closer to the publication date.
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