Echo Helstrom, the Duluth native known to Bob Dylan fans as likely the prime inspiration for the 1963 song “Girl from the North Country,” has died at age 75, reports the Star Tribune. Helstrom grew up with Dylan — then known as Bobby Zimmerman — in Hibbing, where the two had a high school romance that earned Helstrom musical shout-outs from Dylan when he was still a teenager.
Helstrom’s relationship with Dylan, and her likely influence on his iconic song, was revealed in 1971 when writer Toby Thompson published the book Positively Main Street, a chronicle of his pilgrimage to Hibbing to explore Dylan’s roots. He spent intimate time with Helstrom, who said she was confident the song was about her and not a Minneapolis girlfriend, given lyrical references like the repeated mention of a “borderline.”
There’s no question Dylan was much taken with Helstrom, escorting her to prom and writing in her yearbook, “Let me tell you that your beauty is second to none. Love to the most beautiful girl in school.” Dylan even mentioned Helstrom in his memoir Chronicles Vol. 1, remembering that they’d listen to old Jimmie Rodgers 78s together.
Dylan and Helstrom were outsiders together, and a former owner of the Dylan-themed restaurant Zimmy’s told the Star Tribune that Helstrom relished the attention the high school sweethearts ultimately gained through music. “For her it was like sticking it in the eye of all the people in Hibbing who criticized them and were mean to them when they were kids.”
— Tim Campbell (@timmpls) January 23, 2018