This morning we steamed into Minneapolis from our motel just north of the city, having basically been denied landing rights in the city itself (no hotel rooms, nada, nothing). We came to the Twin Cities to explore the neighborhood known as Dinkytown, which borders the University of Minnesota. Dylan enrolled there in 1959, dropped out after his freshman year, and some months thereafter went to New York’s Greenwich Village. The rest is history.
In Dinkytown, three huge things happened to Dylan: He read Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound for Glory, a book that in a simple twist of fate actually begins in the city of Dylan’s birth, Duluth. (The book also prompted Dylan to visit the very ill Guthrie in his New Jersey Hospital). In Dinkytown, Dylan traded his electric guitar for an acoustic one and joined the folk scene as a performer. And, finally it was there that Bobby Zimmerman started calling himself Bob Dillon and then Bob Dylan.
Alas, Dylan’s Dinkytown has largely vanished. We conjured the ghosts as best we could, but it was challenging. His apartment now sits atop a pasta bar. The folk club/bar where he performed, The 10 0’Clock Scholar, has been demolished and is now a parking lot. The one important site remaining is the music store, The Podium, where he bought guitar strings and later in the 1970s returned to recruit some of the staff to play with him on the “Blood On The Tracks” album. (Bill asked the very nice man behind the counter, Frank, to tell us about this lore. He replied: “It’s not lore. It’s fact”). We spent some enjoyable time in the store and in the neighboring bookshop, doing what we do a lot, which is schmoozing with the locals about Dylan, and taking in the local culture where he once lived. In fact, Ryan, the bookshop manager was so inspired by our adventures that he took Larry’s address and promised to send him a copy of a rare bootleg called “Blood on the Tapes,” another version of the “Tracks” album.
Oh yes, one of the main streets that runs through Dinkytown, which we thought belonged to Greenwich Village is still there. Positively 4th Street!
We might have stayed longer, but like Kerouac our one imperative has became: to move. And so we were off, departing from Minnesota and speeding across Heaven…er, Iowa…and arrived at a motel just west of Iowa City. Actually, Bill spent much of the speeding through and reading aloud a long article about Dylan’s relationship to Judaism, an issue that has preoccupied us. Was he ashamed of his roots? Was he a victim of anti-Semitism in Hibbing? Was his “denial” of it partly a commercial calculation? Did he identify or mistake his family’s Judaism with a larger suffocating cultural conventionality? All part of the big mystery…what part “personal,” what part “political”?
We also continued a long running debate and the significance of Dylan’s departure from Hibbing. Larry: his alienation was intense and longstanding: he never felt comfortable in his own skin in Hibbing, in his family etc. Somehow, he kept his own inner goals and self intact behind a façade of conventionality. When he left Hibbing, his genuine self emerged like a rocket from a cocoon. Bill: He was rebelling against his parents and town, as many kids do, and this may have been intensified by degree as a result the appearance of an alternative expression to the culture (R&R…Dean & Brando) and by his intelligence. Larry: True, but his break with hometown and his family and background was more radical than most and somehow freeing. Bill: Like Whitman, he was probably not aware of the gathering creative forces of his later genius, and how can you have expect his loving but conventional parents to be delighted he wanted to be a poet? And how can you have expected them–good but limited people– to understand him if we still can’t? And on it went. Further discussion and analysis terminable and interminable, continued with the viewings of the final part of the amazing Scorcese documentary on Dylan, “No Direction Home.”
By sheer coincidence, the remains of the 19th Century Amana Colony are only a few miles away from the motel so we went over to visit that incredible utopian communal expression of an earlier age. We were reminded that the 1960s was just the latest manifestation of this very American impulse.
Tomorrow we will go to Springfield, Illinois, for a rendezvous with another mid-westerner, Abraham Lincoln (no known connection to Bob Dylan!), and then turn south
to explore the headwaters of Dylan’s inspiration: Memphis, Nashville, and the land of the blues, the Mississippi Delta.
Stay with us, y’all.