Listen: Bob Dylan, Long Time Gone

MPR’s Marlana Benzie presents a report from Hibbing on the 50th birthday of former hometown resident Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as the legendary Bob Dylan.

Dylan left Hibbing decades ago, but he is now getting attention from the town that has had a “complicated” relationship with the famous musician. Benzie interviews residents who share their experiences and memories of a young Dylan. Report also includes a commentary from music expert John Bauldie on Dylan’s compositions connected to the Iron Range, and an appreciation from local musician, Paul Metsa.

“Long Time Gone” was produced by WSCN Duluth.


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BOB POTTER: Bob Dylan, one of the most popular, controversial, and mysterious musicians of our time, celebrates his 50th birthday today. Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth in 1941. And in 1947, his family moved to the small mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota.

When Dylan left the working-class town to pursue a career in music, many say he cut his ties with Hibbing. And likewise, Hibbing, all but ignored Dylan's skyrocket to fame. For years, the city has done very little to recognize Dylan's achievements. But recently, Hibbing seems to be warming up a little to their native son. Marlana Benzie has this profile.

MARLANA BENZIE: Hibbing's a small town with tree-lined streets, neighborhood schools, and corner parks. Looming above Hibbing's main street is a large, flat-topped hill, created by nearly a century of open pit iron ore mining.

Robert Zimmerman, whose father Abe, ran a hardware store in town, enjoyed, in many ways, a typical 1950s middle-class childhood in the boom and crash mining town. He's described as a quiet, but different boy, one of the first and only to wear a leather jacket and ride a motorcycle. And he was one of the only kids in town to listen to Black Louisiana blues singers whose songs were broadcast to Hibbing over an AM radio station out of Little Rock, Arkansas.

An average student and member of the Latin and social studies clubs, Zimmerman graduated from Hibbing High in 1959, and soon left Hibbing for Minneapolis and then New York, determined to work in the music business. Under a new name, Bob Dylan, he quickly became one of the brightest stars in folk music. But in doing so, he alienated and angered many of the residents of his hometown.


(SINGING) Oh, God said to Abraham, kill me a son.

Abe said, man, you must be putting me on.

God say, No.

Abe say, what?

God say, you can do what you want, Abe.

But next time you see me coming, you better run.

Well, Abe said, where do you want this killing done?

God said, out on Highway 61.

In Downtown Hibbing today, people in bars and restaurants still remember when Dylan shocked the provincial working-class town with his hoarse voice and pounding rock and roll music. At talent shows at the Hibbing High School auditorium, Dylan played piano and sang with an amplified electric band behind him.

SPEAKER 1: It was a lot of activity on the stage when you're performing, which we weren't used to. We were used to people standing there, holding a microphone, and being boring.

SPEAKER 2: Bobby had long hair when nobody wore it.

SPEAKER 3: He'd be in his garage jamming and a lot of the guys would be teasing him because his music didn't sound right to them. He put up with a lot of that here.

SPEAKER 1: I don't think everyone understood his music. He was before his time. And I remember saying to friends, they just don't know good music when they hear it. This is wonderful. I like this. Listen to him. Pay attention. This is something new.

[BOB DYLAN, "THE TIMES THEY'RE A-CHANGING"] Come mothers and fathers throughout the land.

And don't criticize what you can't understand.

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.

Your old roads are rapidly aging.

Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand.

For the times, they are a-changing.

MARLANA BENZIE: Not only did many of Hibbing's residents dislike Dylan's music, but after he made his first million, some resented the things he said about his hometown. In fact, he rarely referred to Hibbing at all. One of the only times he publicly mentioned his hometown was in 1962 when he wrote, "Hibbing is a good old town. I ran away from it when I was 10, 12, 13, 15, 15.5, 17, and 18. I've been caught and brought back all, but once." And if that wasn't enough to enrage the folks of Hibbing, somewhere along the line, a rumor started that Dylan was refusing to recognize Hibbing as his hometown.

SPEAKER 4: The only thing is, he claims Duluth more to be his home than Hibbing. But actually, he was raised there.

SPEAKER 1: But when I hear that too, it upsets me because I think he didn't go to school in Duluth. He went to school with me-- well, us,

MARLANA BENZIE: One person in Hibbing who has closely followed Dylan's career and his relationship to the town is Al Zdon, the managing editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

AL ZDON: This is a mining town. It's a pretty rough and tumble town in some ways, although it had the fine arts culture inside of it that could produce a Bob Dylan, or there's been some other people that have come out of here that have been successful in the arts. But I would say the general type of person that, in Hibbing, is a miner or something like that, really didn't have much use for the kind of music that Bob Dylan was making in the '60s or '70s. It just sounded whiny kind of stuff.

MARLANA BENZIE: Zdon says, when he started working at the Tribune 15 years ago, a story about Dylan came over the wires. He says he remembers showing the article to his editor and asking if the paper would run it.

AL ZDON: His quote to me was, "Bob Dylan's name will never appear in this newspaper as long as I'm the editor." And I don't think as the editor-- that editor happened to die about a year later after that. And I don't think Bob Dylan's name ever did appear while he was still around. So there was some very strong lingering resentment.

And I think maybe almost the biblical thing about no man is a prophet in his hometown. but that coupled with, like I said, the harsh words that Dylan used to describe his hometown for a long time and how he tried to separate himself, I think, from his past.

And if you go and you read-- if you get some of these Dylan anthologies and read some of his poetry, though, he doesn't paint necessarily a pretty picture of Hibbing, but it's an honest picture and a loving picture of his hometown. So I'm sure he has those feelings too.


BOB DYLAN: And I know I shall meet the snowy north again, but with a changed eyes next time around. To walk lazily down its streets and linger by the edge of town. Find old friends if they're still around. Talk to the old people and the young people. Run and yes, but stopping for a while, embracing what I left and loving it. For I learned by now, never to expect what it cannot give me.


(SINGING) If you're traveling to the north country fair.

Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline.

Remember me to one who lives there.

For she once was a true love of mine.

MARLANA BENZIE: While many in Hibbing were ignoring Dylan in his early years, the rest of the world was embracing his music, adopting his protest songs as anthems of the Civil Rights movement, and acclaiming Dylan as a great orator, a bard, and a poet.

[BOB DYLAN, "BLOWING IN THE WIND"] How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

How many seas must the White dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

The answer is blowing in the wind.

JOHN BALDI: Because he fits right in there at the very, very top with the handful of people who have literally changed the shape, changed the direction of popular music forever. He brought literacy to the pop song.

MARLANA BENZIE: John Baldi is a recognized Dylan expert and editor of the London-based Dylan fan magazine, The Telegraph. He says, although Dylan never finished college, he was a voracious reader and many of his lyrics echo the poetry of John Donne, John Keats, and Walt Whitman.

JOHN BALDI: So that when he was writing songs, he wasn't just drawing on the musical heritage. He was drawing on an enormous literary heritage as well and managing to create something quite new. I mean, before Bob Dylan came along, we were listening to stuff like, I don't know, like, the Bobby Vee, Bobby Darin type of stuff that was just, I love you, you love me, and so on. And here was Dylan singing pertinently about much wider issues, both in personal terms and in a sense, in political terms.

[BOB DYLAN, "CHIMES OF FREEDOM"] Tolling for the deaf and blind.

Tolling for the mute.

Find the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute.

For the misdemeanor outlaw, chained and cheated by pursuit.

And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

He wrote specifically about Hibbing and about Duluth in some of the poems, which accompanied the release of Times Are Changing, the outlined epitaphs. The most maybe directly relevant songs, I think, on North Country Blues, the song for which Dylan adopts the persona of a miner's wife, which was included on Times Are Changing, where he talks about the decline of the iron ore mining industry and its effects on small towns, small Minnesotan towns.

[BOB DYLAN, "NORTH COUNTRY BLUES"] Come and gather around, friends, and I'll tell you a tale.

Of when the red iron pits ran a-plenty.

But the cardboard-filled windows and old men on the benches.

Tell you now that the whole town is empty.

In the north end of town, my own children have grown.

But I was raised on the other.

In the wee hours of youth my mother took sick.

And I was brought up by my brother.

The iron ore poured as the years pass the door.

The drag lines and the shovels they was humming.

'Till one day my brother failed to come home.

The same as my father before him.

PAUL METSA: I was seven years old, walking down the Main Street of Virginia, Minnesota.

MARLANA BENZIE: Iron Range native, Paul Metsa, was the winner of the Best Folk Singer Award at the 1990 Minnesota Music Awards.

PAUL METSA: And out of one of the record stores was playing Subterranean Homesick Blues. It was the summertime in July. And that's the first time I heard it. And I think I walked in and shoplifted the record, if I'm not mistaken.

[BOB DYLAN, "SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES"] Johnny's in the basement, mixing up the medicine.

I'm on the pavement, looking about the government.

A man in a trench coat, badge out, laid off.

Says he's got a bad bill, wants to get a paid off.

Look out, kid. It's something you did.

God knows when, but you're doing it again.

You better duck down the alleyway, looking for a new friend.

The man in the coon-skin cap in a pig pen wants $11 bills, and you only got 10.

My stuff gets compared to his semi-regularly, and it's a bit of an albatross. But I don't think there's any songwriter in the last 20 years that either-- that's working in the in popular music that hasn't been influenced by Bob Dylan.


(SINGING) Once upon a time you dressed so fine.

Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?

People call say, beware, doll, you're bound to fall.

You thought they were all kidding you.

You used to laugh about everybody that was hanging out.

Now you don't talk so loud.

Now you don't seem so proud.

About having to be scrounging your next meal.

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be without a home?

Like a complete unknown.

Like a rolling stone.

Well, I consider Bob Dylan the Frank Sinatra of folk music. And I've always thought Dylan is a very astute musician, first and foremost. And I think if you go in here, Dylan, to this day, you'll see a man who's very schooled in the basic American musics, country, western, bluegrass, gospel, folk, blues, and rock and roll.

And I think that that is his particular springboard. And why his music has become so varied is because he's so well-versed in the basic book, one of what I would call American musics.


(SINGING) Lay, lady, lay.

Lay across my big brass bed.

Lay, lady, lay.

Lay across my big brass bed.

Whatever colors you have in your mind, I'll show them to you.

And you see them shine.

Lay, lady, lay.

Lay across my big brass bed.

[BOB DYLAN, "TANGLED UP IN BLUE"] Early one morning, the sun was shining.

I was laying in bed.

Wondering if she'd changed it all.

If I her hair was still red.

The folks, they said, our lives sure was going to be rough.

They never did like Mama's homemade dress.

Papa's handbook wasn't big enough.

And I was standing on the side of the road, rain falling on my shoes.

Heading up the East Coast.

Lord knows I've paid some dues getting through.

Tangled up in blue.


(SINGING) You may be an ambassador to England or France.

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world.

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you're going to have to serve somebody.

Yes, indeed, you're going to have to serve somebody.

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the lord, but you're going to have to serve somebody.


(SINGING) I'd already gone a distance.

Just thinking of a series of dreams.

Just thinking of a series of dreams.

Just thinking of a series of dreams.

MARLANA BENZIE: Dylan expert John Baldi says in the past few years, Dylan has been performing as many as 150 shows a year in what is being called the never-ending tour.

JOHN BALDI: To be very blunt, I'm not so sure that he does fit in what's known as pop music today. He's still writing. He's still recording. He's still performing. In fact, he's performing with more energy than he's ever done.

However, while he's doing that, while he's going on with his own career, if you like, or doing what he does, pop music somewhere else, I think-- you've only got to look at what's played on the radio, what's listed in the charts, what's generally regarded as being popular. And really, it doesn't include Bob Dylan. He's something apart and beyond that.

MARLANA BENZIE: While Dylan's latest releases may not have brought him back to the top of the charts, his 30 years of song writing recently earned him a prestigious honor at this year's Grammy's, the Coveted Lifetime achievement Award. However, Dylan's performance on the Grammy's reminded many in Hibbing why they didn't like Dylan in the first place. They said he seemed spaced out. They couldn't understand the words to his music, and his guitar was just too loud.

Nevertheless, many were happy to finally hear Hibbing clearly identified as Dylan's hometown and were simply impressed that he won the award. Some Hibbing people went to a local bar called Zimmy's to watch the Grammy's.

Zimmy's, which is named after the young Robert Zimmerman is the only Hibbing business so far to capitalize on Dylan's Fame. But manager Linda Strobak says the town wasn't very receptive to Zimmy's when it opened a year ago.

LINDA STROBAK: When we opened a Zimmy's, I think, a little resentment, I was feeling that we did something recognizing him.

MARLANA BENZIE: Strobak says those sentiments have waned and many in Hibbing think the town is actually warming up to Dylan and beginning to recognize him as an international music star. And some think the town should forget the harsh words and the misunderstanding that marked Dylan's departure from his hometown.

LINDA STROBAK: They shouldn't feel that way. I don't. I think he's the greatest thing to come out of Hibbing.

SPEAKER 5: It's usually the grumblers that are heard. But he's got a lot of silent friends. I've run into a lot of them.

SPEAKER 1: I'm proud of him.

SPEAKER 5: I would hope that a lot of the people that badmouthed him in his younger days have grown up.

[BOB DYLAN, "POSITIVELY 4TH STREET"] You got a lotta of nerve to say you are my friend.

When I was down, you just stood there grinning.

You've got a lot of nerve to say you got to helping hand to lend.

You just want to be on the side that's winning.

MARLANA BENZIE: Until recently, Hibbing gave little official notice to the fact that Dylan grew up there. For years, the only recognition he received was a small placard in a tourist pavilion at Hull Rust Iron Mine. Today, bus tours pass by Dylan's boyhood home on the way to the mines. It's been over 20 years since the Zimmerman family owned the plain stucco house. And when it went up for sale a few years ago, there was some talk of the city purchasing it and turning it into a museum.

But much to the chagrin of Dylan fans, the city didn't buy it. The home was sold to a young Hibbing family for a moderate price. And so the many devotees from around the world who make the long pilgrimage to Dylan's hometown are reduced to peeking in the windows and stealing bits of grass or leaves from the front yard as the only mementos of their visit.

[BOB DYLAN, "POSITIVELY 4TH STREET"] You say I let you down.

You know it's not like that.

If you're so hurt, why then don't you show it?

You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where it's at.

You have no faith to lose, and you know it.

I know the reason that you talk behind my back.

I used to be among the crowd you're in with.

Do you take me for such a fool?

To think I'd make contact with one who tries to hide what he don't know to begin with.

You see me on the street, you always act surprised.

You say, how are you? Good luck. But you don't mean it.

When you know as well as me, you'd rather see me paralyzed.

Why don't you just come out once and scream it.

But some in Hibbing think the town may be coming to terms with Dylan's stardom. In honor of Dylan's 50th birthday, the Hibbing Public Library will exhibit a window display of memorabilia. And soon, the city will publish a book about famous people from hibbing, and Bob Dylan will be mentioned along with baseball home run King Roger Maris, Boston Celtics basketball star Kevin McHale, and millionaire pizza magnate Jeno Paulucci. Old schoolmates and fans of Dylan and Hibbing today say the city should do even more to recognize him.

SPEAKER 2: Well, the town should do something. They should have a Bobby Dylan day here.

SPEAKER 4: Yeah, he deserves that.

SPEAKER 1: There should be something here that is indicative of the fact that Bobby Dylan went to school here, the majority of all of his school years, and graduated here. There should be something.

[BOB DYLAN, "NORTH COUNTRY BLUES"] What with three babies born.

The work was cut down to a half a day's shift with no reason.

MARLANA BENZIE: At Iron World, USA, just a few miles from Hibbing in neighboring Chisholm, tourists can view an iron ore mine or learn about the history of the early settlers on the Iron Range. They can also hear Bob Dylan's North Country Blues drifting from a loudspeaker near an exhibit about labor strife in the mines.

[BOB DYLAN, "NORTH COUNTRY BLUES"] And He said in one week.

And number 11 was closing.

Organizers at Ironworld are putting together the first-ever official Dylan celebration on the Iron Range on the weekend of his 50th birthday. Program coordinator Tom Sersha says the event will include performances by folk musicians from the Iron Range, with Paul Metsa as the headline act. A Dylan exhibit will be on display, along with film and video clips highlighting his 30 year career.

TOM: And of course, it's no secret that when he was doing his music, when he was in high school, that I don't think it was accepted or appreciated at that time. I don't think people really realized the genius behind the man who was up on stage singing during a variety show at the Hibbing High School auditorium.

And as a result, I think he was ahead of his time in terms of music. And maybe people reflect upon this, and they probably didn't appreciate it at that time. But again, I mean, those ideas and perceptions of Dylan are dying out and people realize just what this man has done.

MARLANA BENZIE: Sersha says the Zimmerman family and Dylan's agents have been notified of the event, and Dylan's been invited to attend. But the people of Iron World and the people of Hibbing are still waiting to hear from Bob Dylan.

SPEAKER 6: We keep hoping-- we keep hoping that maybe you'll see this character will come in through the doorway and with the guitar across his back, and ask permission to perform on stage. And lo and behold, it'll be Bob Dylan. We do know, though, that he comes back quite often.

Contrary to popular belief-- contrary to popular belief, he does come back to the area and a lot of people feel that, well, when he left here, he doesn't come back anymore. But that's not true. He does have a lot of family members living in Minnesota and family members that live on the range. And he comes back. And when he does come back, it's incognito. And we know that he has been through the center at various times. And so we keep hoping that maybe, at some point, he'll come in and just ask permission to go on stage and do his thing. Wouldn't that be great?


(SINGING) It's unbelievable. It's strange, but true.

It's inconceivable. It could happen to you.

You're going north and you're going south. Just like bait in a fish's mouth.

Must be living in a shadow of some kind of evil star.

It's unbelievable it would get this far.

MARLANA BENZIE: With Janet Carter, I'm Marlena Benzie.

[BOB DYLAN, UNBELIEVABLE"] It's undeniable--

BOB POTTER: Long Time Gone was produced by Minnesota Public Radio station, WSCN, in Duluth.


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