This is part two of my interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Kinney about his new book, “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob” (Simon & Schuster), which was published last week. Part one can be found here.
Describe the lengths you went through to write this book.
I’d like to say it was all fun, but when you know you have to turn it all into a book at the end, it becomes a lot more like real work. The first thing I did was sign up for a long-running adult education class on Dylan in Manhattan, and the people there helped me contact a few people who ended up in the book, including Mitch Blank, hypnotist collector and a true mensch in this community. I also reached out early on to Glen Dundas, the taper and collector who immediately got the idea of the book and introduced me to his circle of Dylan friends. Whenever I met someone in this world, I asked who else I should meet. After a few months I’d spoken to probably a hundred people.
I also went out on the road to see who I’d find. I flew to France for one of Michael Gray’s bed-and-breakfast weekends. I followed the tour across the Great Plains. I went to Dylan conferences at Fordham and in Vienna. I traveled through Britain meeting the guys who produce fanzines. I sort of lost my mind at a certain point and started going to anything remotely Dylanological. When I made it to Wichita in 2012, I knew it was time to put the thing to bed.
It was fascinating to find out about the adventures of Scott Warmuth, Peter Stone Brown, Andrew Muir, Bill Pagel, Caroline Schwarz, and others. The most surprisingly moving part was how two fans, Robin Titus and Lucas Stensland, listened to Dylan's gospel albums, and that turned their lives around.
More than anything that’s what I’ve always liked about reporting. I’m curious about the lives that people lead, and the best writing takes readers some distance into a subject’s backstory to give them as close to a three-dimensional view as possible. Scott’s life explains much about why he’s doing the work he’s doing on Chronicles. Andrew’s got that gene that drives him to delve deeply into whatever it is he’s interested in this moment—Shakespeare, his football team, literature. I was grateful that Lucas and Robin shared those stories about Dylan in their lives. It takes courage to speak to a writer about things as personal as they did, and those sections help explain how the songs speak to us. Your stories may not be quite so dramatic, but Dylan’s music works on us in similar ways.
How did you decide what to include?
I spent a couple of years traveling all over talking to Dylan people, so I ended up with far more material than I could ever fit in the book. Beyond the obvious subjects – A.J., Bill Pagel, Mitch Blank, Scott Warmuth – I wrote about the people I did because (a) they fit the structure of the story I wanted to tell, and (b) they were willing to spend the amount of time I needed hanging around and talking and answering questions. But I could have written it five ways with five different casts.
Was there anything you wanted to include, or a person you wanted to interview, that did not pan out?
There were a couple of people who declined to speak with me. Sandy Gant was an important figure in the early days of tape collecting; I thought he would’ve told some interesting stories. I ran into a fan on the road who had had a harrowing near-death sort of experience, and later got the chance to meet Dylan. But he declined to share the details with me. I heard stories of fans striking up relationships with Dylan—platonic or otherwise—but they, too, were reluctant to come out from the shadows.
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