He may be the voice of a generation. But if you're unfortunate enough to live next door to Bob Dylan, stirring protest songs and shrill mouth organ music aren't the only things that might be – to paraphrase his most famous lyric – blowin' in the wind.
The star has become embroiled in a gloriously petty dispute involving the allegedly noxious smell emanating from a portable lavatory sited in the grounds of his sprawling cliff-top home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu.
Neighbours of the reclusive Dylan – who has owned an estate at Point Dune, a famous beauty spot north-west of Los Angeles, for more than two decades – went public this week with complaints that night-time sea breezes are sending the odour of raw sewage wafting into their homes.
One family, who news crews have described as being "tangled up in poo", complained this week to police that the stench has made their child ill and forced them to abandon the upstairs bedrooms of their house on warm nights. "Mr Civil Rights is killing our civil rights!" David Emminger told reporters, while pointing out the controversial, blue portable lavatory, which is behind a storage container next to a wire fence that marks the border of Dylan's property.
Since it was installed six months ago, apparently to cater for security staff who patrol Dylan's grounds at night, Mr Emminger claims the lavatory has made portions of his family home uninhabitable. He is unable to sleep on some nights, he alleges, and his eight-year-old son, David junior, has fallen ill from the fumes.
"It started in September. I'd go into the front yard and get nauseous," Mr Emminger's wife, Cindy, told the Los Angeles Times. "I couldn't figure out at first where the smell was coming from, until I finally noticed that they had moved the porta-potty directly in front of my front door. We both have allergies and are sensitive to chemicals. It's worse when it's misty outside at night. We turn on the five fans, but it still gets inside our house. We're not even using the upstairs now. We sleep downstairs."
Malibu City public health officials are investigating the complaint by the couple, who have installed five industrial-sized outdoor fans in their front yard to blow noxious fumes back on to Dylan's property.
The city apparently tried to send an officer to inspect the contentious lavatory in January, but he was turned away by Dylan's security staff and accused of trespassing. "[The guard] said they were going to sue the city," an inspector told the LA Times.
Dylan has yet to comment on the affair, and neither his spokesman nor his New York-based attorney was returning calls on what headline-writers billed "outhouse blues" yesterday. Local bylaws prohibit homeowners from producing excessive odours.
It isn't the first time that Dylan's Malibu property, on one of the most expensive portions of real estate in California, has been at the centre of controversy. A guardhouse that Dylan built to accommodate his 24-hour security detail sparked a planning row in 1989, when Los Angeles County building and safety inspectors refused it a permit for being inaccessible to the disabled. The singer bypassed legal accessibility requirements by promising, in writing, that he "would not hire any handicapped persons" to work in his security staff.