Get lyrics, bootlegs, and more obscure offerings online

By Stephen McGill
September 10, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Bob Dylan: Globe Photos

In the world of Bob Dylan, there are fans, and there are fans. True Dylanites don’t just own the Tambourine Man’s 45 official albums, they’ve got sky-high stacks of bootlegs and theories on the lyrical deviations in the various studio recordings of ”Tangled Up in Blue.” And while Dylan’s biographers have cataloged the most important moments in this troubadour’s life, no book can match the comprehensive and instantaneous gratification of a devoted Internet following that chronicles each song played at every concert. With this week’s release of Dylan’s new ”Love and Theft,” EW took some time out of mind to find the most authoritative Dylan websites.

BEST LYRICS Aging boomers and Dylan addicts alike can have trouble remembering all the words to ”Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Luckily, there’s Columbia Records’ official Dylan home page. Currently undergoing a full-scale overhaul (and slated for relaunch this month), the site flaunts a lyrics database that will settle the score on every word Dylan has garbled in the last 40 years. Then, amp up your computer’s puny speakers and hear more than 50 of his live performances, along with a preview of ”Love and Theft”’s first single, ”Po’ Boy,” available online through Sept. 20.

BEST OBSCURITIES Looking for an atlas of all the cities mentioned in Dylan’s tunes? How about a list of songs by other artists that mention Dylan by name? You’ll find that and much, much more at Expecting Rain, a site that taps into everything from Dylan’s corny onstage jokes (”I almost didn’t make it tonight, I had a flat tire — there was a fork in the road”) to his four official Nobel Prize nominations.

BEST SONG INTERPRETATIONSCracking Dylan’s elusive lyrical code can leave you feeling stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again and again. But 30-year-old Nick Leggatt has a cure: the Annotated Bob Dylan website, which offers an opinion-free explanation of the names, places, and events mentioned in dozens of Dylan songs. More subjective theories, meanwhile, run amok at the Dylan Lyric Commentaries page, which collects the thoughtful interpretations of Dylan diehards.

BEST BOOTLEGS Finding Dylan bootlegs is easy, but knowing which ones to pass up isn’t. The low-key Bob’s Boots site has documented more than 1,500 albums, with accompanying commentary on sound quality as well as a review of the performance itself. And the CD section has a search engine that lets you sort recordings by concert venue or date, so you can track down that show you saw at the Gaslight Café back in ’61. And while you can’t buy bootlegs on the site (it’s illegal), you can hook up with traders who might be willing to send you a copy.

Few artists are as enigmatic as Robert Allen Zimmerman, and fewer still have bodies of work that are as well-documented. It’s an irony Bob Dylan would be proud of — assuming he ever logs on to find out about it.

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