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Bob Dylan walking in front of car

A Brief Introduction to Dylanology


Dylanology emerged as an insatiable obsession with Bob Dylan; however, it has evolved into a serious field of studies surrounding the musician.

Bob Dylan’s fans come in all shapes and sizes. While most are endlessly turning his records, trying to disembowel the hidden messages in his songs, the members of a special cult have made Dylan their passion and raison d’être. Dylanologists devour books about him, analyze his lyrics, compare his work to that of the greatest poets of all time and, yes, dig through his trash. Or at least one of them, the man who coined the term, did for a long time.

It was A.J. Weberman, a marginalized “yuppie”, who began digging through the Dylan family garbage and named the act “Garbology”. But this wasn’t the only thing he did, he also camped outside a house he believed was the musician’s (although he was apparently a few months late). In John Reilly’s short film The Ballad of A.J. Weberman (1969) we can witness how the hyper-obsessive character goes through trash, his preferred method of research.

In the film, Weberman asserts that he found a small box with a syringe and a cotton ball in the trash. After some time perusing the contents of a bin, a woman who lives in the building comes out and accuses him of having brought his own garbage, since the bins were emptied before he arrived. After discussing the matter for a couple of minutes, Weberman admits the truth and blames his producer, John Reilly, of bringing his own props. In this way, Weberman forges Dylan’s trash for the camera, outside a house that doesn’t even belong to the icon.

A.J. Weberman is an infamous character among Bob Dylan’s fans because Dylan himself punched the stalker in 1971 because he was harassing his family. However, most of his notoriety derives from having long conversations with the musician over the phone, which he recorded. These talks eventually emerged in vinyl format as Bob Dylan vs. A.J. Weberman, which you can listen to here.

It seems strange that someone as far removed from fanaticism as Dylan would give his phone number to someone as ridiculous as Weberman, but he did. Weberman taught a class on Dylanology and published articles about him in underground journals. On several occasions, in the recordings, Dylan can’t believe what he hears and calls Weberman a “pig”.

Despite its rocky start, currently Dylanology has left the Weberman stigma and obsessive trash-lurking fanaticism behind. For some years now it has even become a respected field. Today the term is used to describe any study or serious research surrounding Bob Dylan. Olof Bjorner, from Sweden, is among the best known dylanologists, he “manages a vast compendium of information surrounding the history of Dylan’s recordings and his concerts”, another distinguished Dylanist is Bill Pagel, who keeps track of the 200, or more, concerts that Dylan gives every year. His website has had over 14 million visits from 166 different countries since it first came into being 11 years ago.

Richard Thomas, another dylanologist, teaches Greek and Latin at Harvard University, has discovered that some of Dylan’s lyrics were taken from the work of Ovidius, a Roman poet. This is just a glimpse at the fascination he can induce. It makes us wonder how much is hidden in his work, why it inspires such a desire for discovery, or the extent to which a public figure —that simultaneously values his privacy— can make others stop paying attention to themselves.

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