Whether North American, Japanese, Portuguese, Australian, or Venezuelan, there are as many ways to experience Bob Dylan as there are fans. Go to any Bob Dylan show, and among that sea of faces and swaying bodies are individuals who appreciate the music on their own terms, in their own way. Many come to dance to some solid rock 'n' roll. For others, Dylan evokes memories of youth. Scholars approach Dylan with what C.G. Jung called "the piercing intellect." Bob Dylan's music has eased the pain of loss, heartache, and death.
Through his music, poets and songwriters have reached new literary heights, while everyone has had an epiphany or two when submerged in those timeless lyrics. Below are some of the best Dylan fan archetypes. We know these people. We are these people. And one common thread binds us: our appreciation of Dylan's music.
All-American Dylan Fan
Members of this species might say something like, “Pink Floyd, I got all his records.” When it comes to Dylan, this fan knows every word to those four essential hits that remain emblazoned in the classic rock radio rotation, (e.g., "Blowin' in the Wind", “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues”). A connoisseur of wines dispensed from cardboard boxes, his/her Dylan “collection” consists of a beat-up vinyl copy of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, the mildewy scent of the album's jacket sending him/her reeling into blissful moments of nostalgia, back to the better days of the 1980s when concert tickets still cost only $16.75. In fact, he/she tells everyone that he/she caught Dylan once in concert, but the truth of these boasts is questionable, because it wasn't Dylan he/she saw; it was actually folk singer Eric Andersen. But who's counting?
One-Upman Macho du Nacho
This walking, talking encyclopedia owns Dylan's entire catalog (including every bootleg—indeed, every pin drop on the studio floor) in a hefty mixture of vinyl, CDs and cassettes, tidily displayed in the shrine area of the living room, or what he prefers to call the “salon” which he "repairs to" with guests of an intellectual bent. Rotating between “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues” and “Desolation Row” for his cellphone ring tones, he captivates and bedazzles his audiences with riveting fusillades of obscure facts and data, ranging from what encore was played on April 14, 1975, to why Dylan cut “Blind Willie McTell” from the Infidels track list. Macho du Nacho has seen Dylan perform live 187 times and has the ticket stubs permanently encapsulated among several gold-dipped baroque-style picture frames. “Not true,” Macho is always quick to interject.
This is the Baby Boomer who you overhear at the concert saying, “Man, I haven't seen Dylan perform since 1965!” Meanwhile, Aaron Copland's soothing music is drifting steadily from the house PA system and you just can't wait to see the reaction when Dylan and company slide onstage and tear into “Highway 61” with the grace of a thousand tornadoes ripping across the scorching wastes of the west Texas badlands. And then it happens, and said Boomer reacts in one of two ways; either he/she says, “Wow, has Dylan changed! Looking good for his age. God this is great!” Or else he/she grabs his/her twentysomething grandchild by the elbow and screams, “This isn't Bob Dylan! I can't take this noise, let's get the hell out of here!”
Puffy the Concert Slayer
Could be Dylan. Could be anybody. Here's the fan that leans back in front of the stage, holds the camera at arms-length, then snaps a photo of him/herself with Dylan in the background, as if they were standing at the foot of Mount Rushmore. 'Nuff said.
The Fan's Fan
Are you ready for some Dylan? This fan approaches Dylan with the ravenous zeal of a sports nut during the peak of the playoffs. The difference is, Bob Dylan is always in season. They celebrate Bob's birthday. They dress up as Dylan on Halloween. They count down the days for every new Bob Dylan release, and are already there in the morning, waiting impatiently for the doors to fly open on new-release Tuesdays (or Monday at midnight during holiday shopping bonanzas). If you have a birthday coming up, you better believe there will be a Bob Dylan book, disc, T-shirt, or key chain from weird Uncle Larry or crazy Aunt Mary, whose life's passion happens to be the music of the one man whom they love unconditionally.
Tools of poets, double entendre and metaphor have always been staples in Dylan's bag of tricks, and when he released “Rainy Day Women” with lyrics about everybody getting stoned, he not only frightened a lot of parents, but he initiated a new approach to his music. Meanwhile, songs such as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street” didn't name names, but their slanderous lyrics reflected real-life people in Dylan's orbit, igniting a still-ongoing who's-who debate. Suddenly Dylan's songs were things to be figured out. Riddles to be unlocked. Puzzles to be solved. And a brand new type of fan was born, who cannot enjoy a Dylan song unless he's reading every possible scenario into it.
Musicologist: He must be talking about LSD when he sings “Chimes of freedom flashing.”
Girlfriend: Can't you just dance, Bartholomew!
Your Standard Dylan Freak
Back in the '70s, with education waxing liberal, many dangerous subversive elementary school teachers led kindergarten choirs in songs like Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". Thus indoctrinated at the tender age of five, this breed grew up and started embracing Bob's music around the Dylan and the Dead epoch. Duly inspired by reading Allen Ginsberg's “Howl,” plus “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and “On the Road,” this Gen-Xer spent most of his/her 1990s college years zipping around in Honda Civics, wasting time soul-searching for a lost America with “Tangled Up in Blue” as the journey's anthem and Blonde on Blonde as its singular soundtrack. Neo-bohemians of the first order, with one tire flattened in a fading Boomer culture and the other spinning down the information superhighway, these fans successfully made the leap with Dylan into the digital age, albeit with minor abrasions.