Where to begin?
First with a postscript from last night. Lake Superior was still steaming in an entirely unusual 95 degrees at 9PM, when we met two farming couples from South Dakota. They had terrible tales to tell ofterrible drought & farms going under. They told us they had to go on vacation because they just couldn;t stand looking at their dying corn crop. May have to be plowed under, a total loss. Sounded like the 1930s dustbowl and, in fact, some articles in today’s paper confirmed this.
Our Tuesday began in Duluth, amidst dreary skies and a very large lake out there that had been transformed into a crystal ball of fog and apparitions. The temperature had dropped almost 30 degrees, to the mid-60s. We were ready for action. This was the big day. We were no longer nibbling around the edges. We were going in for the kill.
After a civilized breakfast, eaten while rotating atop the Hotel Radisson-Harborview,mwe went linear: ensconced in our Dylan-mobile, we proceeded to knock off in quick succession every Dylan-related site in Duluth. This included his first house, which we found after some wandering, thanks to the intervention of a mailman we happened upon ( “You have to go east, not west!” he told us with some amusement). This is worth a word or two. When we found the house, high on the hill above the lake, we found ourselves wary of getting out to photograph it only because there was a large unleashed German Shepherd on the porch next door. However, we had traveled 1600 miles to get here, so we screwed our courage to the sticking spot despite Fido’s evident agitation. Yup, we got out and went about our business (which involved sticking our nose into other people’s business.) From there we visited the Nettleton School a block away where little Robert attended kindergarten. (The Zimmermans moved to Hibbing when he was six). Bill went inside and spoke to several staff who were running a summer camp. They had no idea Dylan went there, nor did several parents walking with their kids near by. But the librarian did know, and she told Bill that the school had put on a play last year, and one of the kids played little Bobby. We then visited the following: the hospital where he was born; Leif Ericsson Park where Bobby went with his Dad to a Truman rally; the armory where he watched a Buddy Holly concert a few days before the tragic air crash; the sign marking the beginning of Highway 61. Thus, we were swept along Duluth’s “Bob Dylan Way.” Others have may have trod this 1.8 mile path before us, but how many dared to face down a ferocious German Shepherd?
All this historical digging made us extremely hungry, and we found our way to a local café owned by a Norwegian expatriate. After some delicious food and good conversation, she introduced us to a Duluth booster and local film producer who kept telling us he had to rush off to a phone conference, but simply couldn’t desist from telling us more compelling details about Duluth, which were all amplified by his repetitive mantra that the city was “a deep well.” Gee, we believed it, as there was certainly a hell-uva a big well in their backyard, specifically the largest fresh water lake in the world. Lots of interesting people up there in Duluth.
It was then off to Hibbing, the name of which, even now, causes us to tremble.
After settling into a an old 1930s style hotel in the town of Virginia some 20 miles away ( and becoming slightly ill watching Romney on the lobby TV), we drove to Hibbing and soon found ourselves on the main street. Gosh, we were here! Quick impressions: larger town than Bill thought; nice leafy streets, but with well-kept houses right next to….hmm… decaying ones; fine looking main street, but…hmm…on closer examination many empty storefronts. This was definitely a town on the way down, but with many unusually fine public buildings financed by the wealthy mine owners who even once moved the entire town so they could expand the mines first things first!). Clearly Dylan knew of local hardship even back then. Listen to North Country Blues. This nice, supposedly middle class boy was a neighbor, so to speak, to some very complex realities. Though he personally never wanted, he did not need Woody Guthrie to educate him about the hardships in this vale of tears. He saw them around him, in Hibbing and in the surrounding countryside. (Indeed one of his teachers noted his social compassion even then).
And so we went on the Dylan walking tour, which within 15 square blocks took us to his high school where he first rocked out at a talent show, his elementary school, home, synagogue, movie theater, grandparents’ clothing store, music store, hotel where he had his bar mitzvah party, department store where his mom worked, diner where he spent time with his girlfriend Echo after school, his Dad’s appliance store, and the bowling alley where he won an award. Another impression: he came from a small town that proved way too small for him, but even within that town, the orbit of his universe was even smaller, measured in only a few blocks. But boredom can provide a fertile soil for the imagination of a bright kid. Perhaps the same thing that sent him running from Hibbing also helped to create him.
We met some locals who shared with us what they knew about Dylan. Joe, the new owner of the synagogue, seemed a little puzzled by our quest, but told us a bit of history regarding the place. Alas, Bill’s best efforts to wheedle his way into the synagogue–now a private residence–did not succeed. Well, at least it succeeded in amusing Larry who understood just what his fellow traveler was up to.
On our walk through the area around “Bob Dylan Drive,” we had some very interesting interactions with Nick & Debbie, a couple of nice people in their 50’s or 60’s sitting on a bench. Nick originally asked us if we were “terrorists,” based on us skulking around and taking a lot of pictures. We reassured him by telling him we were simply Dylan fanatics and he relaxed. it turns out Debbie knew the Zimmerman family and told us that Bob had been hassled a lot by neighborhood bullies. Why we asked? He was just different, “too brilliant for them,” she said. Even now she finds Hibbing a close-minded, narrow place. We left pondering Dylan’s childhood environment once again. We are planning to return to Hibbing tomorrow. Still some unfinished business.
After some excellent hamburgers at Zimmy’s, a local eatery drenched in Dylan memorabilia, we drove back to Virginia. Larry put the album “Times They Are A-Changing” on the Dylan-mobile sound system. How about this unbelievable lineup: Times…Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Only A Pawn…, Restless Farewell, North Country Blues, With God On Our Side…When the Ship Comes In. Previously we had listened to songs and then discussed and dissected them.
This time, speeding through the North Country night, we just sang.
ps: Photos coming tomorrow.