Bob Dylan speaks of Hibbing, grandma & his dream career


Robert A. Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota, didn’t know he’d become Bob Dylan when he left for Dinkytown, Minneapolis in 1959. But now that he is, Northern Minnesota’s most famous son is looking back with some nostalgia and reverence for the Iron Range town where he first dabbled with poetry and guitars.

Known for his guarded reclusiveness with the media, Dylan rarely gives interviews. His first major interview in nearly three years was just released by the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) magazine, of all things, and they plan to publish the full piece in March. Still, elements of the Robert Love interview have been posted online and they are fascinating.

First, Dylan was rather strategically accessing an AARP audience that might be interested in his latest album “Shadows in the Night,” a collection of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra which I wrote about earlier this week. But his comments about these old standard songs show a new glimpse inside how Dylan thinks about music.

For me, the most interesting parts of the interview are where Dylan again references people and experiences he had in Hibbing as a central part of his musical development. He talks about his grandmother, who owned the Lybba Theater, and her life philosophy about happiness that he has since adopted. He talks about the radio stations he could pick up on the cold northern nights, how they brought music to him from all over the country.

Media reports picked up on something that isn’t in the preview: that, if he had it to do over again, Dylan would have been a teacher — probably Roman history or theology. Those are tough fields to find work, so I guess it’s good Bob had music to fall back on.

But Dylan’s respect for the field of teaching and the fields he mentioned made me think of B.J. Rolfzen, the late Hibbing English teacher who taught two generations of Iron Range sons and daughters the virtues of poetry and philosophy. Rolfzen told me that during a brief visit to Hibbing in the mid 2000s, Dylan told him that he taught him everything he knew. A wonderful moment for a teacher that deserved accolades like that.

Dylan closed the interview with some comments about American society that will probably garner some attention. Once again, Dylan shows himself to think about concepts often relegated to political arguments in philosophical terms. The whole thing is well worth a read.

I’m sad that our Dylan Days event won’t be happening this year, but I’m glad that the Duluth Dylan Fest and the Dylan story in Hibbing will live on — because stories and songs hang in the air longer than people do.



  1. I loved that article. I grew up in the north woods of Rhinelander, WI and I too, could only get cool radio stations at night. I look forward to hearing the new album, although I’m a little scared!

  2. Stephen Berde says

    True story – In 1959 and 60 Bob Zimmerman was a student at the U of M. He was a pledge at the SAM house on the campus. He never went active because shortly after his first year he left for NY.
    I was one year ahead of Bobbie (as he was known back then). For a time he dated my sister Bobbi (Barbara) – one summer night he was at my house in St Paul on Fairmount Ave playing our piano at around midnight – My Dad who was fast asleep came tearing down the stairs in his pajamas and yelled “what the hell is that noise”? – my Dad who was an opera buff couldn’t believe the noise from his rock and roll piano playing – He literally tossed Zimmerman out of the house – My sister obviously was very distraught and we all had a great laugh outside – I’ll remember that story as long as I live.

    • Tim DeMillo says

      Great anecdote, Mr. Bearde. Thank you for sharing a very human, artistically important, historic moment in your family’s past.
      Sincerely, Tim DeMillo, born and raised in the Brooklyn Neighborhood of Hibbing (the wrong side of the bloody Iron ore tracks) Class of ’72.

  3. Stan Berde says

    Archie was in his underwear on the steps going upstairs.. True story! Stan Berde

  4. Thanks for the reference to BJ Rolfzen, beloved English teacher at Hibbing Community College!!
    I’m from Hibbing, raised in Kitzville, north of Brooklyn! Also lived in town, Home Acres area, for a while. HHS ’66, HJC ’68.

  5. Gerry Mantel says

    OK, so I believe Bob stated that he would’ve taught Roman History if he hadn’t become a musician … no?
    That seems awful peculiar to me, given that ‘my man’ did such a damned good job in his role as my favorite Finn-dian, Les Ross … who definitely looked more Greek than Roman …

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