Love, hate, and a year of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan works on artistic iron gates in his studio. “I’ve been around iron all my life,” he said of the project. Dylan grew up on the Mesabi Iron Range. (MGM National Harbor)
Aaron J. Brown

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote another piece about Dylan’s 80th Birthday for the Minnesota Reformer a few days ago. That piece was designed for a broader audience, while I aimed this one at a more local readership for the Mesabi Tribune. It was a surprisingly fun exercise to approach the same subject with a different goal in mind. If you like this one, try the other one, too. Not a Dylan fan? This will be a hard week for you.

Yesterday, the Hibbing Dylan Project and other partners broke ground on a new monument to the lyrics of Bob Dylan on the grounds of his alma mater, Hibbing High School.

Tomorrow, St. Louis County marks Dylan’s 80th Birthday as the start of a “Year of Dylan.” Events in Dylan’s birthplace of Duluth and the town where grew up, Hibbing, will celebrate the career of the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Duluth Dylan Festival runs this week at venues across the Zenith City.

But here I can already feel some Range readers turning away. Let me stop you right there. No, Bob Dylan doesn’t hate his hometown of Hibbing. He doesn’t hate the Mesabi Iron Range or even his birthplace of Duluth for that matter. 

The man once known as Robert Zimmerman, Hibbing High School class of 1959, doesn’t spend his days nursing a grudge. He doesn’t bad-mouth his old classmates to the New York Times or some other fancy publication the name of which escapes us. 

In fact, on several occasions, Dylan highlighted his appreciation for his upbringing in northern Minnesota. He cited Hibbing’s economic downturn of the late 1950s as one of the influences for how he saw the world. He talks about our region’s cold climate and the iron in the ground as palpable feelings he’s carried his whole life. Not just recently, but in 1963 when he wrote liner notes for “The Times They Are a’ Changin’” that described old North Hibbing.

True, Dylan hasn’t “come back” as many like to point out. He’s not signing autographs at the corner of First and Howard, or buying rounds of drinks at bars across the Mesabi. That’s not a function of hostility, however, but rather just how Dylan is.

Can you imagine if Dylan decided to hold a concert at the high school auditorium. There are 1,800 seats, and even if he gave the tickets away for free, they would quickly be resold for thousands of dollars. He’d be mobbed, not by us, but by fans who have come to see him as some kind of walking saint. He doesn’t dig that. And I think he knows that Rangers wouldn’t dig it, either. 

I used to help organize the Dylan Days event in Hibbing. It ended eight years ago before the rise of the Hibbing Dylan Project. For years I navigated the weird relationship people here had with the very idea of Bob Dylan. We’d need years of therapy to figure it out. Frankly, most would prefer to take it their graves along with all other emotions.

My late grandfather was only four years older than Dylan. Yet he still referred to him as Bobby Die-len, as did many of his contemporaries. I can’t imagine that so many people really couldn’t learn how to pronounce the word “Dylan.” I think it was a coping mechanism for the confusing implications of Dylan’s career. Dylan being from Hibbing means that anything is possible, including a dim sense that you don’t have to live your father or mother’s life all over again. 

What probably rattles us most about Bob Dylan is an ability he has that most of us Iron Rangers don’t. That is, he can leave the past behind him. 

He doesn’t think about what happened before or what people think of him today. Bob Dylan has spent 80 years, save a few mixed up years in Hibbing, thinking about what he’s going to do next. Is he weird? Probably. I hate to be the one to tell you this but most of us are kinda weird. It’s just that we burn a lot of energy pretending otherwise.

Congratulations and Happy Birthday, Bob! You’re welcome here in your hometown, even if we understand why you might stay home and work on your next album. There’s always something to do in the garage. 

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 23, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.

 

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Comments

  1. I am very curious to know the reason that Howard St. and 1st. Ave are used by semi’s, dump trucks etc. as a main through fare when you have the highway to avoid using a residential area. It is loud and disruptive and I can not imagine using it as a way for heavy trucks traffic.

  2. Joe musich says

    Dylan occupied the same space as Johnny Dark and other characters of Hibbing mythology. Mamma always said go…the Oliver closed. Dylan left leading us out like the anti Judas goat changing the town forever. Your line from the Refomer captures it all…” A twisted set of circumstances molded Bob Dylan from the hard rocks and red clay of northern Minnesota. It was, quite frankly, an accident.”…..

  3. johnny antonelli says

    compliments to the blogger….if you ever talked to b.j. rolfzen you’re probably well aware of the kind of inspiration his english class was to all the students who had the good fortune of witnessing his presentations……i’m sure he’d b quoting you now…many thanks

  4. Growing up on the range in the 60’s and 70’s I witnessed the exodus of the Jewish business community. Do you think the reasons behind this migration might be a contributing factor in Bob’s never returning?

    • I’m sure it was a factor. More important, his father passed away and his mother moved to Duluth. His brother moved away, too. Without family ties, there is less of a reason to visit your hometown. He has been by a few times for reunions, funerals and occasional flights of nostalgia. I don’t know that his behavior in this regard is any different than most people in that situation.

  5. Frank Lulich says

    Thank you for both articles…One of the first things I ran into when I started coming to Hibbing was the absolute lack of Bob Dylan. Besides the street name and a by chance drive past the library and seeing the Dylan Exhibit sign you wouldn’t know that Bob Dylan was from Hibbing. As I visited more and eventually moved here I was really shocked to see how cold they were towards him. I get that he’s not on a parade float every summer but people act like he’s never touched foot back in the state for 62 years which isn’t true. It’s just sad the venom that has gathered for him

  6. Gerry Mantel says

    I seriously doubt his birthday is the one as stated; you may not even have the right month.

    Touring Hibbing, you wouldn’t know that Bob Dylan was from there for the simple reason that he’s not — and yes, it’s nothing but Hibbing mythology.

    No more Dylan Days, No more Zimmy’s, no book at the Hibbing Public Library regarding ‘Dylan in Hibbing’ that they would recommend, etc.

    Granted, it took a long time for the story to fall apart, but fall apart it did.

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