Encounters With Bob Dylan: If You See Him, Say Hello
The perfectly good idea behind this book is to let the fans speak for themselves. (The idea behind this review is to let a fan review them.) Previous Dylan books have tended to the biographical, the analytical or the severely trainspottery, and so this book should be a breath of fresh air. Though it’s not a new way of writing about Dylan, as anyone who reads fanzines knows, Encounters is certainly a new kind of Dylan book.
The 50 “encounters” — quite a few of these are not actual meetings with His Bobness — appear in chronological order so you can see how Dylan’s attitude to his fans has changed (answer: not at all). The stories range from “I went to a Bob Dylan concert once” to “I played with him on the road for three years,” and some are fascinating.
However, fans are not at their best when meeting the objects of their veneration; it’s a nervous moment into which too much has to be crammed. Dylan might be used to it, but we know that he doesn’t like it. So this is, almost by definition, a book by Bob’s fans telling a recurring story of how they made their idol feel at the very least awkward, and at the worst distinctly uneasy and unhappy, when what they really wanted to do was say thank you. Maybe better advice would be: If You See Him, Walk On By.
Fans will recognize themselves in this book. If that is at times embarrassing, it can also be endearing and revealing. My favorite story here is the one about the guy who needs to see Bob on TV so bad that he temporarily becomes a nudist to do so. That’s a good metaphor for being a fan: You do embarrassing things and think nothing of it. (Believe me, I’ve done them.)
The most telling parts of the book have nothing to do with Bob and everything to do with the storytellers. On giving him a painting: “I could tell he liked it, but he said: ‘I don’t like realism. I think I’ll hang it in the closet.'” (That’s what I always say when I like a painting someone’s just given me.) Wishful thinking: “He refers to me as ‘the nut from New Jersey’ — which I feel is a big compliment.” Overanalysis of chance meetings: “He plays these games. It’s a hunt.” The hope that this book will provide closer communication: “Give me a call if you’re reading this, Bob.”
Needless to say, the writing is uneven and the pieces vary in interest. His fans deserve their say, but we owe them a firmer editor, not to mention a superior proofreader (reading a “foreward” to a book will always give you a sinking feeling).
I’d just like to add:
Hey Bob, if you’re reading this, what do you think of this whole alt-country thing? Do you think Nashville Skyline gets enough credit? Oh and will you sign this for my sister? She’s called Wes.