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Paying Homage to Bob Dylan

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Paying Homage to Bob Dylan

Paying Homage to Bob Dylan

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The dog days are here and there's a good chance you're listening to this in the basement or back yard, puttering away at your favorite hobby. This week we're going to hear about several Americans and their hobbies. The hobbies are different, but the hobbyists have one thing in common: a passion and intensity that, to an outsider, can seem a little over the top. Our first stop: the home of a semiretired drugstore owner in New Jersey. He worships Bob Dylan. NPR's Art Silverman introduces us to the caretaker of a unique shrine.

ART SILVERMAN reporting:

Mel Prussack greets you at the door of his split-level home.

Mr. MEL PRUSSACK (Hobbyist): How did I first get involved with Dylan? What it was...

SILVERMAN: He's speaking rapidly in native Brooklynese.

Mr. PRUSSACK: ...so I could relate, you know, to the music he...

SILVERMAN: Not too many people get to come in here. There's no sign on the lawn, but as I walk in, Prussack welcomes me to his shrine, which is upstairs next to the master bedroom.

Mr. PRUSSACK: We're in Old Bridge, New Jersey, the home of The Dylan Shrine. It's been in existence now for about--over 10 years.

SILVERMAN: But unlike a rolling stone, he has gathered moss, lots of it. It's all here: mementos, music, much more. The stuff spreads across the walls and ceilings and down the stairway.

Mr. PRUSSACK: We have here all the Dylan DVDs and videotapes.

We have here all the Traveling Wilburys CDs, bootlegs and everything else.

This is the newest display that I've been working on. I love this. This is guitar picks of people that have worked with Dylan or played with Dylan.

This is the Bob Dylan equation. It's a doll of Elvis plus James Dean equaled Bob Dylan.

It's a Bob Dylan jukebox. Dylan once said `I felt like I was a Woody Guthrie jukebox.' Well, here in The Dylan Shrine we have the Bob Dylan jukebox.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BOB DYLAN: (Singing) But I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.

SILVERMAN: Bob Dylan's told his fans loud and clear, `Don't worship me.' But Mel Prussack wasn't listening. In fact, like the Dylan album title, he insists on bringing it all back home. The shrine here honors its namesake in every way he could think of and some you can't imagine in your wildest dreams.

Now I've always liked Dylan's music, too, and probably know too much about him. But even to someone like me it's hard to understand the meaning of all the things in Prussack's collection. For instance, why is a cutout of Bob Dylan's face on the face of Joe Camel in that display case? And another mystery, those little sculptures that Prussack has created. He calls these items Zim-Art--Zim for Zimmerman, Bob Dylan's real last name.

Mr. PRUSSACK: Zim-Art is a concept I had--what Dylan used to do, he used to take old songs and he used to recycle them and make them into new songs--like, you know, like "Blowin' In the Wind" was from "No More Auction Block," and he wrote--made "Blowin' In the Wind" out of it. So I said, let's take old things, old objects that you have around, and create something that represents a line of a song or a title of a Dylan album. Now this one here...

SILVERMAN: Prussack picks up a squat naked Smurf with the 42nd president's face cut out and stuck on it.

Mr. PRUSSACK: And there's a line from a Dylan song `Sometimes even the president of the United States has to stand naked.' So here was Clinton standing naked.

SILVERMAN: Before I can absorb the full meaning of the Zim-Art, Prussack has me by the arm and swings me around. I'm now looking at a rotating drugstore display case. It holds items he calls Dyltime(ph).

Mr. PRUSSACK: I started doing these--there was a deal in the drugstore, you buy two packs of cigarettes and they were going to give you a free clock. So I tell my wife to order as many as you could 'cause I had an idea to do something with it. What it is, there's over a hundred clocks in here and each clock has a picture of a Dylan album and a quote relating to time. Time has been a very important factor throughout Dylan's career. So here you have "Pledging My Time" from that album.

SILVERMAN: Time is required to absorb The Dylan Shrine. I had only two hours, so I only scratched the surface. The deeper I looked, the more I was drowned in minutiae. The collection seems without limits, but Prussack insists there are roads he won't go down.

Mr. PRUSSACK: I never liked the people who went through his garbage. I always felt he should have a personal life.

SILVERMAN: Mel Prussack looks every bit the small-town druggist. His thinning white hair, thick mustache and big smile give a warm welcoming look. He's the kind of guy you wouldn't give a second thought to on the street, but he wants to stand out. So he's made a special top hat to wear festooned with labels and with Zim-Art.

Mr. PRUSSACK: I used to wear it to Dylan concerts and Dylan had seen me and he referred to me as the nut from New Jersey, which is a great compliment to be recognized by Dylan even though `the nut from New Jersey'--well, I consider it a compliment. And I know he really didn't mean it as a compliment calling me the nut from New Jersey. He thinks I am because I wore that ridiculous hat and I had lights flashing on it, but I got recognition from him.

SILVERMAN: But being tagged as a nut isn't enough, not for Prussack. For him, there's the dream of personal contact with the object of his attention, a dream to sit down and talk to Bob Dylan face to face, man to man, nut to singer. And in Mel Prussack's world, that even means singing about his own quest. He borrowed this Dylan number, "A Series of Dreams"...

(Soundbite of "A Series of Dreams")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) I was thinkin' of a series of dreams.

SILVERMAN: ...and added his own lyrics to make it a series of schemes.

Mr. PRUSSACK: (Singing) I was thinkin' of a series of schemes, of ways in which I can meet this song and dance man who I've been followin'.

SILVERMAN: Mel Prussack really, really wants to meet Bob Dylan, but that's probably not going to happen. Dylan's publicist said he'll ask his client about The Bob Dylan Shrine, but we haven't heard back yet. If the two men ever do meet, Prussack says they'll have a lot to talk about. After all, they were born days apart in May 1941. From childhood, Prussack always liked to collect things. First it was comic books, then ticket stubs from rock concerts, then his focus narrowed to one man. Somehow this left time for a woman named Zellie(ph).

Mrs. ZELLIE PRUSSACK (Wife): I thought I was the object of his affections. The other one's the object of his admiration.

SILVERMAN: Zellie Prussack, the wife. She's no Dylan fan, but she loves her husband.

Mrs. PRUSSACK: I have to be honest. I admire his passion and his creativity. That is enough to make me sit back and smile.

SILVERMAN: And as a gift to her husband, she even added her own addition to the collection, a neon sign that flashes out the words The Bob Dylan Shrine.

(Soundbite of "Forever Young")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true.

SILVERMAN: Mel Prussack suggested we use this Dylan song to end our story, "Forever Young." He's thinking about growing old. At age 64, he considers himself fortunate. After all, he's got something his contemporaries don't.

Mr. PRUSSACK: Well, all I know is, I know people now at my age that are retiring. They don't know what to do with themselves, and they look at me and they say, `Boy, I wish I had the enthusiasm you have for whatever.' Even though if they hate--they may hate Bob Dylan--`Oh, he can't sing'--but the fact that I have such the enthusiasm and put so much into it, they envy me for it.

(Soundbite of "Forever Young")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung. May you stay forever young.

SILVERMAN: Mel Prussack, curator of The Bob Dylan Shrine in Old Bridge, New Jersey.

(Soundbite of "Forever Young")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Forever young, forever young. May you stay forever young.

SILVERMAN: Art Silverman, NPR News.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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