Revisiting his Northland Roots
From the streets of Duluth and Hibbing to music and culture around the world, Bob Dylan's influence is palpable everywhere. And he's a son of the North Country.
Dylan was born at St. Mary's hospital in Duluth on May 24, 1941. He lived in a duplex in the Duluth Hillside until he was 6 years old, when his family moved to Hibbing.
"I don't believe he would have been who he is had he come from somewhere else," blogger and Duluth Dylan Fest volunteer Ed Newman said.
"If he grew up in a different time and a different place, I think his story would be really different," Katie Fredeen with the Hibbing Dylan Project said.
Fredeen is part of a dedicated group of people making sure Dylan's 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature is never forgotten.
"I didn't understand the whole depth of the impact that Bob Dylan had on the global community until, I don't know, maybe 15-16 years ago," Fredeen said.
But once she did, the wheels were on fire, and Fredeen spent the last five years working to bring a permanent monument to Dylan's hometown.
"It's the right time, it's the right place, and finally the right momentum to be able to have something that's outside for people to have access to all the time."
The installation will be shaped like a guitar pick with mention of his Nobel win on one side and a wall of lyrics on the other. And it will point at the Hibbing High School auditorium, where Dylan once climbed onstage and began painting what would be a lifelong masterpiece.
And not far from there, at the Hibbing Public Library, the Bob Dylan collection continued to draw people until the pandemic shut the doors.
"It's a nice little thing to have for a library. It brings a lot of people in," Library Lead Tyler Pulkkinen said.
He read from a guestbook that contained signatures from places like San Antonio, Omaha, Germany, Finland and Australia.
The library also has a collection of books and tapes that are not allowed to leave the building.
"A lot of these things, there's only a few copies left in the world," Pulkkinen explained.
They're there for research, preservation and inspiration.
Dylan's twist of fate came on Jan. 31, 1959, back in Duluth.
"To think, that spark and that inspiration happened right here," Mark Poirier, executive director of the Armory Arts and Music Center, said.
Dylan said in his Nobel lecture that it all started at the Duluth Armory.
"If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I'd have to start with Buddy Holly," Dylan said.
He described driving 100 miles to see him play and standing only 6 feet away.
"Then out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye. And he transmitted something, something I didn't know what. And it gave me the chills," Dylan said in the Nobel lecture.
And three days later, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash.
"It just kind of goes to show that in a matter of a couple of hours, your whole life can change," Poirier said.
As the Armory is renovated and restored, Dylan's life changing spot in front of the stage will marked with a star.
"It's a pretty profound influence that he's had on our culture," Ed Newman, a local Dylan blogger and Dylan Fest volunteer, said.
Newman describes Dylan's work as rich and complex, saying it was poured into by the North Country.
"The rivers, the lake, the sound of the fog horn, the boats, the iron, the work ethic, the hard times that the people went through, a lot of that hardship that has happened in the iron ore community, is in his awareness," Newman said. "It's in his blood."
It's a vein that runs through culture and music to this day, 80 years later.
"Dylan's different from all the rock & rollers that preceded him because he comes from that folk sensibility of awareness and more philosophical and more ethical," Newman described. "And he brought that into rock & roll."
Dylan doesn't come back to the Northland much -- at least not publicly. But he shared some thoughts with ABC's 20/20 in 1985.
"Well, you have to work out where your place is and who you are. But we're all spirit," Dylan said. "That's all we are, just walking, you know, we're dressed up in a suit of skin. And we're going to leave that behind."
"I don't know when the stage will be set for another person like Bob Dylan to just walk out on the stage and kind of have everything right time, right place, right gigs in New York like that again," Fredeen said, "but I'm hopeful that maybe someday it will be another kid from Hibbing."