Bob Dylan fans and followers : expressions of music, culture, fan-life, perception and interpretation

  • Barry Williams

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Bob Dylan has had not only a far-reaching influence, through his music and art, on the music culture landscape since the 1960s, but he has also had a significant personal impact on millions of his fans and followers around the world. My research focuses on and engages with the strong emotional attachments and investments made by many Dylan fans to Dylan’s music, art and perceived persona, which is often further appropriated again by many of his fans into their own personal ways of thinking, values and feeling, at times, even related to making sense of place, identity and personal life events. My research highlights the distinctive, individual, lived-fan-experience, as described by Dylan fans through their self-reflexive perceptions and narrative descriptions of their own everyday, Dylan-fan-life experiences.
Drawing from online Dylan fan narratives, oral-histories, personal interviews and interdisciplinary writings on Dylan, I adopt an ‘insider view’ of Dylan-fan-culture, showing in what ways these fans practise their fandom and how they make sense of, and even relate to the world around them through their appropriations of Dylan’s music, words and art forms. My research and methodological approach is one that focuses attention on the significance of the corporeal and subjective lived-fan-experience, elucidating the emotional and (sometimes) transcendent affects experienced by many fans and followers of Dylan through his music and often-cryptic song lyrics. The research also addresses a relevant and noticeable ‘gap’ in the current academic literature on Dylan fans and fandom.
In order to access and understand the everyday life-experiences of the individual fans themselves, their subjective meanings, feelings, values and perspectives, I have employed apposite inter-disciplinary perspectives from sociology, music studies, narrative theory, ethnography and psychosocial studies to exemplify ‘frames’, or ‘perspectives’ of meaning, understanding and context, through which many Dylan fans ‘connect with’ Dylan, as well as with other Dylan fans. I am interested in the fan’s own, distinctive, ‘Dylan-influenced life-world’ and his or her personal practice and appropriations of Dylan fandom, not only as an explicit area of research, but also as a further exploration into the areas of inter-personal, human-lived-experience, meaning-making, and understanding. Methodologically, I have placed and emphasis on my Dylan fan research as a journey and discovery rather than a rigid undertaking of an applied fan theory, with the intention to illuminate the actual, lived-Dylan-fan-experience. My intention here is to open up discussion to the areas of the individual Dylan fan, as well as the related sensibilities of identity, affect, relationship, belonging, meaning, values and knowledge. I depict fandom in terms of what is important to the fans themselves — “illuminating the experiences of others in their own terms” (Jensen, 1992:26), presenting fans “not as problems, theories or data, but as real people trying to make sense of their lives in the late 20th century…” (Cavicchi, 1998:10).
Through elaborating and giving recognition to the expressions of music and fandom and the lived-experiences of the Dylan fans themselves, which are, for them, the core, ‘real-life’ frameworks and … positions through which their lived-realities can be spoken… (see McRobbie 1994:189), I am highlighting the subjectively lived-fan-experience of the Dylan fans and followers that have participated in my research. The Dylan fans and their fan narratives, particularly those that portray the everyday fan-life and include the oral- history of the particular fan, are, in my attempt to connect with the personal and core Dylan fan experience, indispensable and vital components of my research on fans and fandom as I believe they not only intimately display a clear and critical account of the ‘real-life’ experience of being a (Dylan) fan, but they also elucidate the emotional and ‘affective intensity’ (Grossberg, 1992:64) that lies at the heart of what it actually means to be a (Dylan) fan. I claim they are authentic descriptions of the lived-fan-experience by the fans themselves. My research examines and documents the role and affect that Dylan’s music plays in the meaning-making and identification processes that occur in the fan’s everyday-life, through the conduit of Dylan and his music; the thesis also focuses on the areas of Dylan fandom which illustrate the more personal and affective connections that are forged and maintained with ‘Bob’ by his dedicated fans and followers, and which, in my view, are particularly significant to the actual fan practices and ways these Dylan fans live out their lived-fan-experience. One research aim here is to gain more insight into the subjective and introspective areas of lived-experience and being such as, emotion, belief, sentiment and perception. Because of the very human context regarding the subject matter and personalised experience of Dylan fans and their fandom, I have felt compelled to underline that there is a necessary need to illuminate, retrieve and include the subjective, emotional, lived-fan-experience of the fans themselves. I have thus searched for and experimented with diverse, open-ended (academic and ‘non-academic’) approaches, methods and ways of writing that could and would fittingly apply, complement and assist in communicating and verbalising the Dylan-fan experiences. This has entailed a concentration and focus on the individual-fan-experience as well as experimenting with methodologies that would connect to the narratives and sensibilities of the Dylan fans who responded to my research enquiries – many of whom are active and participatory in their fandom – and many of these sharing their interests and fandom with the global Dylan fan community via the online networks and web pages dedicated to Dylan and his music.
Explicitly, my research explores Bob Dylan fans who are a particular and current sample of a specific (wider and larger) group of music fans expressing their own, unique fan-life experiences through their own (fan) narratives. The Dylan fans in my research are describing, in their own words, the significance and meaning that Bob Dylan and his music have in their everyday lives, and, in narrative form, the fans are recounting the practices and appropriations of their fandom. For many Dylan fans, their fandom has been continuous for many, many years of their particular lifetime. A majority of the Dylan fans who have contributed to my research are also active and participatory ‘online’ fans. My research ‘data’ of the Dylan fan narrative texts, describing their own personal lived-fan-experiences, very much exemplify a plurality of voices – yet also demonstrate an individuality of experiences. One aim of my methodologies and writing is to attempt to disclose the richness and depth of the reflective, Dylan fan narratives (DFNs). My goal is to better understand, comprehend and more fully acknowledge the importance of the emotive and perceptive elements involved in Dylan fans’ fandom.
My intentionality in the study of Dylan fans has not been to overly theorise, explain or try to account for the phenomenon of Dylan fandom, but rather to utilise and share the descriptive Dylan fan narratives of their accounts of the lived-Dylan-fan experiences, to gain a better understanding of the Dylan ‘lived-fan-experience’ — i.e., what it means to the Dylan fan to be a Dylan fan, (as well as what is it that the fans do to live out their fandom).
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKaren A West (Supervisor) & Sarah S Amsler (Supervisor)


  • Bob Dylan
  • music
  • culture
  • fan-life experiences
  • fandom
  • expression

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