Friday, February 22, 2019

Trivial Pursuits: Bob Dylan's Favorite Monopoly Piece

The Scottie Dog
Disclaimer: There is nothing profound to be revealed here. Just a few more tidbits of Dylan trivia. 

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey we went through a Monopoly phase. It may have been just after the slot car racing phase, the ping pong phase or the billiards phase. You know how it is when you’re a kid. You get amped and focused.

I remember one game in Tom Browne’s basement that lasted a full week, which we funded by adding cash from my own family’s Monopoly loot. Late Friday evening we finally called it a draw.

Monopoly is one of those ubiquitous games that seems embedded in our collective unconscious. The various elements of the game are fairly common knowledge: Chance and Community Chest cards, title deeds for the various properties, green houses and red hotels, and money.

And then, there are the tokens, or playing pieces, each as much a part of the game as everything else.

Parker Brothers purchased the rights to Monopoly in 1934 and produced the game from 1935 to 1990, when it was sold to Hasbro. From 1943 on you could choose as your playing piece a Battleship, Boot, Cannon, Horse and Rider, Iron, Race Car, Scottie Dog, Thimble, Top Hat, or Wheelbarrow.

What this means is that the same game pieces kids used in the 80s were being used in the 40s and 50s. And the same game pieces we used in the 60’s were the same that Bob Dylan used when he came down from Hibbing to visit his friend Louis Kemp out on London Road in East Duluth.

* * * *
Two Degrees of Separation
What makes Duluth interesting to some extent is how "small town" it is. You're no doubt familiar with the concept of Six Degrees of Separation in which every person in the world is just six steps removed from everyone else in the world. Well, I am beginning to think that here in Duluth everyone you meet is just two steps removed from someone with a first-hand Bob Dylan story.

From my own experience here many stories can be retrieved in an instant, but this is a new one. Last weekend a friend of a friend told me that when Bob Zimmerman (Dylan) would visit his friend Louis Kemp in Duluth they used to play Monopoly. The story originated with a gentleman who does security guard work at Fond-du-Luth Casino downtown.

Naturally, I thought it would be fun to hear the story first-hand and headed into town the following eve to see what I could learn.

Timing is everything, and when I entered the front door I encountered an older gentleman wearing a white shirt and tie, a badge and a name tag that read “Gary.” He looked to be in his mid-70s so I struck up and conversation by first asking if he lived here in Duluth all his life. He said he had. I then asked how old he was, and Gary said 77.

“Oh, Bob Dylan is 77,” I said, and we were quickly into it. In short order he mentioned living down the block from Louis Kemp, a friend of Bobby Zimmerman’s from Camp Herzl. When Bob would come down from Hibbing they liked to play Monopoly. “Bob always liked to be the Scottie Dog,” Gary affirmed.

Gary, Louis, Bob and other friends would spend hours upstairs playing Monopoly. Gary remembers Louis’ mom Frieda sometimes coming upstairs to bring them grapes and hot milk, and that when Louis later had a boat in Alaska he named it after his mother.

Gary also shared how Bob would be humming all the time while playing, tapping on the edge of the table, a restless internal energy going on so that sometimes they would have to say, “Your turn, Bob.”

Buddy Holly, Winter Dance Party at the Armory,
Carl Bunch on drums. Photo: Sharon Johnson
I asked Gary whether he was at Buddy Holly’s Winter Dance Party at the Armory. Gary said he was indeed there at the Armory show with two other friends that night. While there he noticed at one point that there was a pile of 20 or so Winter Dance Party posters sitting there. In retrospect, in light of the plane crash a couple days later, he wondered what those posters would be worth today. "There were lots of people there. The music was great all around," Gary said, "but the real hit that night was Ritchie Valens."

For Bob Zimmerman the highlight was making a connection with Buddy Holly, a connection that felt like more than simply eye contact. Dylan has made several public references to that night including these comments from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I'd have to start with Buddy Holly... He was mesmerizing... Everything about him... Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I don't know what. And it gave me the chills."

* * * *
Louis Kemp and Bob Zimmerman were 11 and 12 when they met at Camp Herzl. They went on to become lifelong friends. When Louis was married in that London Road home in 1983 Bob was there as Best Man.

For the past couple years some of us had caught word  that Louis Kemp was writing a book about growing up with Bob. One chapter in the book will be about that night at the Armory, titled "Oh Boy." As for the rest of the book, it's a sure thing that there will be stories we haven't heard yet, and also a sure thing that they will be more interesting than which game piece Bob would choose when he played Monopoly.

The book is slated to be released later this year, in late summer or early fall. 

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