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This Day in Music Spotlight: Bob Dylan’s ‘Happy Days’ in Hibbing, MN

May 24, 1941

Andrew Vaughan
|
05.24.2011

Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.

Since he burst on the rock and roll scene in the early ’60s, Bob Dylan has been consistently taciturn about his personal life before he became “Bob Dylan” at the University of Minnesota. But as time has passed, snippets of information from Dylan himself and interviews with contemporaries have shed more light on his early years.

He was born on this day in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. He wasn’t Bob Dylan then, just
Robert Allen Zimmerman. In 1948, when Dylan’s father was diagnosed with polio, the family moved to nearby Hibbing, at 2425 7th Avenue East (a street now renamed named “Dylan Drive”), to be precise, where he spent the rest of his childhood and high school years.

Dylan attended Hibbing High School, graduating in 1959. A copy of the ’59 yearbook with his high school photograph is located at the Hibbing Public Library, and the very same piano that Dylan played in school is still used in the school today.

In 1962, Dylan told an interviewer, “We had three policemen, you couldn’t be bad, you would be dead, it was a tough town.” The following year his poem, “My Life in a Stolen Moment,” shed more light his relationship with small town Minnesota:

“Hibbing’s got the biggest open pit ore mine in the world…
Hibbing’s got souped-up cars runnin' full blast
on a Friday night
Hibbing’s got corner bars with polka bands
You can stand at one end of Hibbing’s main drag
An’ see clear past the city limits on the other end
Hibbing’s a good ol' town”

In 2009, The Guardian newspaper interviewed some of Dylan’s classmates on the 50th anniversary of his leaving school. He didn’t attend the 50th school reunion, though some had thought he might.

Apparently, Hibbing was something like a real-life Happy Days. School friend Sharon Kepler said: “In that time, things were almost how you see them portrayed in TV shows like Happy Days. It was a simpler time.”

School friend LeRoy Hoikkala remembers town outings that Dylan called a “mission.”

“We’d look at the music store there,” Hoikkala said. “Then we’d go to the Carlson shoe repair and get new cleats put in our shoes or jean boots. Then we’d go Stephens’ grocery and read about James Dean.”

In 1956, Dylan entered the school talent show. School friend Mick Dywer told The Guardian: “We all had to go. We were all assigned seats. He was singing a Little Richard tune – the principal pulled the curtain on him.”

Kepler was there, too. “But you have to remember that we were teenage kids and at that time were not used to that screaming and pounding on the piano type of music,” she said. “People claim that’s what made him bitter, but I don’t think it was. He was never treated differently to any other classmate.”

Undeterred, Dylan stated a band along with LeRoy Hoikkala (drums) and Monte Edwards (guitar) in 1958.  They were called the Golden Chords and rehearsed in Dylan’s parents’ garage, eventually playing at schools and putting on their own “rock hop” in nearby Duluth.

At the absolute height of his ’60s success and fame, Dylan actually attended a High School Reunion. It was 1969 and Dylan went with then-wife Sara (“Such a pretty woman, with long dark hair,” said Kepler). But as his school pals mingled at Moose Lodge, 1510 Howard Street, Dylan realized that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for an icon to go back home.

“It was very different,” said Kepler. “My memory of that is of Bob standing in one corner and of people going up and shaking his hand. I didn’t like that… I would have been happier if he had just been able to sit down and be one of our classmates.”

Sadly, jealousy and envy overtook some of Dylan’s male counterparts. The Guardian reported that, “some men at the gathering didn't approve of Bob’s presence, and words were apparently exchanged.”

With that, Dylan and Sara left the reunion. He’s never been to another.

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