Saturday, May 8, 2021

Just Like Dave Dylan’s Blues: Engel in Minnesota

The Zimmermans lived upstairs in this house on 
Duluth's Central Hillside till Robert Allen was six.
(Birthday celebration with music, cake at Dylan Fest.)
One of the features of our annual Duluth Dylan Fest is the John Bushey Memorial Lecture Series. The lecture program derives its name from a man whose influence and impact goes far beyond what even his closest friends realize. For more than 26 years he was the voice of KUMD radio program Highway 61 Revisited, the Dylan-themed music hour that reached listeners around the globe. 

This years speaker will be Dave Engel, author of Just Like Bob Zimmerman's Blues: Bob Dylan In Minnesota. The book is a treasure trove of details about Dylan early life and roots that I doubt you will find in any other book. Just yestoday I saw the place where young Bob's grandfather died and the apartment building where his father lived when, three blocks away, the 1920 lynching in Duluth took place. 

I asked Mr. Engel if he had a working title for the book before it went to print and he replied, "I found my working title: On the Borderline: Dylan In Minnesota," adding, "Where the winds hit heavy…"

The John Bushey Memorial Lecture will be livestreamed Saturday afternoon from 1:30 to 3:00 pm CST. Specifics will be posted on and our Facebook page. (Links at the end of this blog post.)

EN: Where did you grow up and how did you personally come to take an interest in Bob Dylan? Currently what do you do for a living or what did you do if retired?

Dave Engel: Born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., I am “Uncle Dave”—75 years later back in the same Range-like rust belt shut down paper mill town—as a former college English teacher, photographer, journalist, currently publisher of River City Memoirs books and Artifacts magazine, director of the historical society, only City Historian ever here, head bard and minstrel of Mid-State Poetry Towers.

My memory of first appreciating a song by “Bob Die-lan” is of riding in a ’58 Chevy on the county highway between Wisconsin Rapids and then-Wisconsin State University, Stevens Point, where I heard “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on the car radio. Wants eleven dollar bills and you only got ten! So does he want eleven one-dollar bills or does he want only eleven-dollar bills and you only got Hamiltons? 

Later in 1965, a guitar-strumming housemate pressed all of Bob’s early folk records on me, which I was obliged to play many times over, Bob, The Freewheelin’ Bob, Another Side of Bob, pretty hard to listen to at first but, as a coming generation of pothead hipsters would learn, it grows on you. The sun ain’t yellow, it’s chicken!


EN: Obviously researching this book was a major undertaking. How many years did it take from start to finish?

DE: Although I have kept files on Dylan since the “strummingbird” reference in Playboy—clipped while seated at 110 degrees F next to a mammoth Life magazine paper machine—researching and writing the book began on July 29, 1993, when my wife Kathy, daughter Angelica and I, returning from Ft. Frances, Ontario, stopped for a look at Hibbing. We visited the Greyhound bus museum in the Memorial Building, Old Hibbing, the Bob Dylan exhibit at the “Centennial Office” and dined at Zimmy’s. Remarkably, the owner of the Dylan boyhood home invited me to come in and look around.

The Dylan book project was suspended until, many months later, I received a list from Roberta Schloesser at the Hibbing Historical Society of persons to interview. On July 24, 1994, my family and I returned to Hibbing where I met with former high school principal Kenneth Pederson and tracked down a copy of the elusive 1959 high school yearbook. 

On Dec. 2, 1996, as my wife’s journal records, “Dave takes book to Palmer, Amherst.” 

“Just Like” was published in 1997 and went out of print not long after the printing company went bankrupt in 2000.


EN: There were a lot of books already written about Dylan when you published this. What prompted you to add another to the catalog?

DE: At the time of publication, most Dylan books had a coastal bias that included a condescending attitude to what the cultural elite viewed as the barren ore dumps of St. Louis County. In the late Sixties, I took a look at the peaceful tree-lined streets of Hibbing and thought, a lot like my home town, not so bad. 

EN: Just Like Bob Zimmerman’s Blues: Dylan in Minnesota – Did you have a “working title” while working on this project? 

DE: A few possible titles but can’t remember what they were after a quarter century. The book title is an obvious homage to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Zimmerman’s psychic blues encompass a young artiste’s discomfiture with his environment and with himself and all the Zimmermans. 

For musical blues, there are the laments up and down Highway 61 that helped transform Zimmerman into the chimera he called “Bob Dylan.”


EN: There are so many anecdotes that you write in which it is apparent someone who was there shared them with you, as if you were a fly on the wall. (Example: Echo said this or that)  

DE: My goal was to feel like I was there and to bring that feeling into print. Rather more of a wallflower than a fly, let’s hope. A ghost of myself for sure. And yes, I felt it: 1940s Duluth and 1950s Hibbing. Pretty much back home.

Related Links

Just Like Bob Zimmerman's Blues (Amazon link)

2021 Duluth Dylan Fest Schedule

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