We drew encouragement from the fact we had survived the night in the somewhat sketchy Virginia, Minn., Coates Plaza Hotel, which we are sure was once a delightful place to rest a traveler’s weary bones. Some interesting characters passed us in the halls, but we tried to look straight ahead or eyeball the configuration of stains in the carpets. According to the young desk clerk. the town of Virginia was “filled with bars, 4 wheeling activities, and hunting rabbits.” OK, a piquant sampling of North Country life.
After breakfast at a local main street diner that was also sliding on the downside of life, we headed back to Hibbing. We needed to see the Hibbing High School that “Zimbo,” as his friends sometimes called him, attended and where he played that scandalous rock music at talent shows. At one point, just as in “Back to the Future,” the principal cut the sound—to the great chagrin of this young man who had not yet become the Voice of his Generation. As instructed, we called the school for a tour, and when we arrived a custodian named Tom intercepted us, volunteered to be our guide, and gave a wonderful tour. Hibbing High is no ordinary school. The impressive structure was built by the mining barons to attract mining families to the area. Door frames are appointed with carvings, ceilings are elaborately detailed and painted, dark wood trim runs throughout the school, and the auditorium is really a small concert illuminated by European crystal chandeliers that are each insured for $350,000. The building is beautiful and Tom showed off its features with evident pride. Dylan himself has been quoted as saying something to the effect of: Hey, don’t think I played with my first bands in some rinky-dink high school auditorium. This was a memorable school building and Dylan’s words express the kind of hometown pride often difficult to find in his writings.
From Hibbing High, it was off to the public library to view it’s small but heartfelt display of Dylan material. Our final stop in Hibbing was a true showstopper: the largest open iron pit mine in the world. This mine was a deep gash that ran for miles, and our Town of Brookline, Mass., could probably be lowered into it with plenty of room to spare. This mine was located only a mile or two from the Zimmerman home and was part of Bob’s world, an odd mixture of middle class life, and the foreboding and rough aspects of mining community life. He captured this world in haunting songs such as North Country Blues He didn’t learn everything he knew about hardship from Woody Guthrie. Some of the real stuff lay right around the corner.
Farewell Hibbing! Folks, it is hard for Americans to admit this, but we were plain running out of land. North was not an option, and so we turned south and drove toward the Minneapolis area when we will visit what’s left of Dinkytown tomorrow, that area around the university where Bob started performing while he was a student and just after he dropped out. Alas, many of the sites (bars, coffeehouses) are gone. Imagination, get ready. You will be called upon to do double duty in streets of Minneapolis on Friday.
During this leg of our trip, we listened to Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home. Kind of hard to believe how much his music had changed in two years. Like us he was pressing the pedal to the metal. We were on our way to the Twin Cities, but he was accelerating away from the ballad forms of Woody Guthrie –did you know his book, Bound for Glory begins with him arriving in Duluth during a labor dispute?–and toward the fractured poetic language and diction of Whitman, Kerouac and Ginsberg. In short, he was heading toward the complex consciousness that we call the Sixties. It was a change he was reflecting and leading at the same time.