Finding Mr. Tambourine ManHe’s known as one of the most reclusive musicians in the business, and our mission was to find and interview him. Robert Allen Zimmerman — more commonly known as Bob Dylan — was going to be a hard catch.
By: Sarah Alabsi, Duluth Budgeteer News
He’s known as one of the most reclusive musicians in the business, and our mission was to find and interview him. Robert Allen Zimmerman — more commonly known as Bob Dylan — was going to be a hard catch.
My mission was a wild goose chase looking for Mr. Tambourine Man.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t flattering. The search entailed keeping a lookout for skinny men on motorcycles and visiting an old graveyard, all while listening to a heavy dose of “Tempest,” Dylan’s most recent album.
Getting the assignment is a story in itself. Having taken the day off from work, I got the news from Clara on my cell phone at the clothing hotspot Forever 21. It was a little strange to check my phone and see I had four missed calls and a voicemail from her. I called her back, nervously, might I add. When I heard the words “Robin wants us to interview Bob Dylan,” I couldn’t help but shout “What?” to the annoyed looks of preteens and adults alike.
So from that moment, Clara and I began the insane search days before Dylan’s concert. Bob Dylan was the alien that Clara and I had to make contact with.
We began to discuss possible actions to take to garner his attention without being too fanatic. We knew Dylan had sat with a 17-year-old with the Hibbing High School newspaper years ago and we knew that we wouldn’t have very much time to speak with him. We didn’t know what we would say and we didn’t know how on earth we were ever going to score an interview with a guy like Bob Dylan.
Our first idea was what any Millennial Generation teenager would think of right away: social networking. Twitter was our site of choice for this step. We began our shameless search by tweeting at the official twitters of Bob Dylan and Wilco. Did we make contact with anyone? No. Did we at least think we would get a “pity retweet”? To be fair, not really.
After that lame attempt, I tried to step it up a little bit. I emailed John Bushey, a KUMD radio show presenter (and amateur magician). Bushey is a pretty big fan, and says that he has made some contact with Dylan, so we figured, “Why not?” I never got a reply via email, but when I visited Bob Dylan’s childhood home in Duluth with my editor Naomi, he was there. The house had definitely seen its better days, but as I could tell from the stench of paint and sight of boards, it was being renovated.
It turns out that Bushey and his friend Bill, who owns the house, have been remodeling the flat where Dylan’s family lived. Though Naomi and I learned a lot about the mystery around Bob Dylan, we didn’t really get any hints on where he might be staying or how we may get in touch with the folk singer.
After calls and emails to some of his distant relatives and former friends, there was a breakthrough. A tip had found its way to me. The information was that there had been some fresh flowers laid on the grave of Dylan’s late parents, Abram and Beatrice. As per the thrill of the chase, Naomi and I raced to the Tifereth Israel Cemetery to check out the site. At first, I thought we actually had a chance of actually getting something big out of the trip. But of course, technology had to get in the way. Six phone crashes later, the Google Maps app on my phone finally led us to the solemn graveyard. As we found the gravestone, Naomi and I were intrigued by the several stones we found on top of the gravestone. I remembered that I had learned that this was a sign of respect to the dead in the Judaism. The stones show that someone has visited, and that the individual has not been forgotten. From the sight of those stones, Abram and Beatty Zimmerman had definitely not been forgotten.
The next tip was more of a rumor. Word had gotten out that Bob Dylan would be staying at the Radisson Hotel. It made sense. It’s just a short walk away from Bayfront Festival Park where his concert would be taking place.
Clara and I started to think of some ways we could see him, using this information. Everything involved being really creepy and invasive, so we decided to wait until the concert to possibly see him. Basically, we were procrastinating because actually finding him felt almost impossible.
We decided to get to the concert early in the hopes of finding a good place to stand. Thankfully, we did. The audience seemed to be taking advantage of the fact that they could sit on lawn chairs for this concert. After listening to the amazing bands Richard Thompson Electric Trio, My Morning Jacket and Wilco, we got news of a plan. A woman claiming to be an old friend of Dylan wanted us to pass a note to him. At first, this scenario sounded pretty stupid. I’m sure he gets a note like this at every concert he plays. We decided to pass it along to someone touring with him in the hopes that they would pass it off to Dylan. Clara and I saw John Stirratt talking outside his bus, and decided he’d be a great candidate for the messenger role.
Stirratt ended up not taking the note. It turns out, the Wilco bassist has never even spoken to Dylan. We may not have gotten the note passed, but we got a pretty great picture out of it.
After going back to enjoy the last half of Wilco’s set, Clara got a phone call from a frenzied Robin Washington saying that Bob was confirmed to be at the Radisson. We were told to watch the elevators at the hotel to try and spot him. Thus began the sprint from the stage to the Radisson. Being fueled mainly by the adrenaline rush of the situation, we got to the hotel pretty quickly. After scouting the elevators (I took the ground floor, Clara the main lobby) for about five minutes, Robin came running to tell us that a black Mercedes van was parked in the front lot.
“Who else could it be?” Robin said.
And truth be told, by the time we got to the lot, the black van was out of sight.
We got back to Bayfront, laughing. It had been a weird journey, and we now had a story to tell. I was disappointed, but I couldn’t really say I had my hopes up too high. The success of the mission seemed so close yet still so far. I guess that’s what you get with a guy like Bob Dylan. He’s been called “the voice of his generation” so many times it’s no wonder he likes to stay away from the press as much as he does.
With the mission having not been completely successful, the question Clara and I were going to ask still remains unanswered. During the concert Dylan never said, “Hello, Duluth,” or anything.
He didn’t talk to anyone (did he, Clara?).
So, Mr. Dylan. On the off chance that you come upon this column, which song of yours would you recommend to people of my generation?