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Our view: Dylan's honor is also our honor

News Tribune illustration by Gary Meader

The man himself won’t be there, he said. But we will. Duluth will. And Hibbing. And all of Minnesota.

In spirit, in pride, we’ll soak up the honor Saturday, the esteem, the glory, when this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature goes to our native son: the born-in-Duluth, raised-on-the-Range, voice-for-his-generation, changed-the-world Bob Dylan. The same air we breathe, the same streets we walk, the same lake breezes that bite our

cheeks now have produced a writer of global legend and significance. Feeling it right behind the breastplate? You betcha we are.

The ceremony six days from today may be in Stockholm, but the moment will resonate with as much significance and importance here, some 4,114 miles away, as anywhere. Dylan’s defining moment can also be ours.

“The Nobel Prize is a rare jewel and a noteworthy accomplishment,” Duluth writer, musician and artist Ed Newman, who has made more than a dozen portraits of Dylan, said in comments to the News Tribune Opinion page late last week. “As Northland poet and lifetime teacher Phil Fitzpatrick is fond of pointing out, Dylan inherited a number of qualities from his Northland family, including a tireless work ethic, a penchant for showmanship, and a fascination with rambling. One character quality that is distinctly northern Minnesotan is his authenticity.”

“I am thrilled that Dylan received this prestigious honor and am proud to know that he was born in Duluth and lived his formative years in the Northland,” said Zane Bail, an organizer of Duluth’s annual Dylan Fest. “He has received a number of awards over the years in recognition of his impact on music, poetry and culture throughout the country and world. The fact that hundreds of people come to celebrate Bob Dylan as part of the Duluth Dylan Fest each May, around his birthday — some traveling from as far as Paris, China, and Australia — further illustrates the significant influence he has had and still has on people of all ages.

“Bob Dylan is arguably one of the most important Americans,” Bail said.

And yet the Northland hasn’t always embraced him. There was long this feeling that he ran out on us, didn’t give back, wasn’t proud of his roots. Such impressions were always horribly misplaced, however, according to those Northlanders who know Dylan or who are fanatical about his music and career.

“He still has a home in Minnesota, he has made frequent references to his Minnesota memories, and he internally carried the Northland with him and spent a lifetime sharing the best of what we are with the rest of the world,” Newman said. “I’m not from Minnesota originally, so my appreciation of his achievements comes from a place quite different from the ‘pride in a hometown boy who made good.’ … As a writer myself, I’ve long appreciated Dylan’s creative use of language, his storytelling in song, his invention of new ways to say old things and his selection of subject matter. I’ve been listening to his music for more than half a century, writing about it for 10 years, and I still keep discovering new insights, new connections. It’s been personally rewarding to have been a fan.”

Steve Goldfine is a distant cousin. His father Erwin and Uncle Monnie shared the same bedroom as boys growing up on Third Avenue East as Dylan later occupied during the first several years of his life.

Goldfine was told of Dylan’s Nobel win by his mother, Beverly Goldfine.

“She was excited because it felt like Bob Dylan was a member of our family his whole life,” Steve Goldfine told the Opinion page. “I can remember a conversation at our dinner table in the early 1960s, in which (Dylan’s parents) Beatty and Abe were beside themselves; they said they hadn’t heard from Bobby in months, and when they heard that (my parents) were going to New York, the Zimmermans asked my parents to go down to Greenwich Village and ask people on the street if they knew that Bobby was safe and OK.”

He was.

In fact, “Bob became the most doting son, someone who could truly be admired because of how well he treated his mother,” Steve Goldfine said. “He made sure that both (his mother) Beatty and (Aunt) Irene were flown back and forth between Minnesota and their winter homes in Arizona. He had her spend her summers with him and his family when they were in Minnesota during the summer. Whenever Bob received a significant honor or award, he asked his mother to accompany him.

“Much has been made about Bob Dylan not being particularly fond of Duluth or Hibbing,” Steve Goldfine continued. “By his actions over the years, it doesn’t seem to have much credence. I remember approximately 40 years ago when Bob hosted (singer) Joan Baez, the members of the rock group the Byrds, and other members of the Rolling Thunder Revue for a ski weekend at Spirit Mountain. I would guess that I couldn’t count on my two hands the number of times over the years that I’d walk into Grandma’s Saloon and Deli and I’d see Dylan in the corner hanging with his buddies. On the rare occasions that I worked up enough nerve to say hi to him, (he) inevitably would say something like, ‘Hi Goldfine, I see you are still in Duluth.’ There are other indications that Duluth was a special place for Dylan. Three of his oldest and closest friends and traveling buddies over the years were raised in Duluth: Louis Kemp, Mickey Paulucci, and my father’s first cousin, Mike Goldfine. (And) Dylan has played three really great concerts here that were well-attended and warmly received,” including one, in 1999, at Bayfront Festival Park with Paul Simon. His other concerts in Duluth were in 1998 in the arena and and in 2013 back at Bayfront.

So, Duluth and Dylan? Yeah, we’re good now. We have a radio program, “Highway 61 Revisited,” that started in 1991 on KUMD-FM, hosted by John Bushey. Dylan favorably mentioned Duluth and the old Duluth Armory while accepting a Grammy in 1998. Bob Dylan Way, a route through Duluth that passes some of our city’s hot spots for arts, music and culture, was designated in 2008. And our annual Duluth Dylan Days festival is now seven years old.

Dylan’s Nobel prize comes “at a time when, happily, Bob and the Northland (are) coming together,” said Craig Grau, an associate professor emeritus of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “He has shown that he understands the Northland, from ‘Desolation Row’ to ‘Scarlet Town.’ But the Nobel Prize is special. It acknowledges what many in the Northland have proudly known for sometime: Bob Dylan is world-class.”

And he’s ours. As much as we’re a part of him and all he has done and accomplished and inspired. So, bursting with pride about Saturday’s Nobel honor? Go ahead. It can be as though we’re there.