John Bauldie died in a helicopter crash on 22nd October 1996. He was returning to London with Matthew Harding, Chairman of Chelsea Football Club, after watching his beloved Bolton Wanderers’ shock victory over Chelsea in the League Cup. John and Harding had become friends over their shared love of football and Bob Dylan. To mark the 25th anniversary of Matthew Harding’s passing, Chelsea will have a minute’s applause before their home game with Norwich City on 23rd October 2021. That applause is for John too.
John Bauldie was the Godfather of the Bob Dylan fan network and Bob Dylan Studies. Throughout the seventies he’d been central to a worldwide community of avid Dylan tape collectors who shared rare studio outtakes and live concert recordings with each other. Galvanised by meeting a lot of fellow Dylan fans face-to-face at the 1978 concerts, and cemented by a subsequent Dylan conference called ‘Zimmerman Blues’ in 1979, John saw the need to create a vehicle to bring together this network of disparate fans. With the help of some like-minded friends – Clinton Heylin amongst them – they created Wanted Man, which served as a Bob Dylan knowledge hub, with a stream of information going out to a growing base of fellow travellers. Central to it all was The Telegraph, a subscription-based magazine that contained a mixture of updates on Dylan’s current activity, historical features, interviews with people who’d worked with Bob, and critical pieces examining particular aspects of Dylan’s work.
A student of literature, one of John’s key driving forces was for Dylan to be recognised in the same breath as other major artists, with serious consideration given to his work. Alongside The Telegraph, John created the Wanted Man Study Series to publish short book length studies of Dylan as a serious artist. John was a key early advocate for Dylan to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
By the late eighties, he’d successfully gathered together a large network of Dylan scholars, writers and fans across the world, and created a platform for them to share knowledge and ideas. There was barely any Bob Dylan related activity that John didn’t have a finger in. In 1990, he reached his zenith when Bob Dylan’s office invited him to help compile, and write the liner notes for, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.
After the excitement of the 1978 concerts, and before publishing the first issue of The Telegraph in 1981, John wrote his own critical study of Dylan – The Chameleon Poet: Bob Dylan’s Search For Self. The book is on one level a literary study of Dylan, intertextually drawing lines between Dylan’s work and that of Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Hermann Hesse and other notable writers. It’s his blueprint for what he would set out to achieve with The Telegraph and Wanted Man Study Series. On another level, it is a personal account of how John responded to Dylan spiritually. Armed with knowledge of John’s own biography – skilfully painted by his life-long friend Bill Allison in an introduction to the book – it’s easy to see what John was looking for, and what he found, deep in the core of Dylan’s work. Invoking Carl Jung, the book maps out the first half of Dylan’s career – from Greenwich Village folkie to born again evangelist – as one continuous search for self. As revealed by a poet. A great one.
When John took the helm of The Telegraph, he grew into the role of facilitator, and his own manuscript was tucked away in a drawer. Save for the occasional hint of its existence in The Telegraph, and a few short published extracts, there it stayed until finally seeing the light of day with publication in 2021. Bill Allison wrote a full account of the provenance of the manuscript. You can read that here.