60 years ago today, Bob Dylan (known to the town then and now as Bob Zimmerman) graduated from Hibbing High School before briefly attending the University of Minnesota, then rocketing on.
Dylan was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth and lived in Hibbing from the age of six onward. At 186 square miles, Hibbing is Minnesota’s largest town by area. It boasts the world’s largest man-made hole — an open mine pit filled with water — two miles north in the mining ghost town where the town used to sit. This northern, at times ghostly landscape served as rich inspiration for Dylan throughout his career.
“My brains and feelings have come from there… The earth there is unusual, filled with ore,” Dylan said in a 1978 Playboy interview. “There’s a magnetic attraction there: maybe thousands of years ago some planet bumped into the land there. There is a great spiritual quality throughout the Midwest. Very subtle, very strong, and that is where I grew up.”
Only a couple blocks’ walk from Dylan’s childhood home is Hibbing High School. With an influx of iron-ore wealth in the early 1920s, the town spent four million dollars on its construction: in the entryway, a large marble staircase with solid brass handrails greets students who study in a library lined with 75-foot-long oil paintings and attend assembly in a 1,825-seat auditorium (large enough to host the Minnesota Orchestra) complete with six Belgian crystal chandeliers.
“Every stage Bob Dylan has played on for the past 30 years has been, after Hibbing High School Auditorium, an anticlimax,” wrote Dylan biographer and scholar Stephen Scobie.
In 1958, Dylan played with his second group the “Golden Chords” (billed as a “local rock ‘n’ roll instrumental group”) in that auditorium and made use of the school’s 1922 Steinway Grand piano. The performance, now nestled in the folds of Dylan lore, culminated in the band’s English teacher cutting power to their mics midway through the performance; only after “Bobby Z.” had broken one of the Grand’s pedals.
Much has been written about Dylan’s relationship to Hibbing. In another interview, he spoke about the landscape of his upbringing: “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,” he said. “Birch trees, open pit mines, bears and wolves — the air is raw.”
In other Dylan-related news, Netflix recently announced a new Martin Scorsese-directed documentary, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story. The “part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream” details Dylan’s 1975-76 “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour, for which he attempted to play smaller venues in less populated areas in order to connect better with crowds.
The film will also feature newly restored footage, and an interview with Dylan himself (his first on-camera interview in a decade) as well as interviews with Joan Baez, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Sam Shephard, and Allen Ginsberg. The film will be released on Netflix and in theaters June 12 along with a 14-CD box set “The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings.” The preceding night, June 11, the Walker Art Center and other venues across the country will host premiere screenings.