Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Professor Craig Grau Shares Insights About Dylan, Duluth and Scarlet Town

In Scarlet Town, where I was born
There's ivy leaf and silver thorn
The streets have names that you can't pronounce
Gold is down to a quarter of an ounce

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Dylan mural in Minneapolis
I think one of the reasons -- not the only, but one of them -- that Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize selection selection surprised some but not others is because there were many people already aware that his name had been given consideration in the past. I myself had heard rumors previous to this, but was surprised to learn that his name had been proposed as early as 1997.

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Since my involvement with the Duluth Dylan Fest, I've had the privilege of meeting many interesting people whose paths I would not likely have crossed otherwise. One of these is Craig Grau, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He, like I, came to Duluth from elsewhere and as we talked recently I identified with some of his observations, which I wanted to share here.

EN: How long were you teaching political science and what attracted you to this field?

Craig Grau: I taught political science at UMD for 36 years. I think I became interested in politics because I was raised in Southeastern Wisconsin where elections were very competitive.

EN: You stated that you sometimes used Dylan's songs in the classroom. Can you give a few examples of songs that dovetailed with your teaching?

CG: I knew of Bob Dylan before I came to Duluth, but it surprised me how little attention he was given by the community. In Arizona I had seen much more attention given to a singer who had only one well-known song. In a public opinion class I recall using songs as a means to form and express political opinion. The sixties seemed to be a high water mark in that regard and Dylan probably the best known. One was "The Times they are a-Changin".

EN: When and how did you come to be a Dylan fan?

CG: My interest in Dylan continued to grow over the years even as I continued to wonder why Duluth had not embraced him.

EN: You have stated that you believe the song Scarlet Town is autobiographical. Can you elaborate on this idea?

CG: I noticed how some of Dylan's early songs had parts that were autobiographical. Then when I started to listen to "Scarlet Town" in 2012 when it appeared on Dylan's album "Tempest" it struck me that it was also autobiographical and if so it was important given that he has long been identified with the phrase "No Direction Home", but in "Scarlet Town" there is the phrase "In Scarlet Town, the sky is clear, You'll wish to God that you stayed right here."

The song uses elements of the old ballad "Barbara Allen", but I think it is about Bobby Allen (Zimmerman) especially about his father who I think is William Holme in the song. A William Holme is known as the begetter of some of Shakespeare's works.* In this song he may be the begetter (in the Biblical sense) of Bob.

There seem to be other elements of Bob's north country background such as living under the hill which Bob did in both Duluth and Hibbing. Hematite that is so important on the Iron Range which is scarlet and the name of the Hibbing High school yearbook. Two MN towns Walnut Grove and Maplewood, the way his mother cared for his father and Bob cared for his mother etc.

But Bob has never said it is autobiographical and it may not be, but he likes the song and sings it often.

Personally I think he is telling us something important.

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When critics castigated the Nobel Prize committee for selecting Mr. Dylan, many writers countered with their own defense of this decision including Stephen King, a fan since the 70's.

Here's a statement I ran across last night made by Salman Rushdie, a former winner of the Booker prize, another prestigious literary achievement:

We live in a time of great lyricist-songwriters – Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits – but Dylan towers over everyone. His words have been an inspiration to me ever since I first heard a Dylan album at school, and I am delighted by his Nobel win. The frontiers of literature keep widening, and it’s exciting that the Nobel prize recognises that. I intend to spend the day playing Mr Tambourine Man, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Like a Rolling Stone, Idiot Wind, Jokerman, Tangled Up In Blue and A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall. 
--'Dylan towers over everyone' 

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

*EdNote: Notice the references to Shakespeare in the two speeches presented Saturday in Stockholm that I've shared on this page

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