October 20, 1963
Reproduced below is the earliest article in the News Tribune’s files on Duluth and Hibbing native Bobby Zimmerman – better known as Bob Dylan.
There may have been earlier mentions, but this is the first article that was clipped and saved in the archive files – and it seems to be written for a general audience who might not have known who Bob Dylan was.
Bob Dylan performing in November 1963 (News Tribune file photo)
MY SON, THE FOLKNIK
YOUTH FROM HIBBING BECOMES FAMOUS AS BOB DYLAN
BY WALTER ELDOT of the News-Tribune staff
There’s an unwritten code in show business that people like to be deceived. Performers, therefore, must be legendized and molded into a public image that is often quite different from what they used to be.
It happened to Bobby Zimmerman from Hibbing – now widely known as Bob Dylan, 22, folk singer and songwriter.
His rise in barely three years has been almost as impressive as the considerable fortune he has already amassed, the character he has assumed, the reams of reviews and stories written about him, and his Carnegie Hall debut next Saturday.
Who and what is Bob Dylan?
"Bob Dylan is emerging as the big wheel in the current folknik spin," the trade paper Variety noted last month. "He’s scoring in the recording, songwriting and concert field and is considered by many guitar-hooters as the single most creative force on the folk scene."
A national folk song magazine referred to him as "the most prolific young songwriter in America today … His vocal style is rough and unpolished, reflecting a conscious effort to recapture the earthy realism of the rural country blues. It is a distinctive, highly personalized style combining many musical influences and innovations."
Reporting on the recent Newport Folk Festival, the magazine Newsweek wrote: "The queen of the folk is Joan Baez and at this festival she informally named a crown prince, the 22-year-old Bob Dylan, a slight, reedy balladeer and backwoods poet with fluffy hair, a scared look in his small eyes, and a cry of anguish in his big voice and his strong songs. The crowd applauded every time his name was mentioned. ‘The most important folk singer today,’ declared Peter Yarrow, or Peter, Paul and Mary. ‘I feel it but Dylan can say it,’ said Joan Baez. ‘He’s phenomenal.’"
McCall’s magazine, puzzled by his appeal, said he has "the style and voice of an outraged bear." Another national magazine described him as sounding like a TB patient singing behind the wall of a sanatorium.
Columbia Records, introducing his first album last year, called him "one of the most compelling white blues singers ever recorded," and added for another album last month: "Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renaissance of that self-assertive tradition, none has equaled Bob Dylan in singularity of impact."
Yet his first album, last year, made no particular impact on the people who knew Dylan as Bobby Zimmerman. One local record dealer lamented: "I ordered a dozen albums but even his relatives won’t buy them."
People who knew him before he set out to become a folknik chuckle at his back-country twang and attire and at the imaginative biographies they’ve been reading about him. They remember his as a fairly ordinary youth from a respectable family, perhaps a bit peculiar in his ways, but bearing little resemblance to the show business character he is today.
Bob Dylan – then Bobby Zimmerman – as a sophomore in the Hibbing High School yearbook. (News-Tribune file photo)
Dylan’s career received a hefty boost when Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his song "Blowin’ in the Wind," whose topical theme about racial equality helped to propel it into an immediate hit.
But Dylan is essentially a self-made creation, right down to the name which he borrowed from Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet whose writings he likes, and some of the things he does strictly for effect.
His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abe Zimmerman of Hibbing, say whatever credit is due is his alone.
"My son is a corporation and his public image is strictly an act," says his father.
He’s had no musical training to speak of – at least, his parents don’t speak of it. But they recall that he was always fond of poetry and started writing verses, which they have saved, when he was only eight.
Bob was born in Duluth in 1941 and attended Nettleton School, until his family moved to Hibbing where his father is a retail appliance and furniture dealer. Bobby completed high school in Hibbing and generally had a rather uneventful childhood.
He impressed his peers and adults alike as being intelligent but unsettled. Even his parents concede that they found some of his ways distressing.
That is not difficult to understand, for Bobby stems from a middle-class background in which much emphasis is placed on education and conformity and plans for a respectable career.
Bobby didn’t quite fit into that framework and preferred a more bohemian type of life. His parents say he frowns on being called a beatnik, and they don’t like that designation for him either. But he was in fact adopting some of the manners associated with beatniks – or folkniks – in an area where that makes a person stand out like a strange character.
His parents say they "always knew that Bobby had a real streak of talent, but we didn’t know what kind. We just could not corral it." Now, obviously, he seems to have done it all by himself.
Bob Dylan performs at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on June 26, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune)
After his graduation from Hibbing High School, Robert Zimmerman entered the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He was expected to concentrate on science, literature and art, according to his father, but he didn’t like university life and put up with it for barely one year.
Instead he took to playing his guitar-harmonica in a pizza house frequented by the college crowd. This appealed to him a great deal more than his studies or other campus activities.
He didn’t think much of the college crowd. Says his father: "He had as many friends as he wanted but he considered most of them phonies – spoiled kids with whom he didn’t feel he had much in common." He had that opinion especially of the students who lived or met at the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity House. Bobby quit even before he was pledged.
Playing around Minneapolis, usually without pay, he began to develop his present stage character – with the folk-style attire and accent that go with it.
"That is," says his father, "what I found so disturbing – and still do. But it’s all part of the act."
Bobby started improvising songs, making up lyrics and using some of his old poems, accompanying his own style of vocals on his guitar and harmonicas.
That was three years ago. Just about that time his father decided to come to a definite understanding with him about Bobby’s future.
"He wanted to have free rein," says Zimmerman. "He wanted to be a folk singer, an entertainer. We couldn’t see it, but we felt he was entitled to the chance. It’s his life, after all, and we didn’t want to stand in the way. So we made an agreement that he could have one year to do as he pleased, and if at the end of that year we were not satisfied with his progress he’d go back to school."
It was eight months after that, says Zimmerman, that Bobby received a glowing "two-column review" in the New York Times. "So we figured that anybody who can get his picture and two columns in the New York Times is doing pretty good. Anyway, it was a start."
After leaving the University of Minnesota, Bobby made his way to New York. He claims he hitch-hiked and his father does not contradict that claim. "He got himself a ride to New York," says Zimmerman.
Bobby keeps in touch with his family in Hibbing and they have accepted him in his new role. But they stress that "we have absolutely no part in his affairs. Those are his own operation. He’s a corporation and he has a manager."
The Zimmermans are particularly proud that Bob will perform in Carnegie Hall on Saturday – and some of his family plan to be there.
The Zimmermans have another son, David, 17, a serious music student and fine piano player. He also has an excellent voice and occasionally performs as a volunteer cantor in the Hibbing synagogue, chanting the entire service with admirable intonation. David’s chanting, if one listens closely, sounds a bit like Bobby’s. It seems to come from the heart and reaches out to other hearts.