COLUMN: Bob Dylan at 70

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, May 22, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Bob Dylan at 70
By Aaron J. Brown

On Tuesday, the Hibbing kid once known as Bobby Zimmerman turns 70. We’re not sure where Bob Dylan will be on his birthday. Probably not here, though that’d be nice. Bob could walk downtown and hear all the things other members of the Class of ’59 hear on such a day.

“Age is just a number.”

“At least you’re still on the grassy side of the sod.”

“70 is the new 50.”

When I think about Dylan turning 70 I can’t personalize it too much. I’m a long way from 70, though getting to be a long way from zero. So, while famous people turn 70 all the time there is some symbolism here, especially for people who grew up with Dylan’s music.

For a lot of baby boomers, including millions who’ve never heard of us here on the Iron Range, Dylan is the voice of a whole generation. If you don’t believe me, ask the people coming to Hibbing later this week for Dylan Days. For many musicians since, including the influential new bands of today, he laid down a model for lyrics and music that matter.

With his early songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a’ Changin,’” Dylan reflected the views of many youth, though fewer youth here in the pro-military environs of the Range. More importantly, Dylan transformed as he aged, cutting tracks such as “Like a Rollin’ Stone” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” This, too, represented his generation as it aged, culminating with the “Blood on the Tracks” album of the early ‘70s, recorded with aid from his brother and a cast of Minnesota musicians.

Time wore on; the nation grew up and settled into old arguments, disputes not entirely different than the ones over Vietnam. Today everything from tax policy to social issues to new wars in new places seems to fall along similar, passionate battle lines.

When Dylan grew up on the Iron Range, the mines still dug for original Mesabi red iron ore. Modern taconite ore mining and production were still unknown to most. People grew up believing that when the red ore ran out the place would die and they would leave. For most, that statement ended up half true. A lot of the artists and intellectuals who admired Dylan left and others, many of whom resented Dylan, stayed to mine harder rock amid continued economic uncertainty.

And now Dylan is 70. He’s still got some years left. Like an older relative puttering in the backyard on a project that never quite seems finished, he’s still touring the world. He made waves in China and even played Vietnam earlier this year. But his voice is battered and craggy, rich with experience but worn down by use. His band plays louder than ever, like grandpa’s television.

I grew up on the Iron Range and still live here, proudly. I became a proud fan of Dylan’s long after the release of his most popular albums. My iPod has a lot of Dylan songs, though I’ve since leaned just as heavily on Carole King and Johnny Cash. I’ve added new groups like Mumford and Sons, whose Dylan influence is so thick that they managed to score stage time with Bob at the last Grammy Awards ceremony. These songs mix in my ears as I go for evening walks on the old dirt road. My kids are in bed and I am older, too.

Dylan and the Range may never get their moment of total mutual understanding, but all of us are left thinking about time in moments like this. As musicians, writers and artists gather in Hibbing next weekend, joining Dylan fans and curiosity-seekers, we remark on time together. People can endure the passage of time for decades, but only words can outlive us.

Or maybe a tune.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Gerry Mantel says

    Was that 1941 … or 1914?

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