Andrew Muir is one of the most articulate, passionate, and respected writers in the world of Bob Dylan criticism. For those unfamiliar with his work, below is an edited version of the entry on Muir as it appeared in Michael Gray’s Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:
“Andrew Muir ﬁrst took an interest in Dylan’s work in 1973, and in 1990 set up the ﬁrst of the two U.K. fanzines he has edited, the crudely produced Homer, the sl*t (named after a character in Dylan’s novel Tarantula). In 2000 he published his ﬁrst book, Razor’s Edge: Bob Dylan & the Never Ending Tour, a book characteristic of Muir’s work in its straddling of the divide between critical assessment and factual reportage. It looks in great detail at speciﬁc concerts, year by year from the tour’s beginning in 1988 through to 2000, but also succeeds in its aim of putting the Never-Ending Tour into perspective and assessing its signiﬁcance within Dylan’s career as a whole. At the same time, Muir also worries away with self-deprecating humour at the ever-knotty problems of experiencing from the inside levels of fandom that most people in the world regard as crazy …
In 2003 came Muir’s second book, Troubadour: Early & Late Songs of Bob Dylan, a thoughtful elaboration of his critical stance that scrutiny should be jargon-free and range widely, in a study of speciﬁc songs from the early 1960s right through to work on the Time Out of Mind and ‘‘Love and Theft’’ albums. This book was a mix of new writing and some revised selected pieces from the fanzines to which Muir had contributed … (and now including) his own new journal, the good-looking and generally rigorous Judas!, which began publication in April 2002 … In outside life he is a teacher of business and academic English in Cambridge, U.K. …”
Since Gray wrote that entry, Muir has appeared in various documentary Dylan DVDs, wrote and appeared in one on Bruce Springsteen, and has written a bundle of articles for various Dylan related publications. In 2013, Muir also published One More Night: Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour.
His most recent project is Shakespeare in Cambridge: A Celebration of the Shakespeare Festival, which Muir described as “a book on an open air Shakespeare festival, which oddly enough has been running for 28 years (about the same length as the NET) and is all about the how the text is performed differently each night on stage (also like Dylan)! One of the main explorations of the book concerns complex drama theory but, as ever, I attempt to put it in language anyone can follow.”
Muir was kind and generous enough to answer my questions about Dylan, Shakespeare, and the connection he found between these two bards.
You were recently profiled in David Kinney’s book, Dylanologists – Adventures in the Land of Bob … What did you think of how you were portrayed?
It’s very strange to read about yourself like that. You are used to reading about other people, so that’s how it felt in many ways. Not that it wasn’t fair, perhaps even warm, but I remember Dylan once told an interviewer that his answer to a question now would be different to an answer he’d give in twenty minutes to the same question as his mood – and therefore opinions – changed rapidly through the day, like clouds passing in the sky. There is some of that in all of us. Perhaps more particularly to me and this question is that I have more than a touch of the “multiple personalities” about me – again something true of all of us, I suspect, albeit to varying degrees – and a lot depended on which one David was talking to at any given time. He’s skilled and clever enough to circle around and come back again to cross reference and check answers, of course, and he Skyped me for a long second interview after the face-to-face first meeting, but it still has a big effect.
There were a couple of things in it that I wish weren’t, but then David knew them before he even met me, so there’s not much that can be done about that, bar barefaced denial of what both you and the interviewer knows is the truth or attempted censorship. Neither of these seems plausible options once you have agreed to be interviewed.
What was a pity, for David, was that Rolling Stone took a few bits from his book and exaggerated them out of all recognition, including bits about me, leaving virtually no connection with reality. I enjoyed meeting David and consider him more of an acquaintance. I’d like to claim the term “friend,” in fact, and hope he’d feel the same about me. You’ll have to ask him that, though!
Two of your biggest passions appear to be Bob Dylan and William Shakespeare … You’ve already posted on your website an essay on how you got “into” Dylan. How did your fascination with Shakespeare begin?
I got off to a very bad start, which is detailed in the book, when I was force-fed Shakespeare in an appallingly inappropriate manner. However, I loved literature so it was inevitable that I would fall in love with Shakespeare’s writing. I spent the latter part of my teens doing a four year literature course at university and Shakespeare was a significant part of each year. You could not help but be overwhelmed with wonder at his gifts and mind.
You’ve written a new book, titled Shakespeare in Cambridge: A Celebration of the Shakespeare Festival. You used to publish two Dylan fanzines (Judas! and Homer the sl*t) and, more recently, wrote two volumes on Dylan’s so-called “Never-Ending Tour” (2013’s One More Night updating your earlier Razor’s Edge. These books on live performances sandwiched a study of albums, songs and themes, Troubadour). What drives you, and how do you decide on what to focus before writing?
That’s a good question! It’s certainly not money. As you no doubt are aware, in writing, profits go to distributors in the main and the bulk of the remainder goes to the publisher. Basically, I only write on what I love. I have always felt a drive to express myself on things that excite me. That way I learn much more about them and appreciate them even more. I suppose I have what Beckett called, in a much grander context than my own writing, of course, “an obligation to express.”
As a teenager I was into SF (science fiction) and, yes, you guessed it, I read all the fanzines and co-edited one myself. In fact that was when I first came across (legendary music critic) Paul Williams. He ran the Philip K. Dick Society and its newsletter, and I was a subscriber and wrote to him. That was funny to look back on, years later, when he came to stay with me in London and Cambridge, with Dylan as the overwhelming link between us.
Anyway, I am stalling as I try to find the answer to your question within myself. I guess that because researching and writing a book, especially to a deadline, brings strict focus, it gives you goals to reach and seems to me a far preferable way to spend my time when not teaching than sitting around watching TV or spending hours frittering away my time on the PC. Oh wait – I do the second one of those too, oh well …
The second part, or Act II, of my interview with Andrew Muir will be published soon.
- Andrew Muir
- One More Night – Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour Purchase.
- Shakespeare in Cambridge: A Celebration of the Shakespeare Festival Purchase (U.S. is e-book only format.)
- All Homer the sl*t and most Judas! issues are available for free download.
Of the dozens of Dylan Internet sites … Expecting Rain … and the atombash.com Bob Dylan blog by Harold Lepidus are the best places for up-to-the-minute Dylan news – David Kinney, “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.” (Simon & Schuster, 2014)
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