Bob Dylan exhibit: It's the lore, not the legacy

Bob Dylan left behind many a legacy in northern Minnesota and lands beyond. You know -- groundbreaking songwriting, thought-provoking ballads and cool hair.

Bob Dylan left behind many a legacy in northern Minnesota and lands beyond. You know -- groundbreaking songwriting, thought-provoking ballads and cool hair.

And tucked away in one Duluth home is perhaps the least-known of them all -- the Seiler family's busted piano.

Dylan, at about age 15, when he was known as Robert Zimmerman, broke the piano's damper pedal as he played an enthusiastic version of an Elvis Presley song. Jack Seiler, who was perhaps 9 years old, remembers listening in awe.

"My mother was very good friends with [Dylan's] mother," said Seiler, co-owner of Security Jewelers in Duluth. "Many times, they would come to our house for the holidays."

The piano, which never was fixed, won't be a part of the "Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966" exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. There will, however, be plenty of Northeastern Minnesota references, both in memorabilia and in person.


The exhibit, which opens today and runs through April 29, focuses on Dylan's personal and artistic history from his high school years until he debuted on the Greenwich Village folk music scene.

A handful of local people made a hastily organized trip to the exhibit's preview party on Friday. Some, like Susan Beasy Latto of Duluth, were Dylan's high school friends. Others, like Bill Pagel, are Dylan fans. And still others, like Sandy Thompson of Duluth, have a family connection -- at least a tiny one.

Thompson once edited the Duluth News Tribune's food section. When Dylan and Paul Simon played at Bayfront Park in 1999, Thompson wanted to talk to both music icons' mothers to see if they would share their favorite recipes. People thought she was crazy because Dylan's family never gave interviews. But Thompson made the connection through a family friend, and, "at age 84, Bob Dylan's mom agreed to talk about food and family," Thompson wrote.

Beatty (short for Beatrice) Zimmerman shared a little about her famous son, a lot about her doted-upon grandchildren and provided a favorite banana bread recipe. Thompson only spoke to Beatty Zimmerman once, but was impressed with how personable she was.

"She couldn't have been nicer," Thompson said. And the banana bread was tasty, too.

The interview also clued Thompson in to how many Dylan connections still remain in the area. So when she learned about the new exhibit, she tried to line up as many of those people as possible for a road trip.

"People in Duluth can sort of forget what makes Duluth special," Thompson said, and Bob Dylan is one of them. "It's too easy to take that for granted."

Pagel, who lives part-time in Duluth, owns one of the more permanent examples of Dylan's connection to Duluth -- the home the Zimmerman family occupied for years at 591 N. Third Ave. E. that Pagel bought in 2001.


He, too, often declines media interviews about his Dylan connection. It's too easy to be misquoted or misunderstood, Pagel said on Friday afternoon. But he was looking forward to the exhibition, which will include a panel discussion by several of Dylan's friends and former bandmates from Hibbing. Dylan's high school English teacher, B.J. Rolfzen, also is planning to speak today.

"It sounds like it will be interesting, and I do like Dylan," Pagel said. He maintains a popular Bob Dylan Web site, , which has been visited about 15 million times -- literally -- since 1995.

But as for his Duluth home, it's just home, Pagel said -- and one that needs a new roof.

"I've had a lot of reporters call me over the years," he said. "To me, it's just my home right now ... It is a special house, but I don't think about it, most of the time."

Seiler thinks of the musician as a dear family friend, one who went to the same Jewish camp in Wisconsin and one who invited Seiler to his son's bar mitzvah. Seiler also has remained close friends with Dylan's brother, and said he misses Dylan's mother tremendously.

"She was a lot more colorful than Bob," he said.


Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966


The exhibit runs today through April 29 at the Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Road, Minneapolis. It features more than150 artifacts from Dylan's formative years, including handwritten lyrics and letters, instruments, memorabilia and pictures. The exhibit also includes interactive learning kiosks and an audio tour.

Today's opening day program includes a 1 p.m. poetry reading and presentation by B.J. Rolfzen, Dylan's high school English teacher; a panel discussion at 1:45 p.m. of Dylan's former bandmates and friends; a 3 p.m. discussion by Dylan's musician friends from Dinkytown; and a screening of "Tangled up in Bob," a new film about Dylan's Minnesota history.

For more information, contact the museum events line at (612) 626-4747, or visit their Web site at .

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