Highway 80: Bob Dylan’s Birthday Milestone

A huge moment for most humans is just another day for the Minnesota-born legend

Columbia Records

You could argue that Bob Dylan was not born 80 years ago at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth. However, Robert Allen Zimmerman did arrive on the evening of May 24, 1941. By the mid-’40s, he moved with his family to a house in Hibbing, and the “Dylan” bit came along during Zimmerman’s brief stint at the University of Minnesota in the late ’50s.

It was only after Bob Dylan left Minnesota that he gained worldwide notoriety writing songs about the North Country and Highway 61. Aside from a return in the ’70s to record some tracks for the masterpiece Blood on the Tracks, the state has mainly been just another stop on his “Never Ending Tour.” (It did end last year, but only because of coronavirus.)

The times they are a-changin'

Bits of both Dylan and Zimmerman still live on here. A fervent fan recently bought his family’s Hibbing home. (He already owns the one in Duluth.) There’s the annual Duluth Dylan Fest, which takes place over his birthday, coming up May 22-30. And, in Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra’s 2015 mural, three sets of Dylan’s eyes keep watch over Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. St. Louis County has proclaimed the year to follow his 80th birthday will be “The Year of Dylan.”

When Dylan does come back to Minneapolis, it’s news. He played at the U of M’s Northrop Auditorium the night President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, and broke into a rare moment of onstage candor to say, “It looks like things are going to change now.” His most recent Minnesota show was in 2019 at the Mankato Civic Center. “He was focused, impassioned, and arguably singing at his best in decades,” said the Star Tribune’s Jon Bream. In the same review, Bream noted, “his raspy but expressive voice is an acquired taste.”

Acquired taste and an unending appetite are required for digesting the prolific yet enigmatic Dylan’s oeuvre. Many savor his near-six decades of recording and performing, sip his Heaven’s Door whiskey brand, admire his Nobel Prize in Literature, make plans for the opening of a museum dedicated to him in Oklahoma, and still theorize about the further multitudes he contains.

He is a notoriously elusive interview subject, but did grant AARP his time a few years back. “Don’t try to act like you’re young,” he told the interviewer at one point. “You could really hurt yourself.” So with no birthday quote to close, here’s something for the occasion from his constantly quoted body of work. “He not busy being born,” he sings in “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “is busy dying.”