Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dylan Has Never Forgotten Duluth -- Here's Evidence

When I moved to Duluth in 1986 there were some people pushing to have a street or road named after Bob Dylan, some kind of tribute to the native son who was born here in St. Mary's Hospital and lived in a duplex in Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood till he was six at which time his parents Abe and Beatty relocated to Hibbing, Minnesota and on the Iron Range. Ironically, many of the local legislators opposed honoring their native son in this manner. Why? Because, they believed, he never honored them. Supposedly Dylan had snubbed his home town, had not acknowledged it adequately. Or at all, if you believed what many people said. ("You have heard them rumors, I have heard them, too.")

Eventually, despite this opposition and after many years, a section of Downtown Duluth was designated Bob Dylan Way. Nevertheless, many people here still have this false notion that Dylan has not said or done enough for Duluth.

As we approach Bob's 75th Birthday and our sixth week long (actually 8 days) Duluth Dylan Fest, it seemed a good time to set the record straight.

I asked Dylanologist John Bushey, 25-year host of Highway 61 Revisited, to help and he readily assembled the following from off the top of his head.

* * * *
Liner notes on back side of Dylan's 1962 first LP
“His Life and Times: Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24th, 1941. After living briefly in Sioux Fall, SD and Gallup, NM, he graduated from high school in Hibbing, MN “way up by the Canadian border.””

Liner Notes to 1963 second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
“Not yet twenty-two at the time of this album’s release, Dylan is growing at a swift, experience-hungry rate. …the details of Dylan’s biography were summarized in the notes to his first Columbia album, but to recapitulate briefly, he was born on May 24th, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota.

Song "Girl From The North Country"
From liner notes to the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan: “Girl from the North Country was first conceived by Bob Dylan about three years before he finally wrote it down in December 1962….” This would have made him 18 and a senior in HS when it was conceived. This leads us to believe it is indeed about his then girlfriend, Echo Helstrom.

Liner Notes to his third album, The Times They Are A Changin' 
From 11 Outlined Epitaphs:

First residence, Duluth
The town I was born in holds no memories
but for the honkin' foghorns
the rainy mist
an' the rocky cliffs
I have carried no feelings
up past the Lake Superior hills
the town I grew up in is the one
that has left me with my legacy visions
it was not a rich town
my parents were not rich
it was not a poor town
an' my parents were not poor
it was a dyin' town
(it was a dyin' town)
a train line cuts the ground
showin' where the fathers an' mothers
of me an' my friends had picked
up an' moved from
north Hibbing
t' south Hibbing
old north Hibbing ...
already dead
with its old stone courthouse
decayin' in the wind
long abandoned
windows crashed out
the breath of its broken walls
being smothered in clingin' moss...

I am still runnin' I guess
but my road has seen many changes
for I've served my time as a refugee
in mental terms an' in physical terms
an' many a fear has vanished
an' many an attitude has fallen
an' many a dream has faded
an' I know I shall meet the snowy North
again -- but with changed eyes nex' time 'round
t' walk lazily down its streets
an' linger by the edge of town
find old friends if they're still around
talk t' the old people
an' the young people
running yes ...
but stoppin' for a while
embracin' what I left
an' lovin' it -- for I learned by now
never t' expect
what it cannot give me

Bayfront Park, 2013
3rd LP The Times They Are a Changin: 
Song North Country Blues: Entirely about the dying of the mining industry in Hibbing.

July 3rd, 1999 Concert at Bayfront Park in Duluth, MN 
“I was born up on that hill. Glad to see it’s still there. My first girlfriend came from here. She was so conceited I used to call her Mimi.”

1998 Grammy Awards Album of The Year speech 
“I just wanted to say that one time when I was about 16 or 17 years old I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory. I was three feet away from him and he looked at me, and I just had some kind of feeling that he was, I don’t know how or why, but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way. In the words of the immortal Robert Johnson the stuff I got will bust your brains out”

1974 album Planet Waves:
Song “Something There is About You"

Thought I'd shaken the wonder
And the phantoms of my youth
Rainy days on the great lakes
Walkin' the hills of old Duluth
There was me and Danny Lopez
Cold eyes, black nights and then there was Ruth
Somethin' there is about you
That brings back a long-forgotten truth

Playboy Magazine Interview 1966

DYLAN: I had some amazing projections when I was a kid, but not since then. And those visions have been strong enough to keep me going through today.

PLAYBOY: What were those visions like?

DYLAN: They were a feeling of wonder. I projected myself toward what I might personally, humanly do in terms of creating any kinds of reality. I was born in, grew up in a place so foreign that you had to be there to picture it.

PLAYBOY: Are you talking about Hibbing, Minnesota?

DYLAN: It was all in upper Minnesota.

PLAYBOY: What was the quality of those visionary experiences?

DYLAN: Well, in the winter, everything was still, nothing moved. Eight months of that. You can put it together. You can have some amazing hallucinogenic experiences doing nothing but looking out your window. There is also the summer, when it gets hot and sticky and the air is very metallic. There is a lot of Indian spirit. The earth there is unusual, filled with ore. So there is something happening that is hard to define. There is a magnetic attraction there. Maybe thousands and thousands of years ago, some planet bumped into the land there. There is a great spiritual quality throughout the Midwest. Very subtle, very strong, and that is where I grew up. New York was a dream.

PLAYBOY: Why did you leave Minnesota?

DYLAN: Well, there comes a time for all things to pass.

* * * *

From letter to ECLE, 1963
“My country is the Minnesota-North Dakota territory, that is where I was born and learned how to walk and it’s where I was raised and went to school...my youth was spent wildly among the snowy hills and sky blue lakes. Willow fields and abandoned open pit mines. Contrary to rumors, I am very proud of where I’m from.”

From Rolling Stone interview with David Brinkley
As for Duluth, where his grandparents lived, he thinks it's one of the country's forgotten gems. "You'll never see another town like Duluth," he says. "It's not a tourist destination, but it probably should be. Depends what season you're in there, though. There are only two seasons: damp and cold. I like the way the hills tumble to the waterfront and the way the wind blows around the grain elevators. The train yards go on forever too. It's old-age industrial, that's what it is. You'll see it from the top of the hill for miles and miles before you get there. You won't believe your eyes. I'll give you a medal if you get out alive."

from Bob Dylan
(Sent to the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
after he received the Tom Paine Award at the Bill of Rights dinner on December 13, 1963

"…My country is the Minnesota-North Dakota territory that's where I was born an learned how t walk an it's where I was raised an went t school... my youth was spent wildly among the snowy hills an sky blue lakes, willow fields an abandoned open pit mines. contrary t rumors, I am very proud of where I'm from an also of the many blood streams that run in my roots.”

* * * *
I remember hearing Dylan talk on the radio and he was asked about why he didn't talk much about his roots in Minnesota or Duluth. I forget the question precisely, but he replied that he said more about it than appeared in print, and something to the effect that New York writers didn't care that much about this part of the country. (Maybe someone can help find the exact statement... Or maybe I only read it. I know I didn't imagine it... but then, occasionally my own life is only a series of dreams.)

Despite his international fame that would welcome him as a king anywhere, Bob Dylan still maintains his home in rural Minnesota next door to his brother David.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Celebrate.


Anonymous said...

*Photo is from 2013 Duluth show, now 1999 Duluth show

Ed Newman said...

Hi Mastt
Thanks for the correction. Silly me. Was in a hurry to get this posted before work and added the incorrect citation (which I now removed so no one else is misled.) Yes, I was all three Dylan concerts here.... In 1998 he didn't make any references to Duluth, but that was rectified when he was here with Paul Simon the following year.

Ed Newman said...

Oops! Mis-spelled you name. Too much of a hurry again. Sorry.