If the Blood on the Tracks Express train ride or the Hard Rain in Duluth benefit concert hasn’t made you rush to the North Country this week for Bob Dylan’s 72nd birthday, at least give Hibbing and Duluth credit for finally getting excited about their most famous native son.
Seventy-five miles apart, the northern Minnesota cities are coming together for the first time to copresent simultaneous festivals. However, they could wind up rivals for the ultimate prize: a permanent museum in Dylan’s honor.
Duluth’s Dylan Fest, now in its third year, coincides with a new Bob Dylan Way walking tour and a small permanent exhibit at Fitger’s Brewery. Mayor Don Ness points to the growing Dylan presence as a symbol of how times are a-changin’ in his city.
“Today’s Duluth has a very different ethos [than the] conservative industry town” it was when Dylan was born there as Robert Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, Ness said. “It’s a city that celebrates creativity, entrepreneurism and a progressive worldview. I’d like to think if he gave Duluth another look, he’d be impressed.”
Hibbing, which was even more industrial and small-townish when Dylan lived there from 1947 until his high school graduation in 1959, was ahead of Duluth on the festival front. The Iron Range hub has been hosting Dylan Days since 2001 — although back then you’d see more signs trumpeting the city as the birthplace of Jeno’s Pizza Rolls and the Greyhound bus line than any proof of Dylan’s local roots. Today, however, you can find the cover of Dylan’s album “Blood on the Tracks” painted on the former Zimmerman family home, and a growing if not yet museum-worthy collection of posters, photos and memorabilia at Zimmy’s restaurant.
“For years, people were coming to Hibbing, looking around for any trace of him,” recalled Zimmy’s co-owner Linda Stroback, who, like most locals, still refers to Dylan’s late parents by their first names. “I think people in Abe and Beatty’s generation resisted acknowledging him, and even many in Bob’s generation, but that’s definitely not the case anymore.”
Now the question is if state officials will acknowledge Dylan’s legacy. Stroback and other Dylan Days organizers hope to garner Legacy dollars or other cultural funding for Dylan-related projects in Hibbing. One idea is to present the exhibit “Bob Dylan’s American Journey,” which has been shown at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.
While Dylan boosters in Hibbing and Duluth agree on the idea of a museum, they predictably disagree over where it should go.
“Zimmy’s sort of fulfills that niche right now,” Mayor Ness said. “But, yeah, if it was going to be a full-scale Dylan museum, it probably makes more sense in Duluth. Just from an economic standpoint, it’d be more viable.”
Minnesota has childhood-home museums dedicated to author Sinclair Lewis (in Sauk Centre), aviator Charles Lindbergh (Little Falls) and “Wizard of Oz” star Judy Garland (Grand Rapids).
The owners of Dylan’s childhood homes seem open to the idea of a museum. In Hibbing, Gregg French said he grapples with preservation issues every time he has to make a repair, such as getting new windows. Bill Pagel, who runs the Dylan fan site Boblinks.com, has been restoring the Zimmermans’ Duluth duplex to its 1940s state ever since he bought it on eBay in 2001.
“Duluth is more of a destination town and more economically sound, but Hibbing is unambiguously the North Country that Bob refers to from his youth,” said Alex Lubet, a Dylan expert who teaches classes on the music icon at the University of Minnesota.
But even Hibbing’s biggest Dylan booster thinks a museum there would be a much longer-shot proposition. “Those things require a lot of money, and there just isn’t much of that around here anymore,” Stroback said. “At least if a museum were to open in Duluth, I think, most people traveling to see it would also swing over to visit Hibbing. We sort of go hand-in-hand when it comes to Bob.”
Dylan is arguably a bigger deal than other musicians with museums, including Buddy Holly (in Lubbock, Texas), Louis Armstrong (Queens, N.Y.) and Liberace (Las Vegas). Of course, those are all dead performers, while Dylan is still alive enough to have another busy summer of touring ahead, including a July 10 return to Midway Stadium in St. Paul.
“The Dylan/Northland relationship has always been complicated,” said Trampled by Turtles bassist Tim Saxhaug, who lives in Duluth and played at a tribute to Dylan there last weekend. “I think he was perceived as having a grudge that didn’t seem to let go until the end of the ’90s. I’m just happy it’s different in my time.”
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