Bob Dylan talks at length about Minnesota in rare interview


A tribute to Dylan outside Hibbing High School
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, his Hibbing alma mater paid tribute (Derek Montgomery/MPR)

Bob Dylan has long earned the reputation ofnbeing a bit of a recluse and in fact he rarely agrees to interviews, making a Dylan interview a rare occurrence. However, yesterday a layer of the mystique surrounding the singer-songwriter dissipated: an interview with Bill Flanagan appeared on Dylan's website. Not only is the interview in and of itself surprising, but even more so is that Dylan talked at length with Flanagan about his native state of Minnesota.

The interview was published in advance of the release of Dylan's 38th studio album Triplicate, and much of the interview focuses on the reasoning behind Dylan's perceived effort to preserve these songs of a past era. The three-disc compilation, which is his third album in a row of standards from the Great American Songbook, is set to be released on March 31.

Dylan typically isn't overly vocal when it comes to the "North Country." However, in this interview he opened up about his time growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. When asked of his memories of World War II, which had a significant influence on the heartbreaking and sentimental lyrics of the classics found on Triplicate, Dylan (born in 1941) admitted that he didn't remember much. He did, though, share some of his earliest memories of this time, which were the memories of his childhood in Duluth:

I was born in Duluth - industrial town, ship yards, ore docks, grain elevators, mainline train yards, switching yards. It's on the banks of Lake Superior, built on granite rock. Lot of fog horns, sailors, loggers, storms, blizzards. My mom says there were food shortages, food rationing, hardly any gas, electricity cutting off - everything metal in your house you gave to the war effort. It was a dark place, even in the light of day - curfews, gloomy, lonely, all that sort of stuff - we lived there till I was about five, till the end of the war.

When asked if there was something unique about Minnesotans, Dylan claimed that "people are pretty much the same wherever you go." However, he did have something to say about the difference between northern and southern Minnesota:
Minnesota has its own Mason Dixon line. I come from the north and that's different from southern Minnesota; if you're there you could be in Iowa or Georgia. Up north the weather is more extreme - frostbite in the winter, mosquito-ridden in the summer, no air conditioning when I grew up, steam heat in the winter and you had to wear a lot of clothes when you went outdoors. Your blood gets thick. It's the land of 10,000 lakes - lot of hunting and fishing. Indian country, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Lakota, birch trees, open pit mines, bears and wolves - the air is raw. Southern Minnesota is farming country, wheat fields and hay stacks, lots of corn fields, horses and milk cows. In the north it's more hardscrabble.

Flanagan also inquired about the time Dylan spent in Minneapolis and what it was like in the Twin Cities when first moved there:
Minneapolis and St. Paul - the Twin Cities, they were rock and roll towns. I didn't know that. I thought the only rock and roll towns were Memphis and Shreveport. In Minneapolis they played northwest rock and roll, Dick Dale and the Ventures, The Kingsmen played there a lot, The Easy Beats, The Castaways, all surf bands, high voltage groups.

While talking about his time in Minneapolis, Dylan expressed that he wasn't surprised by the success of the Trashmen's 1963 hit "Surfing Bird." and went on to talk about the surf rock scene that was prospering in the Twin Cities around that time.
The Twin Cities was surfing rockabilly - all of it cranked up to ten with a lot of reverb; tremolo switches, everything Fender - Esquires, Broadcasters, Jaguars, amps on folding chairs - the chairs even looked Fender. Sandy Nelson drumming. "Surfing Bird" came out of there a little while later, it didn't surprise me.

Along with his experiences in Minnesota, Dylan also shared some of his interesting perspectives on the intersection of the music of the past and the music of today. At one point in the interview, Flanagan asked Dylan to dissect the influence of songs like "When the World Was Young" or "These Foolish Things," both found on Triplicate, on the emergence of rock and roll and music today. The result was a whimsical explanation of the origin of rock and roll:
Rock and roll was indeed an extension of what was going on - the big swinging bands - Ray Noble, Will Bradley, Glenn Miller, I listened to that music before I heard Elvis Presley. But rock and roll was high energy, explosive and cut down. It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods. Rhythm and blues, country and western, bluegrass and gospel were always there - but it was compartmentalized - it was great but it wasn't dangerous. Rock and roll was a dangerous weapon, chrome plated, it exploded like the speed of light, it reflected the times, especially the presence of the atomic bomb which had preceded it by several years.

To read more of Dylan's thoughts on Minnesota and modern music, you can read the full interview here. Below, sample some tracks from Triplicate via NPR Music.

Lillian Speakman is a senior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio.

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