He was solidly middle-class in a blue-collar burg. She was from the poor side of town. Neither his parents — nor her father — approved of their dating. But you know young love.
Bobby Zimmerman and Echo Helstrom weren’t part of the in crowd at Hibbing High School. The 16-year-olds were outsiders who bonded over R&B music, broadcast on a Shreveport, La., radio station.
He’d come over to the Helstroms’ tar-paper shack outside of town. She frolicked on a wooden swing as he serenaded her with an R&B tune or talkin’ blues. Sometimes he’d share one of his poems. In her yearbook during junior year, he wrote: “Let me tell you that your beauty is second to none, but I think I told you that before. Love to the most beautiful girl in school.”
They went to junior prom together but felt so out of place. “We really couldn’t dance,” she told writer Robert Shelton. “Bob was a poor leader, and I am a poor follower.”
Later that year, Echo gave back Bobby’s bracelet, suspecting he was seeing other girls in the Twin Cities. He denied it. You know young love.
With high school and Hibbing behind them, he became famous after changing his name to Bob Dylan. She became a footnote as his first girlfriend.
In 1969, she attended her 10th high school reunion. So, surprisingly, did Dylan, with his wife. Like a few of her classmates, Helstrom got an autograph — “To Echo, Yours truly, Bob Dylan.”
A cold shoulder? She was thought to be the muse for 1963’s so-Minnesotan song “Girl from the North Country.”
Helstrom always thought it was about her. Dylanologists have speculated about others.
No one knows for sure. Dylan never explains his songs — or himself. Not even to ex-girlfriends.