Dylan to English Dictionary
By A.J. Weberman
ISBN 1419613383
560 pages
BookSurge Publishing; in conjuction with Yippie Museum Press
Price: £15.75 $20.78

Dylan to English Dictionary

“In the land of the blind - the one eyed man is king”

A. J. Weberman: ‘Dylan to English Dictionary’

A review by Michael Crimmins



Who was it that wrote “you don’t need a Weberman to know which way the wind blows”? No matter! it is neither here nor there, and it, as used here, is certainly no reflection on ‘Dylan to English Dictionary’ by A.J. Weberman, it is just that the very cover (above) to this book immediately, for obvious reasons, brings Dylan’s ‘Subterranean homesick blues’ to mind. 

Look out! warned Dylan, initially, in the famous promo film. In this instance, the warning comes from A.J. on the very cover of his book.

So, methinks this is a good as place as any to see what definition - sorry - Dylanological definition we will find in A.J.’s book, if in fact we DO need a Weberman to know which way the wind blows!

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”
WEATHER, WEATHERMAN-579 (page 493)

(Just in case things are getting a little muddled here, it is Dylan’s use of the word ‘weatherman’ we are looking into here, and not Bob Spitz’ use of A.J.’s  surname.)

Dylanological definition: Prevailing conditions of life, vicissitudes of life, political climate.

Dictionary: State of life or fortune, climate.

(In other words, which way the wind blows)

Wind-590 page 503. Dylanological definition: Influence, ZEITGEIST, feeling of the time, music of the time; the dominant course of successive events or ideas.

To my mind the two dominant words from the line “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” are Weatherman and Wind and as I have just used A.J.’s dictionary in the normal fashion that at least is an indicator that this book could be useful. Before we go any further though it is as well to know that A.J.’s Dylanological method, is based, and I quote, ‘on the assumption that there is a consistency in the way Dylan uses words, the only way to find out what a word signifies in DYLANESE (his term) is to look at the word in all of the contexts in which it appears in chronological order beginning with its earliest usage’. Then A.J. goes on to point out that we must take into account a words apparent context, its least ambiguous meaning (LAM) so that we are easier able to decipher its lesser used meaning (LUM).

That last bit is in fact, I’m sure, what any clear headed person would do, almost unconsciously, in the first place. Whether the extensive use of L U M (lesser used meanings), as seen by Weberman, constitutes a new language (Dylanese) is a matter for the reader of Dylan to English dictionary to decide. Weberman’s continuing belief that Dylan is a long term Heroin addict and also that Bob’s hospitalisation of May 1997 was Aids connected added to the fact that A.J. admits that he has no medical, or any other, proof to substantiate these claims, I’m sure will do him no favours. 

No matter what you or I think of A.J. Weberman, it cannot be denied that his name will always be associated with Dylan. Already through his own writings other writers now freely associate Dylan’s “Where are you tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat) and it’s meaning/association to Weberman. A.J. is convinced that the references to Elizabeth St and the valley of stone in this song, and other songs including ‘Isis’ are Dylan/Weberman related. 

Paradoxically A.J. advocates in his word concordance: 

“Dylan’s poetry contains a high degree of universality and the translator cannot use definitions that are associations known only to himself or herself. If a listener or reader associates one word with another, based on purely personal experience, the listener or reader cannot expect Dylan to be aware of this association, or to do the same. Despite it’s prima facia ambiguity Dylan’s poetry is not a verbal inkblot test where you project whatever is on your mind onto to it. It is not how you use a word that matters it is how Dylan uses it.”

…It felt out of place my foot in his face… 

Weberman’s obsession with Bob Dylan, for better or for worse, has served us all in our insatiable quest for more Dylan. A.J.’s obsessive collecting of tapes/memorabilia in the sixties and seventies has got to be applauded! At least by those bothering to read here. His credentials are his history. He is a Dylanologist, he coined the expression. With the passing of time the Dylan stalker, garbologist will no doubt be recalled in history, as he himself initiates in ‘Dylan to English Dictionary’ of being to Dylan what Paul Verlaine was to Arthur Rimbaud. 

“Dylan owes me – Dylan has always admired the French poet Arthur Rimbaud who became disenchanted with his relationship with his critic Paul Verlaine. During a drunken argument in Brussels, Verlaine shot at Rimbaud hitting him once in the wrist. Without me as the modern day Verlaine, Dylan could never assume the title of the contemporary Rimbaud”.

Things have a knack of looking different through the mirror of time and of course it was the poet, the contemporary or not of Rimbaud, who attacked the critic the next time around. 

I am not qualified to review A.J. Weberman’s ‘Dylan to English Dictionary’. I am no academic. A.J. contacted me and asked if I would like to receive a copy. I replied that I would like him to send me one and I asked him if he would be good enough to sign it for me which he very kindly did. 

All he asked of me is that I should read it from cover to cover. 

I did have the intestinal fortitude to get through the book! Although there were some real ups and downs. On the upside, and with this from the introductory preface, I am sure there are many who would applaud his intended application/method: 

“…Medieval hermeneutics also attributed three levels of meaning to The Bible-literal, allegorical and moral and as a result I have applied many of it’s precepts to Dylan’s poetry.” 

Unfortunately his intended method seems all too frequently to intertwine with his lifelong obsession that Dylan is a hard core junkie. It’s really weird and it is a shame because A.J can certainly string a few words together. 

“In the land of the blind - the one eyed man is king.”


Signs on the windows

More details about the book ‘Dylan to English Dictionary’ can be found here

A. J. Weberman has more to say here. 

More information about the poet Paul Verlaine can be found here.

More information about the poet Arthur Rimbaud can be found here.