Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bob Dylan's Visit to the James Dean Museum and the Importance of Place

When Zimmy's closed its doors earlier this year a lot of hearts were broken. Not only has the Dylan-themed Hibbing restaurant been a destination for Dylan fans around the world, it has also been a centerpiece of Hibbing's annual Dylan Days celebration.

Though Linda and Bob Hocking were heartbroken by this turn of events, they weren't the only ones. Hibbing's Dylan Days itself was in jeopardy. The horses puling the wagon were tired.

This past week the news became official, news that many were already aware of. Duluth's Dylan Fest Committee had been discussing options for months should things unfold in this manner. Christa Lawler's DNT article, Organizers of Hibbing's Dylan Days put event on hiatus, provides plenty details, beginning with Aaron Brown's announcement on his Minnesota Brown Blog last week, which includes the official announcement. The Dylan Days committee has disbanded.

In addition to the closing of Zimmy's you'll also read that Howard Street Booksellers is closing its doors. Joe and Mary Keyes are retiring. That's a real bummer, too.

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For several years it had been an ambition of mine to have one of my Dylan paintings on display at Zimmy's. I intended to enter their Dylan art contest, but somehow never got around to it or ran afoul of a rules change regarding deadlines. I

For the past five years I have had a chance to "sit at the table" and watch the manner in which the annual Dylan celebrations have been conducted here in the Northland. There were actually three entities, each one showing respect for the others. The Duluth committee continually made it clear that the Hibbing events were sacred and that whatever we did down here should not interfere with the original Dylan Days. Their mission became to lay to whet the appetite for those who had come long distances and offer more activities while here in the Northland, turning a weekend celebration into a week long celebration.

For those unaware, young Robert Zimmerman was born at St. Mary's Hospital here on Duluth's Central Hillside, his first house being a few blocks west where he lived till he was six and his father Abe took the family to Hibbing.

The third entity who has also been active in this annual reunion is the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC). When I first became aware of the Duluth Dylan Fest activities, I did not know that these were separate entities with separate aims. Only as I became more involved did I understand this. The primary objective of the AAMC is to see the restoration of this historic Duluth armory on London Road. It's history is much larger than Dylan, but the "place" is a central part of the Duluth-Dylan legacy, for it was here at the Armory that Bob Zimmerman drove down to see Buddy Holly two days before the airplane crash in an Iowa cornfield that took his life along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

It's the AAMC that has been responsible for bringing Scarlet Rivera, Gene Lafond and others for concerts to kick off the week's events each May. Last year's Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan, produced by "Magic Marc" Percansky, at Sacred Heart was such a stellar event that I can't imagine the AAMC being able to top it.

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This week I re-read portions of an unpublished 1999 manuscript by Larry Kegan which at one time was online but was has since been withdrawn. Larry Kegan was Dylan's close friend when they were young. As a result of a neck injury Kegan was wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. The title of his unpublished book shows his wit and humor about this situation: Some Get The Chair.

Over the course of many years Bob invited Larry to go on tours with him. (See: Remembering Larry Kegan.) In the book he writes about events that show the importance of place. The story is about events that took place after a Friday night concert at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds on a hot summer night in mid-July 1988. The next stop was to be Detroit, but Dylan gave instructions for the tour bus to take a detour through the small rural town of Fairmount, Indiana. Kegan writes:

Bob had already gotten out of his bus and was heading down the main drag. Dave, the bus driver, came over to the van and I asked him what we were doing here. "This is James Dean's town, where he grew up and where he's buried." "Where's Bob going," I asked? "He's going to check out the High School where he attended," he said. We hung out for a while around my van and Bob's bus.

Next thing you know a couple girls come over -- it's 1:30 in the morning -- and they learn that there's a James Dean Museum in town. (Actual name: The James Dean Gallery.) One thing led to another so that two Fairmount police escorted Bob to the museum which was opened for him and his friends. The place was handicapped accessible so Larry also had the privilege of getting the tour.

The place was a real trip into the Fifties. James Dean stuff everywhere. Posters from all three of his movies, EAST OF EDEN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and GIANT. Clothes he wore in the movie and around town, They even had his basketball trunks he actually used in high school.

There's something to be said about the importance of place.

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About fifteen years ago or so we went to a family reunion of sorts at Salt Fork, a resort in Southeast Ohio that my parents used to bring us when we were growing. Our families stayed at lakeside cabins for a week, sharing and making many fond memories. One day I drove into town to pick up some things from nearby Cambridge. To my surprise there was a Hopalong Cassidy Museum there. Hopalong Cassidy was a cowboy film and TV star back in the early days of television. William Boyd, the actor who played this fictional good guy cowboy with the black hat, was from Cambridge.

Dylan went out of his way to visit the places where his heroes were from. It's on record that he's been to Liverpool. I don't doubt he's paid a visit to Lubbock, Texas where the Buddy Holly Museum resides.

If a minor character like William Boyd or men with relatively short careers like Buddy Holly and James Dean have places dedicated to their honor in their home towns, it just seems like there should be something more in Duluth than three manhole covers and a section of street designated "Bob Dylan Way." As for getting your photo taken, you can stand in front of a small wall of memorabilia down the hall from the Brewhouse at Fitger's, or in front of the Buddy Holly & the Crickets poster in the entryway of the Armory Annex down on London Road.

It doesn't have to be much, but I'd like to see something more than what we've got. Zimmy's was such a place for Hibbing, and we mourn the loss.

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Photos: Top right, Zimmy's 2012. 
Dylan painting by Ed Newman; Salute poster from 2014
Photo of Larry Kegan in Belize was sent to me by a friend; photo by David Elwood.

4 comments:

inthealley said...

I know the world is full of people like me with the dream of coming from Europe one day to visit Hibbing and Duluth. The loss of Zimmys and Dylan Days is tragic for us. I contributed to the Dylan road signs, and would always be up for helping anything in the small way I could.

Anonymous said...

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ENNYMAN said...

Thank you for both these thoughts and sentiments.
e.

Anonymous said...

Grew up loving Dylan. Saw him twice in concert. What great music was created in the 60s. Today, it's just pathetic with the exception of a few. Wish I could visit Hibbing, but I will see Dylan again.