45 Years Ago: Bob Dylan’s Awkward High School Reunion
You think your high school reunion was awkward? Try standing around making small talk with Bob Dylan.
According to the Telegraph, Dylan attended the Hibbing High Class of 1959’s 10-year reunion on Aug. 2, 1969, returning to his hometown of Hibbing, MN to gather with his former fellow students at the local Moose Lodge. As you might imagine, the scene was a little surreal; as one attendee told the paper, “It was very different. 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.”
As Dylan fans are aware, his relationship with Hibbing hasn’t always been warm. The Telegraph quotes a 1965 interview in which he sneered, “When I left there, man, I knew one thing: I had to get out of there and not come back” — and that comment fits the overall tone of the way Dylan shaped the myth surrounding his boyhood, presenting himself as an outcast and a misunderstood loner in a dying Midwestern town. And although there are elements of truth scattered in the legend — as one former girlfriend told the Chicago Tribune in 1988, “He was odd, and different. Nobody really understood what he was trying to do” — Dylan’s evident contempt for Hibbing ruffled feathers among the townfolk for years.
“If Bob Dylan came here to sing tonight, I wouldn’t go,” a resident told the New York Times in 2004. “Bob Dylan doesn’t care about Hibbing, so why should we care about him? Besides that, I don’t like his music.”
“People in this town, they weren’t real receptive to him,” reflected a former classmate in the Telegraph’s piece. “I think they were jealous of him, or didn’t think he was talented enough. That’s why he didn’t come back, because he was not well received.” Added another graduate, “He was a little weird. He still is.”
However, more than 50 years after Dylan graduated, Hibbing has evolved into a sort of tourist attraction for hardcore fans. The Times’ feature focused on the start of Dylan Days, an annual festival dedicated to “supporting the arts and honoring Bob Dylan in his hometown,” which is hosted by a popular local bar named Zimmy’s. “The name Zimmy’s came to us in 1990,” the bar’s co-owner told the Minnesota Post. “We were actually the Atrium restaurant, and in 1990 we did a sports bar theme in the restaurant, and they needed a name for it. Being from Philadelphia, I was sitting at a roundtable with 10 people, and I said, ‘I don’t think you people realize how big Bob Dylan is everywhere in the world except in Hibbing.’ So that started the discussion that maybe it should be something related to Bob.”
Now, she added, Zimmy’s has become a hub for the faithful — and a meeting place for friends bound by Dylan’s music. “People who come here and want to talk about Bob Dylan are the nicest people in the world,” she continued. “What happens here is stories. People tell their stories. They either grew up with him or are related to him. It’s very intimate, and so is Dylan Days. I would never want to get commercial because we would lose the connections we have. If I ever met Bob, if he ever showed up, I’d say, ‘Thank you for being who you are, because the people who come here are the most amazing people on earth. We’re lucky.’”
Although Dylan hasn’t publicly been back to Hibbing in person since that 10-year reunion in 1969, he’s more of a local presence than ever. In April, the Hibbing Daily Tribune noted that the city, in partnership with the Grammy Museum, was scheduled to host a traveling Dylan photo exhibit, adding that “the Hibbing Public Library boasts what is possibly the nation’s only public collection of artifacts” relating to the singer, including “1,500 to 2,000 magazine and newspaper articles, collector posters, albums, compact discs, 45 RPM records in their original sleeves, publicity photographs, sheet music and scripts.”
All in all, it’s a pretty sweet vindication for the skinny Minnesota kid whose principal pulled the curtain on his Little Richard cover during the school’s talent show in 1956 — and who was reportedly driven out of the ’69 reunion after a jealous confrontation between Dylan and some drunken ex-classmates. Still, even when you’re a city’s favorite son, there’s still always someone cooler, as one blasé Hibbing high school student demonstrated in the Chicago Tribune‘s 1988 profile: “A lot of people are curious about what he was like in high school. But really, [basketball great] Kevin McHale is more popular.”