Friday, August 02, 2019

Dylan Double Down

Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Saturday, the Weaver and I attended a museum exhibit about Bob Dylan, the “Bard of Hibbing.” Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966, covering Bob’s musical efforts from the very earliest up to his motorcycle crash. The show, originally put together by the Experience Music Foundation in Seattle, had been augmented by local artists, friends and relatives. These homey touches—Bob’s high school yearbook was there—were augmented by some items about the neighborhood Bob frequented when he lived in Minneapolis, plus vintage photos and memorabilia of the venues and performers he knew. Anyone who has been involved with the music scene here is well aware of the shadow Mr. Dylan casts over all of popular music in the last 45 years, his local connections have not been forgotten. There are numerous stories about Bob spending time in Minnesota (he has a farm about 40 miles northwest of town), and he has spent time “hanging” with local musicians and has even patronized consignment shops. He recorded half of “Blood On The Tracks” here, as well as writing many of those songs while at the farm.

FITK, April 23, 2007,Favorite Son”

We were by no means the only patrons of that exhibit. Richard F. Thomas, the George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard University, attended a symposium that was tied in with the show, his story of that event (and a field trip to Hibbing) is included in his 2017 book Why Bob Dylan Matters. Thomas spends the bulk of the book discussing Bob’s place in the history of poetry, especially the Greek and Roman classics. He also makes a compelling argument for the validity of Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, the most concrete example of which is the scene depicted on the obverse of the Nobel medallion. The poet Virgil is “meditating the woodland muse”, a muse who plays the lyre (cithara = guitar), as he writes down his inspirations. Virgil’s apt phrase Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes (… those who enriched our lives with the newfound arts they forged…) circles the medallion’s rim. This book, along with Christopher Ricks’ Dylan’s Vision of Sin (which covers Bob’s relationship to classical English language poets), are a pair of great aids in the exploration of the depth of Dylan’s oeuvre.

Another author who attended that exhibit was Toby Thompson, whose 1971 volume Positively Main Street was a curio from the golden age of “New Journalism.” Toby’s story of his pilgrimage to Hibbing was really the start of the Dylan biography industry. Unlike Tom Wolfe or Hunter S. Thompson (no relation), Toby’s writing here is really very sweet, almost innocent. The updated book (published after he was astounded by the interest in it at the exhibit) adds to that sweetness with his further reflections as well more about Echo Star Helstrom, the original “Girl from the North Country.”

While the Thomas (and Ricks) book(s) illuminate Dylan’s genius, the Thompson book shows Dylan’s humanity. He was evidently a “nice boy” while growing up in Northern Minnesota, interested in all types of culture, on a quest to make sense of it all.

A quest that he has yet to abandon.

By Professor Batty


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