“If you’re travelling in the North Country fair where the winds hit heavy on the borderline”… this week we’re exploring how Dylan’s roots in the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota have influenced his art over the years.
I thought you might want to check out in full some of the things I quoted in this episode, so here are some links for you. Here’s a link to “My Life in a Stolen Moment”, the poem which starts with a passage about Hibbing, MN. The 2017 interview with Bill Flanagan that I quoted from can be found here.
Dylan also mentions Hibbing in the liner notes to The Times They Are A-Changin’, which is the album that contains North Country Blues. You can read “11 Outlined Epitaphs” here.
I didn’t have time to tell you about an interesting comment that Dylan made onstage in San Francisco in 1980, during the so-called Musical Retrospective Tour. Before playing a cover of the song Fever, Dylan told the crowd:
“Anyway, I ran into a girl here on the street a while back and she said I was a strange person and she told me why. She said, she said, ‘You were born up in a certain area where the ground is metallic’. And actually she's right. Where I come from the ground is metallic. And-a as a matter of fact during the Second World War, ninety per cent of all the iron and steel that went into all the ships and the boats and the airplanes and all kinds of weaponry […] came from the area where I always lived. […] One of the great lakes is called Lake Superior, I don't know if you've ever heard of it. Across the lake is a town called Detroit. And I got to happen to go to Detroit once I think when I was about twelve or so, with a friend of mine who had relatives there. Anyway, when — I can't remember how it happened but I found — I found myself in a bingo parlor. There were people coming to eat all day and they play bingo all night, and there was a dance band in the back. And that was the first time — see where I'm from, I would only hear mostly country music, you know, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Hank Penny, all kinda Hanks! But anyway so this was my first time face-to-face with rhythm & blues, it was in Detroit. And when I was about twelve years old, and the man there was singing this song here. I don't think I'll do it as good as he did it, but I'm gonna try to do it anyway”
I think it’s interesting that Dylan is tying his experience of both country music and rhythm and blues to the place where he first experienced them. If you’re interested in hearing Dylan tell this story, and hearing him sing an absolutely breathtakingly sultry version of Fever, you can listen to it here. Dylan had articulated this idea that the metallic ground had an effect on the people who grow up or live in the Iron Range, and he talks about it in the Playboy Interview that I quoted (although I got my years mixed up, this quote comes from the 1978 Playboy interview - I mistakenly attributed it to 1966 in the episode). You can read the whole interview here.
There’s also a direct musical connection to Minnesota, because Dylan chose to re-record half of his seminal record Blood On The Tracks there (he’s also rumoured to have written the bulk of the songs over the course of a summer spent in MN). If you want to find out more about that, check out the three episodes on More Blood, More Tracks and Blood On The Tracks in the archive! If I would have had time to play a song from the Minnesota sessions, I would have played If You See Her Say Hello, because that song feels like a sister song to Girl From The North Country.
Something There Is About You
Girl From The North Country (Live, 17 Ma7 1964, Royal Festival Hall, London)
North Country Blues (Live, 26 October, 1963, Carnegie Hall, New York City)
Tell Ol’ Bill (North Country Blues OST)
Ring Of Fire (Feeling Minnesota OST)