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Mystery solved?

Dec. 10 is when Bob Dylan is supposed to be in Sweden to get his Nobel Prize in Literature. He's declined, citing "pre-existing commitments," which prompts an obvious question: What's the better gig?

Turns out Dec. 10 also is Bob Dylan Day here in Minnesota, which Gov. Mark Dayton will proclaim in Hibbing, where Dylan was a teenager.

Could it be?

The answer may be blowin' — ah, no; that joke's been overused since October, when the Swedish Academy named him the first musician to win a Nobel in literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

Dylan's response? Silence.

Then two weeks later, he said he was honored, but unable to accept in person. This week, the Nobel Foundation said Dylan has written a "speech of thanks" that will be read at Saturday's banquet in Stockholm.

But there's another party Saturday night. The newly formed Hibbing Dylan Project is throwing a Nobel Prize event with live music and cocktails in the Historic Androy Hotel. Tickets are $25.

It's the kickoff fundraiser of an effort to honor the city's most famous high school graduate, back when he was Robert Zimmerman.

The idea began when Craig Hattam, a retired social studies teacher and Hibbing native, posted on a Facebook group that there should be a statue of the city's first Nobel winner, given that there's little to note Dylan's dozen years there after the family moved from Duluth when he was 6.

When Hattam next checked Facebook, "I was the head of something that people were calling 'my committee,' " he said with a good-natured laugh. Ah, simple twists of fate.

Then Zimmerman family members contacted him, saying that they weren't keen on a statue, but maybe something could be done linked to education. Hattam didn't have to think twice.

"We offered a couple of suggestions they really liked and we'll keep talking," he said, keeping an open mind as to what will emerge. "I kind of see how [Dylan] doesn't want to be defined. I mean, every time someone's about to define him, he goes in a different direction.

"He's actually been a good role model in that way" because it shows how the creative process is never finished.

Hattam, who just retired after 34 years in Hibbing schools (the Hibbing Daily Tribune called him "iconic"), said he's always been struck by the many words of encouragement directed toward athletes: Put in your time, stick to it, you can do it, persevere.

"We don't see as many of those words resonating for students in the arts," he said. "Dylan struggled to find his voice as a teenager here, and it probably wasn't easy. Did he have people saying, 'Stick with it,' or give him a speech on hardiness?

"Do we tell arts students, 'Sure, you hear things in a different way,' and get kids to stick to it when they're struggling to find their own voice?"

Hattam paused.

"I want to say this in the right way: I've always wanted to talk to Robert Zimmerman. I've wanted to ask him, 'What did you go through here? How did it help you? What sort of inspiration or grit did you take from here to get to where you are? What could kids learn from this?' "

Dylan and Hibbing heritage

Tourists on a Dylan pilgrimage to Hibbing have to use their imaginations.

Sure, there's the Zimmerman family home at 2425 7th Av. E., but it's privately owned. The Iron Range Tourism website notes: "The family that owns the house doesn't mind cameras from the sidewalk, but please be respectful."

Otherwise, there are places where Dylan/Zimmerman once stood, or played. Or — in the case of the Androy Hotel, site of Saturday's hoopla — had his bar mitzvah party. The building where he took guitar lessons? It's now the site of Ohana Therapeutic Massage.

That's why Hattam hopes that some sort of public art can come from the project, "something that people can interact with." The project is working with the Hibbing Arts Council as its fiscal agent while it seeks nonprofit status.

Hattam said news that Dylan won a Nobel prize caught him off-guard. He wasn't alone.

Yet the international kerfuffle about a musician being honored for literature seems to have cooled, as has the consternation with his tardy response. When Dylan finally called the academy, he said that the news "left me speechless. I appreciate the honor so much."

Along with the prestige, Dylan will receive a gold medal and 8 million Swedish kroner, which is more than $877,000 in U.S. dollars. Tack så mycket, and how.

Were Dylan in Sweden this week, he'd be expected to give a lecture in his field, as do all Nobel winners in the days leading up to the ceremony.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the Swedish Academy said it will let the talk slide for now, since "there is a chance that Bob Dylan will be performing in Stockholm next year, possibly in the spring, in which case he will have a perfect opportunity to deliver his lecture."

Mic drop.

As for Dylan not going to Sweden, Hattam said few people in Hibbing are surprised or upset. "As someone who likes rock'n'roll and punk rock, I understand that whole idea of him wanting to do it his way."

But this "pre-existing commitment" that Dylan cited — any chance that it could be the shindig in Hibbing?

"No," Hattam said evenly. "I don't think so."

So the mystery remains.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185