Ep. 118 Transcript

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors. 

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. Joining me today from Duluth, Minnesota, the birth town of Bob Dylan, is Ed Newman. Ed is a writer and artist who has been an active promoter of the Duluth Dylan Fest for the past 10 years. A portion of Ed’s blog posts about Dylan (Volumes one and two) have been bound and archived in the Duluth Public Library. Ed is passionate about the act of creation in all its forms, especially art, literature and music, and he considers Bob Dylan one of his most significant influencers. Welcome to enhance life with music, Ed.

Ed Newman: [00:00:44] Thank you, Mindy. That’s a nice introduction,

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:48] Ed, it’s it’s become sort of cliché to talk about the power of music to change the world. Today’s episode is kind of a case study of someone who is probably the first person to come to mind if we had to come up with a name of someone whose music really has changed the world. And that is Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan was born Bobby Zimmerman in 1941, so twenty twenty one is his 80th year, and it seems a very appropriate topic for our closing episode of Twenty Twenty One to talk about him and his music and his work. We’re going to talk first about your answers to the question how or why did Bob Dylan’s music change the world? And then we’re going to talk about what Duluth in the Northland had to do with it. What role did that location and that geographic area play in shaping Dylan and his music? So first of all, as someone who has been immersed in Bobby Zimmerman’s work and history and music, what are some reasons that you think his music changed the world?

Ed Newman: [00:01:57] Well, I believe that you need to always consider the context of a life and the context of Bob Dylan’s life in the fifties and sixties. It was a time of turbulence. There was a Cold War. There was a threat of atomic war. There was a lot going on socially in this country, despite our myth that the 50s was all hunky dory. Racism was pretty entrenched. Bob Dylan entered New York City when he left home and went to college at University of Minnesota for a few months. He didn’t really go to college. He studied everybody else’s albums, I believe. And then he went to New York City, where the music scene was happening. What he found there was the height of the folk scene was, you know, in full flower. He’d gone there. He was a fan of Woody Guthrie, and he was part of that folk scene. Verdi’s folk city and some other clubs. There was a lot of conscientious music that was very sensitive to issues that was addressing injustice. And what Bob did was actually because of his. He was just profoundly creative person. He translated the things that were going on in the culture at that time into some fantastic songs. Those early albums as he was part of the folk scene. Now he also because he grew up in the 50s, the rock and roll scene was influential. And in reality, what’s significant about Bob Dylan is all the different inputs that came from all the different scenes. I mean, he was a fan of Hank Williams and Country, but he would listen to Late Night on the radio.

Ed Newman: [00:03:51] You could catch the Little Richard, and there was a Blues fella back yet again who had a radio show at 10 o’clock at night that played rock and roll from Duluth, and Bob was in Hibbing would pick up that and listen to that show. So he had a strong attraction to the rock and roll. And when he went to New York and he was had this folk sensibility, he translated it into the rock scene. I mean, he he changed the rock scene because at the time rock and roll was, He loves you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you had he’s so fine and all these kind of like anything you could dance to was what the rock scene had become. He brought this higher level of higher sensibility to rock and roll. And if you listen to and look at the music of the late sixties, you’ll see that all these groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and nearly everybody else, even the Beatles went that direction with. They stopped playing around with just entertaining music, but actually. Rushing issues. So in that sense, he was significant. And for his whole life, he’s always been exploring new territory and a lot of the influences that were taking place in the culture. He would reflect it in his music. It’s kind of I’ve described it as inhaling and exhaling. He would inhale what’s happening. He would inhale the music of music history and he’d exhale and as Bob Dylan songs.

Mindy Peterson: [00:05:26] I like that metaphor. That’s really interesting. And as you mentioned, his his music really transcends genres. I mean, you can’t really peg him into folk or rock or gospel or pop or American. I mean, he kind of he kind of incorporates all of it in different songs and in different phases of his work.

Ed Newman: [00:05:48] Yeah. And there’s people that will get into a certain section of his music and then they they wish it would always be that. But life has changed, you know? In fact, he’s quite a few of his songs include that people have changed, people are strange and times have changed.

Mindy Peterson: [00:06:07] And he was someone who wasn’t afraid to change and innovate himself and didn’t really seem to care about fitting into what some of those systems were, but had the courage to be authentic and constantly innovate and reinvent himself.

Ed Newman: [00:06:25] You’re touching all the correct points. The authenticity was it was a major theme of the 60s youth culture. We lived in a plastic society. Pop culture was this is the things you watched on TV, and everybody watched the same things and then they’d have laugh tracks on the sitcoms. And it was all superficial. And Bob Dylan came along and he kind of like knocked us all on the side of the head with a two-by-four, in a sense. I mean, wake up, you know, hear this. There’s all this stuff going on and his music connected with people who were looking for something, an authentic voice, I guess, as you put it.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:04] Uh huh. Well, and just even looking at some touchstones that are even more objective to, I mean, he’s a Grammy Award winner. He’s inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s a Nobel Prize winner. He was included in Life Magazine’s list of 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century, and it goes on and on. He was he was part of that all star charity recording We Are the World and the Eighties. He’s authored books, he’s starred in films. He’s really done a little bit of everything.

Ed Newman: [00:07:40] Yeah. Richard Thomas, professor at Harvard. He teaches a class on Bob Dylan, 101 or something like that. And he says in a hundred years, Bob Dylan will be the one person who they’re still studying his lyrics and still studying his songs. Much the same as Shakespeare is still today. And the reason being is the depth. Thomas taught classics, you know, Greek literature, and when Bob Dylan was in school in Hibbing, he was sitting in the front row with the Latin teacher, and he was attracted to the classics even then. Hmm.

Mindy Peterson: [00:08:20] Well, you live in the Duluth area right now. Talk to us a little bit about Duluth and the Northland. Bob was born in Duluth. His family spent a lot of his early childhood years in Hibbing. Talk to us about your perspective on what that geographic area had to do with who he was and his music and his words. How did how did that area and the people in it shape him?

Ed Newman: [00:08:49] There’s a number of different things that shape people up here in the North Land. One of them is like six months of winter when the weather is is something that appears in his songs. Quite a bit. I brought have the lyrics to tell Old Bill, which is one of his songs. The Tempest struggles in the air. Another line to the clouds and the wind, or tranquil lakes and streams. The thunder blasted trees. The ground is hard, the rocks are bleak, the trees are bare. Ion clouds go floating by snowflakes falling in my hair beneath the gray and stormy sky. The evening sun is sinking low. The woods are dark. You know, it’s very descriptive, and I don’t think somebody from New York would write that.

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:44] It really paints the picture, doesn’t it? This is not tropical Florida.

Ed Newman: [00:09:49] We’re talking about California and smelling rose, right? But also the Midwest has a reputation for its. Work ethic, and I really believe in his case, he didn’t just write a few songs and rest on his laurels. He’s had a work ethic that he picked up by growing up here in the Northland. You know, my kids have left the area and come back and they were always able to get work because they came from the Midwest and we have that reputation. Another part of what he got out of being here in Duluth, he was part of the an immigrant culture the Jewish, the pogroms in Russia, a million Jews left in nineteen hundred another million left by 1910 and another million left by 1914. A lot of them came to this part of the country, not millions, because we don’t have that many people here. But when Bob Dylan’s grandfather, when they came, that’s where they went Ellis Island and they came to Minnesota and his his mother’s family, they came down through Canada and down into superior Wisconsin and then into Minnesota. So that influence, you know, of being a minority but a strong social network. It was definitely an influence. Another influence will be Duluth is not famous for this, but it’s become more recognized that we had a lynching back in 100 years ago and that it’s hard to believe in.

Ed Newman: [00:11:28] All was hushed up so much, but three black men were lynched downtown here in Duluth, just a couple of blocks from where Bob Dylan’s father was living. At the time, he was eight years old. And so that incident, you know about social justice and injustice. I mean, it was a backdrop against which he was raised. I don’t know how much it was discussed, but there was certainly an awareness of it than it appears in this song Desolation Row. They’re selling postcards of the hanging painting the passports brown. This the circus is in town. There’s this set up at the beginning of that song that is really like describing not some fake thing, just lyrics to be interesting. But it actually was a description of an incident that occurred here and a blemish on Duluth. Mm hmm. As a matter of fact, Sinclair Lewis, who also was the first American to get a Nobel Prize in literature, Bob Dylan’s being the latest. He moved here to Duluth in the forties and was living in Duluth at the same time as Bob Dylan. Obviously, they didn’t know each other. One was later in his career. Bob was one six years old, but Louis came here for the purpose of writing a novel about racism King’s Blood Royal, and it deals with all these issues directly related to the mob scene that resulted in a lynching.

Ed Newman: [00:12:59] Another influence here in Duluth, again, going back to what we said earlier is that the way artists work is they bring all this stuff into themselves and it comes out in different ways. But the oldest civil war hero of the Civil War was living half a block from where young Bob Dylan was. Albert Wilson was his name. He was born in 1850, and when the kids in the neighborhood on the 4th of July would march past his house in the alley behind his house and salute him. And they would, you know, reenact a little bit of military history, you might say. When Bob Dylan later wrote a song that was in the film Gods and Generals. And of course, one of the most significant influences was that Buddy Holly was in town a few days before the music died, before Buddy Holly and Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. He came into Duluth. It was 20 below zero, and Bob and his friend, Louie Kemp, went to see Buddy Holly and this traveling show that was at the Armory Duluth Historic Armory. And that’s something he’s referenced several times over the years in a couple of his speeches. You know, seeing him up close and making eye contact with this important influential singer songwriter, which is what he was?

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:21] Well, you said you don’t believe that he would have been who he is had he come from somewhere else. And there’s a quote that you shared with me by T.S. Eliot. The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together. And another quote that you shared with me by a Wallace Stegner expose a child to a particular environment at his susceptible time, and he will perceive in the shapes of that. And. Until he dies and both of those quotes, as you’re describing the culture and the environment of Duluth and the Northland, it really makes sense that all of those factors would come together in creating a role cultural awareness, an awareness of civil rights and race relations piece and the effects of war. Kind of the real meaning of things. And those are things that I’ll definitely come out in Dylan’s music and his writing and his lyrics in his work. I’m kind of curious, too, about hearing a little bit more of your perception of his spiritual influences. You mentioned that his family was Jewish. They were living in an area that was primarily not Jewish. I believe so. That probably created a little bit of feeling like maybe he was counterculture in terms of his family’s culture and dinnertime conversations, and he later converted to Christianity. And I know you’ve told me that there are a lot of biblical references that inform some of his lyrics and biblical imagery in his songs. Talk to us a little bit about some of those spiritual influences and how we see that in his work.

Ed Newman: [00:16:26] Well, the spiritual influences were actually part of who he was and his music long before that Christian phase or gospel phase where the albums The Slow Train coming saved and shot of love. But when he was in Nashville recording Blonde on Blonde, for example, there’s an excellent book by Sanders called that thin wild mercury sound that he was looking for famously. And the session musicians had never experienced anybody like Bob Dylan because he wasn’t really using the studio time efficiently the way a lot of people do. They’re paying all this money for studio time, and people try to record as many songs as they can very quickly and stuff. But on that album, when it was recorded, Bob would spend hours just looking through the Bible, looking for words and looking for ideas or something to to. It’s not even clear the relationship between these two things, but the allusions. The biblical allusions are especially vivid in the John Wesley Harding album that came after blonde on blonde, but the, you know, Charlie McCoy and the other guys that were the Nashville A-Team, they would have to just kill hours and hours waiting for him to finish the lyrics on a song that he was working and rehashing and rehashing. And much of that time was just using the Bible. Now, the drug scene was obviously a big part of the counterculture in the 60s, and I remember reading Noel, Paul Stookey, Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary was struggling with some issues, and he was kind of laying his heart bare to Bob Dylan and Dylan, said, Paul, read your Bible.

Ed Newman: [00:18:19] You know, it was like almost like a command from on high. And it changed his life, actually. I remember too, and I don’t know if it was Rolling Stone or some other fanzine, but when I was, maybe it was in the seventies, early seventies. Like there was a possibly it was a tongue in cheek article. I don’t know. Like that Bob Dylan would actually become a new religion, you know, like he’s the new messiah. I mean, he was out there and he was very spiritually conscious, you know, I mean. So that was going on at that time that actually, if you look back on those times, there was a lot of talk about the age of Aquarius, but there’s also a lot of books about Armageddon. Is this the end times? Is this the end of the world? And all these spiritual concepts were very much stirring around, and that’s why a lot of young people who dropped out, dropped acid, got involved with cults. And then there was also the Jesus movement and others that were reaching young people. So there was a lot of spiritual turbulence and a lot of resolution for for many people.

Ed Newman: [00:19:33] Mm-hmm. With regards to Bob seventy nine, I was in Bible school at that time and another I was a harmonica player since 1970 to the present, and a friend of mine came up to me said, You know, have you heard the slow train come in this new Dylan album? And then, now, now he’s brother Bob. You know, not everybody liked it. My. My own brother, when he went to see Dylan in Philadelphia on that tour the following year, he was how do I say it, vociferously booed by many of the people who’d gone to see him? So getting booed, he got booed at when he turned to rock from folk and he got booed when he turned from being Dylan to being Christian Dylan. And my feeling is that some people are happy, you know that he’s not a Christian anymore, but I don’t think that that’s even true statement because that spiritual part of him comes out in his his songs to this day, you know, even his most recent album. And I think that he’s basically integrated the spiritual part of his life in a more holistic way into who he is, rather than being an in-your-face preacher. You know, like very briefly, he was preaching during his concerts.

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:08] Yeah. So it almost sounds like he went from really talking the talk, and now it’s become more of a walk. I think of the quote. I believe that St. Francis of Assisi, who said Preach the gospel at all times and use words when necessary. And so perhaps something like that, as has taken place. Interesting. Well, it’s really fascinating to hear how the water of Duluth in the fog and the iron ore, and just that folk sensibility and the hard work ethic and the loyalty and the family values and things like that can couple with some of the cross-cultural feelings and produce part of who Bob Dylan is and all of that kind of combined with just him and how he’s wired and created and what his talents and skills and personality and gifts are. Well, I really appreciate you shedding some light on him and his work. I was fortunate enough to get to meet with you at in person in Duluth when I was there recently. And you were so generous with taking me on a tour of some of the highlights of the city as it related to Dylan and his work. And I’ll include some some pictures of that time in the show notes if listeners want to go to the website and check those out. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical, ending a coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music enhanced your life. You told me a story when we were together and I said, Oh my goodness, you have to share that story for our coda. And it was a really touching, poignant story about how Bob Dylan really came into your consciousness and affected you in a really personal way and how his words and music really resonated with you. Tell us that story.

Ed Newman: [00:23:12] All right. I had been listening to Dylan’s music for several years before that, but in 1968, this country really was really rock. There was riots and hunger over 100 cities. There was issues going on like the Vietnam War and other kinds of things that were very, very challenging emotionally. And when you’re a teenager and ah, there’s a possibility of being drafted also, and a lot of things weighing on you with just teen years are very confusing anyway. And I, on the first day of school that year, in 1968, my junior year, I, my best friend and I, the day before school started, we were together and then I said, I’ll see you tomorrow. And about 20 minutes later, he was hit by a car and killed. Mm-hmm. Which was a very difficult, obviously already in a difficult year. But that next several months there was this fog that I was in. I was a pallbearer at his funeral. And just it seemed like everything was meaningless and superficial and that I was really alone. And I heard the song with new ears. You might say it’s all right, mom only bleeding and just. It’s a real in-depth breakdown of what was going on in the culture at the time and.

Ed Newman: [00:24:50] It just spoke loudly to me that, hey, man, you’re not alone. I understand, you know, it was. And I’ll just read the last verse to you here. My eyes collide head on with stuffed graveyards, false gods. I scoff at pettiness, which plays so rough walk upside down inside handcuffs. Kick my legs to crash it off. Say, OK, I’ve had enough. What else can you show me? You know, and then if my thought dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine. But it’s all right, Ma. It’s life and life only. You’re not just. Got me through that, got me through. I wasn’t the only person who was struggling in the world, I wasn’t alone in the world. You know, you go to school and how you’re doing. You always have to say I’m fine or in the workplace. Two things are good. You always say things are good, you’re always lying. Sometimes when you’re carrying this burden like that. So that that was a special moment in Dylan’s connecting with me, you know, and I thank you for asking about it.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:03] Mm-hmm. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. And as you are talking about that, I was thinking of another biblical reference. There’s nothing new under the Sun. And just today I was meeting with a college professor who was telling me how prevalent mental illnesses and mental health issues within the population of each twenty one and younger and how half at least half of the students she’s working with are struggling with mental health issues and on some kind of medication, possibly in therapy. And so these issues are continuing, sadly for a lot of kids today, different set of circumstances. But some of those same feelings, just as you were experiencing those and took comfort in the fact that you’re not alone, you weren’t alone and the lyrics of that song really resonated with you. Hopefully, there will be kids or adults who maybe feel alone right now and hear this and take hope and courage in the fact that they’re not alone. And maybe it will cause them to explore some of Dylan’s songs and take some comfort and hope in them the way that you did.

Ed Newman: [00:27:19] Well, we need hope. We really that that’s probably the message of the 20th century and going into the 21st to totally it’s still relevant is people that are confused and they’re hurting. And when you give up hope, then you don’t you don’t fight anymore. But going back to your theme of all your podcasts, here is music, and there’s just so many kinds of music and you know, just. Music can be so beautiful to cause us to transcend everything that’s going on in this world. You know, it’s a Dylan expresses it, everything’s broken, but you turn to, you know, Chopin or Bach. Music really is transcendent. And and it is a way of connecting us to one another.

Mindy Peterson: [00:28:15] Yes, we are not alone. Music is a reminder of that, for sure.


Transcribed by Sonix.ai