Dylan: Still one of us?

The Bob Dylan exhibit comes to the Weisman next week. How Minnesotan is the Duluth native nowadays?

When his kids were young, he was often spotted at Little League games or the corner bar. Someone even spied him once on a riding lawn mower, shrouded in a hooded sweatshirt on a hot summer day.

Ever elusive, Bob Dylan has quietly maintained a Twin Cities-area residence for 33 years, a fact unknown even to many of his devoted fans — though not to his neighbors.

“Everyone knows he lives across the river,” said Mark Goss, a mechanic who hangs out at the watering hole near the 100-acre farm Dylan and his family own on the Crow River in northwestern Hennepin County. “People don’t gush or [go] 'Oh! Ah!’ It’s just one of those things. Being from Minnesota, he can’t be famous if he’s from here.”

But how truly Minnesotan is he? It’s long been a debate, with many claiming the Duluth-born, Hibbing-bred Dylan as their own. Others say he kissed off the state 45 years ago after dropping out of the University of Minnesota.

An exhibit opening Saturday at the U’s Weisman Art Museum, “Bob Dylan’s American Journey 1956-66,” focuses extensively on his Minnesota youth, but it doesn’t note that he still spends a few weeks here each year.

In fact, the playful mythmaker who told early interviewers he was an orphan from New Mexico now sounds like a WCCO hometown booster on his weekly XM satellite-radio show.

He talks about the Twins, plugs Gopher State natives Judy Garland and Prince and has spun a 10,000 Lakes version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential.” And what could be more Minnesotan than reading recipes on the radio or dedicating an entire program — his first one, in fact — to weather?

Now enjoying a career resurgence that landed him his first No. 1 album in 30 years, Dylan spoke fondly of his formative years on the Iron Range in his 2004 memoir, “Chronicles Volume One.” He boasted how Hwy. 61 (“the main thoroughfare of the country blues”) and the Mississippi River (“the bloodstream of the blues”) both start in “my neck of the woods.

“It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.” Reclusive but visible

The farm that Dylan bought in 1974 was where his five children spent the summers of their youth after he and his first wife, Sara, split up. His only sibling, David Zimmerman, also raised his two sons in one of five houses on the land, which is about 40 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.

Dylan and the kids went to the State Fair, Twins games, concerts at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis (which he once owned) and their grandma’s house in St. Paul’s Highland Park. The boys played Little League baseball with their two cousins.

“My mother-in-law saw him at a game once, years ago,” said one of his neighbors, Belinda Mahler. “He just kept to himself. That’s how he’s always been around here, very reclusive.”

His youngest son, Jakob Dylan, spoke of his Minnesota roots in a 2000 interview with the Star Tribune:

“I’ve spent most of my time in Los Angeles, but it’s not a hometown for anybody. Minnesota, I’ve spent a lot of time there. It’s close to roots that I have. I’ve gone there almost every year since I was 3 or 4.”

The elder Dylan long has had homes in California and New York and reportedly just bought a castle in Scotland. Still, he echoed his son’s comments in a 1978 interview with the Minneapolis Star:

“I feel Minnesota more than I feel New York or L.A. My work reflects thoughts I had as a little kid that have become superdeveloped. … That’s where I feel rooted, you know. I feel more familiar with the landscape, the people and the earth, I think. I feel more at home there.”

At his Minnesota farm, which houses a recording studio, Dylan wrote the bulk of his landmark 1975 divorce album “Blood on the Tracks” and later worked on 1983’s “Infidels.” He spent more time there in the 1980s and ’90s, when his mother lived in St. Paul.

“It’s a place where he could go just to be left alone,” said Clarence Spartz, who did construction and caretaker work on the property for 30 years. “At the time, it was far away from everything.”

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