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Dylan talks Minnesota, Duluth in new interview

Bob Dylan performs at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth during a stop on the 2013 Americanarama Festival of Music. (file / News Tribune)

DULUTH, Minn.—Legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan opened up about his Northland roots — a little — in a wide-ranging, lengthy interview posted to his website this week.

Dylan — born in Duluth, raised in Hibbing and recipient of last year's Nobel Prize in Literature — spoke with music journalist Bill Flanagan ahead of the March 31 release of "Triplicate," a three-disc album of Dylan covering 30 standards.

The Q-and-A runs more than 8,000 words; there's no indication what control Dylan, 75, may have had on the final version that appears on his website, bobdylan.com.

In the interview, Flanagan notes that some of the songs on Dylan's new album date back to World War II — and he asks the singer (born Robert Zimmerman in 1941) if he remembers anything about the war:

"Not much. I was born in Duluth — industrial town, ship yards, ore docks, grain elevators, mainline train yards, switching yards. It's on the banks of Lake Superior, built on granite rock. Lot of fog horns, sailors, loggers, storms, blizzards. My mom says there were food shortages, food rationing, hardly any gas, electricity cutting off — everything metal in your house you gave to the war effort. It was a dark place, even in the light of day — curfews, gloomy, lonely, all that sort of stuff — we lived there till I was about 5, till the end of the war."

Elsewhere in the interview, Dylan recalls how his uncle tried to teach him how to hunt ("It wasn't for me, I hated it") and how he went fishing for "bass, sturgeon, flatheads, lake trout — we caught and cleaned them, too."

Flanagan also asks Dylan if, after decades of travel, there is "still something that makes Minnesota different from other places? Is there any quality people have there that you don't find elsewhere?"

"Not necessarily," Dylan responds. "Minnesota has its own Mason-Dixon Line. I come from the north and that's different from southern Minnesota; if you're there you could be in Iowa or Georgia. Up north the weather is more extreme — frostbite in the winter, mosquito-ridden in the summer, no air conditioning when I grew up, steam heat in the winter and you had to wear a lot of clothes when you went outdoors. Your blood gets thick. It's the land of 10,000 lakes — lot of hunting and fishing. Indian country, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Lakota, birch trees, open pit mines, bears and wolves — the air is raw. ... It's a rugged environment — people lead simple lives, but they lead simple lives in other parts of the country, too. People are pretty much the same wherever you go."

Among the standards on Dylan's new album is "The Best is Yet to Come" — covered by many singers, but most famously sung by Frank Sinatra. Flanagan asks Dylan about attending a dinner party hosted by Sinatra, and what it was like to meet him.

"He was funny," Dylan recalls. "We were standing out on his patio at night and he said to me, 'You and me, pal, we got blue eyes, we're from up there,' and he pointed to the stars. 'These other bums are from down here.' I remember thinking that he might be right."

Find the full interview at bobdylan.com.

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