The Hunt for Bob October

Dylan fan art painted on a wall in Manchester, England. (PHOTO: Pete Birkinshaw, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

All this brisk autumn air reminds me of the first time I saw Bob Dylan perform at the DECC in Duluth on October 22, 1998. The show was an elaborate excuse for me to see my girlfriend from Hibbing after I had moved away from the Iron Range for college. She wasn’t as much of a Dylan fan as me, but that was hardly the point.

See, we had broken up because of the long distance between us, but forgotten the part where you stop talking to each other. At some point we just said, hey, let’s meet in Duluth and see Bob play his birthplace of Duluth for the first time. And in doing that, we realized we weren’t really broken up. We’re still married today, in fact, so the breakup never did take.

This Oct. 25, Hibbing’s hometown troubadour Bob Dylan performs at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It’s his first Minnesota show in three years, also the first since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. He’s been to Minnesota several times since that ’98 show. Yet, every time he returns the hometown crowds wonder what he might say back in his homeland.

Nevertheless, if past shows are any indicator, Dylan is unlikely to mention much about Hibbing, the Nobel or even the weather in between songs. Dylan is not one to wax poetic during his concerts. If he speaks, the words come sparsely and cryptically.

Dylan seems to relish the live show as an demonstration of sound, rather than as a venue for discussion. Indeed, one of the challenges of following Dylan is that once he completes a remarkable work of art, he views the rest of his business as packing a lunch bucket and going to work. People want to talk about the songs or his interviews, parse every word. But Dylan keeps his eye on the clock. The whistle just blew. See you tomorrow, Ralph.

Meantime, Dylan fandom becomes its own sort of art. I still remember the guy sitting in front of us in 1998. Floppy fishing hat and a tie-dye shirt. He sat alone, singing the lyrics to songs that Dylan himself seemed to have long forgotten.

In my years of helping with the Dylan Days event in Hibbing, I met Dylan fans from all over the world. Just this month, I met with a German film crew in Hibbing working on a Dylan documentary for an arts channel in Europe. People of all ages and backgrounds respond emotionally to the man’s work. But mostly he just seems glad to keep making more songs. Sentiment is best reserved for a Frank Sinatra cover that Dylan would rather play than talk about.

Many might say that Dylan is the singular poet of our time. The single most important member of the United States rock elite. The musician who started a more pensive movement in rock ’n’ roll. But he probably more closely identifies with the people back home on the Iron Range, the people who thought he was weird. Because deep down, Dylan’s trick is in understanding how we are all weird people living in times like these.

For me, it makes total sense that Bob Dylan grew up on the Iron Range, even though it seems to make no sense to his fans and detractors alike. True, Bob Dylan’s not a miner. He doesn’t hunt deer or talk about hockey. But for a professional showman, he’s much more of a workman.

Yes, Dylan is coming back to Minnesota. Probably not for the last time, but who knows? People get older. Times may echo, but they always change. Either way, Dylan’s not much worried about it. And neither am I. The road sprawls out in front of you. So you keep the tour going.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

 

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