Who is Bob Dylan? That’s a question the world has been asking for half a century, ever since a scrawny kid from who knows where started showing up with his guitar in New York City coffee shops calling himself by that name. If anything has become clear in the decades since then, it’s that the mystery only deepens the harder you try to solve it.
The 76-year-old troubadour is, as he has always been, many things — most of them contradictory. He’s the voice of a generation, and he’s the creepy grandpa wandering the set of a Victoria’s Secret commercial. He’s the dapper devil with the Vincent Price mustache, and he’s the recluse mistaken for a vagrant. He’s a Minnesotan, and he’s not.
We Northerners are particularly prone to wonder just who he is — and, perhaps, how he feels about us. But despite all the profound divinations and obscure riddles that have been perceived in his hundreds of hours of recorded music, ambivalence is one of Dylan’s default settings.
Bobby Z. hasn’t entirely severed his ties to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Since the seventies, he’s owned a farm along the Crow River, not far from the Twin Cities. His younger brother, David, resides there, and the singer sometimes sojourns there, too, often with ex-girlfriends or childhood friends. (Those visits have become less frequent, however, since his mother, Beatty, passed away 17 years ago.)
If anything, he’s become more enigmatic in the intervening years, even when he agrees to the rare interview. In 2012, for instance, he told a Rolling Stone writer he was a transfigured Hells Angels biker who died in a fiery crash back in the sixties. Not exactly helpful to the rest of us, but it certainly does add a layer to that always-fluid origin myth.
Which leads us to one thing we do know about Bob Dylan. Poet, philosopher, prophet or prankster, above all else, he’s a storyteller. Believe him at your peril, perhaps, but don’t be foolish enough to stop listening. His is a tale that the world will always want to hear. Minnesotans most certainly will, because that story got its start right here.
Read this article as it appears in the magazine.