Dylan’s aura extends to hometown – Shaped artistically by Minnesota

A mural of songwriter Bob Dylan by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra is on display in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on Oct 15. On Oct 13, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. (AFP)
A mural of songwriter Bob Dylan by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra is on display in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on Oct 15. On Oct 13, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. (AFP)

HIBBING, United States, Oct 16, (Agencies): As a teenager in the windswept mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dylan, never especially talkative, surprised his high school by entering talent shows. His peers, some recall, were underwhelmed. “Everybody would be talking and nobody would be listening”, classmate Jean Rue, 75, said about Dylan’s early performances of his own early songs and covers Little Richard — the rockand- roller then on the cutting edge. “I guess he showed them”, Rue added wryly. Dylan, the surprise winner last Thursday of the Nobel Prize for Literature, left few visible traces in the city where he spent his formative years. A restaurant stocked with memorabilia — called Zimmy’s, after his given name Robert Zimmerman — closed down and among the few reminders remaining of Dylan are a “Bob Dylan Drive” sign and an exhibit in the public library’s basement with album covers and magazine clippings. Yet Dylan’s relationship is more multi-dimensional than a famous son turning his back on his birthplace.

Famously reticent, Dylan — whose media aversion is so intense he has not commented on winning literature’s top prize — has become a sort of Yeti in northern Minnesota. Rumors periodically circulate of visits by the rocker. He owns a farm some 320 kms (200 miles) to the south of the state’s largest city Minneapolis, but lives primarily in sun-kissed Malibu.

John Bushey, who broadcasts a weekly radio show of Dylan’s music from northern Minnesota’s main city Duluth, said the rock legend showed up around 10 years ago at a shop selling T-shirts bearing his likeness. Looking ragged with a hood pulled over his head, Dylan initially alarmed the shopkeeper. “She thought that he was a bum”, he said. Bushey said that Dylan was simply “a very private person”. “He has a very complex relationship with Duluth and Hibbing. Many people think he’s abandoned the place but that’s not the case. Everything he says is very positive”, Bushey said.

The historian Douglas Brinkley, who spoke to Dylan for Rolling Stone magazine in 2009, has said the rock legend complained to him that his warmth for Minnesota “always gets cut” from interviews. Northern Minnesota, one of the coldest parts of the United States, figures repeatedly if obliquely in his songwriting. “Highway 61 Revisited”, one of his classic albums, alludes to the road that runs from Minnesota to New Orleans through blues country. A song off the 1965 album, “Desolation Row”, appears to reference the lynching of three African American circus workers in Duluth in 1920. An earlier song, “North Country Blues”, speaks of an iron-mining town where the jobs disappear and the harsh winter sets in. Dylan was born in Duluth, part of the small Jewish community in the city’s bluffs overlooking Lake Superior. Duluth has preserved his legacy more than Hibbing by holding an annual Dylan Fest for his May 24 birthday that features trivia contests and poetry readings.

Dylan moved at age six to his mother’s native Hibbing, whose population today stands at some 16,000. The town is home to the world’s largest openpit iron mine — and is the birthplace of America’s ubiquitous Greyhound buses. Rue, his classmate, said Dylan was “kind of a loner” and appeared to have lost touch with the town after an awkward appearance at his 10-year high school reunion. Dylan had by then already achieved icon status. He had moved to Minneapolis and then New York, winning acclaim in folk circles just a few years out of Hibbing High School. Keyes said he has heard of Dylan occasionally walking through town, covered with his hoodie, on his way from fishing trips. “What Bob is not going to do is go back and ride in a parade and wave at people. That’s not who he is”, he said. Keyes said he saw Dylan’s Hibbing roots in his art including his frequent imagery of wind, so inescapable in the town, and the singer’s side career sculpting with iron.

Dylan is the second Nobel laureate in literature from Minnesota after Sinclair Lewis, whose biting satire of Midwestern life and the race to materialism won him the prize in 1930, a first by an American. Dylan’s Nobel comes months after Minnesota’s other musical luminary — Prince, who proudly associated himself with the Minneapolis area — died of an accidental painkiller overdose.

Guff Peterson, 62, who works in the mine, wished that Hibbing had at least a statue of Dylan, if not an estate for tourists like Prince’s Paisley Park or Elvis Presley’s Graceland. “They need the economic stimulus. People from all over the world come here and there’s nothing to show”, he said. Yet there are signs that Dylan still has an eye on home. Bushey, the radio host, was on the air Saturday night holding a party to mark 25 years of his weekly program, with proceeds to benefit Dylan Fest and his KUMD station. Collecting items to auction at the party, an item mysteriously came in — a signed copy of a Dylan album from the man himself.

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