Today around twenty percent of my dreams came true. It would be ridiculous to say all my dreams came true as I’m only thirty four and fully intend to invent new things to aspire to every year for at least another half decade. However, in the grand scheme of things, today was still pretty monumental.
The day started out reasonably well. I slept in, ate some toast, finally finished a short story for the Sunday Times epic, £30,000 winning short story prize, drank some pretty great coffee at the Duluth Coffee Company, sat on the beach in the sunshine, reading Garrison Keillor and drinking a hot fudge, cookie dough malt, (has to be sampled to be believed). I had a lovely chat with a native American lady who was also enjoying an ice cream on the beach. It was her birthday. She said sweet and encouraging things to me as we waited in line for our ice creams. I thought the day had given me all it had to offer and I wasn’t even disappointed.
Then I met John. John has been hosting a Dylan-themed radio show on a local Duluth radio station for over twenty three years, (he has yet to run out of music). John has a masters degree in picking locks and is both an incredible magician, (as demonstrated at the dining table), an escape artist and a worldwide expert on Houdini. Finally, and perhaps most marvellously of all, John is also a fourth grade teacher. It was suggested several times this evening, that perhaps I should quit writing my book about Bob and switch topics to John who, it has to be agreed, has had a life to envy the great man himself. John had managed to convince five fellow Dylanophiles, (some of the Duluthites responsible for the annual Dylan Days festival), to meet me for a meal in a local brewhouse.
Amongst the group was Susan, a thoroughly lovely lady who had been in the same High School class as Bob, knew his first girlfriend, (the wonderfully named Echo Hellstrom), and had been present at the infamous High school talent show when a young Bob’s interpretation of a piano recital was a little too rock n’ roll modern for the officiating principal. Susan’s late husband was also the promoter who organised the now infamous Buddy Holly concert in Duluth just a few days before the singer’s tragic death. Many Dylan scholars claim this concert to have been the moment when Bob first saw his future in music as a possibility worth pursuing. Susan was a wonderful woman to talk to, full of anecdotes and stories from her happy childhood days in Hibbing. It was an incredible treat to meet someone who’d actually known Bob way back in his Zimmerman days.
I also had the good fortune to spend some time with Bill. Bill owns one of the largest collections of Dylan memorabilia in the world. He has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of Dylan dates and facts and is in the process of faithfully restoring Bob’s childhood home in Duluth. This, it should be noted, is no mean feat. For years the house has been in the hands of tenants and landlords unaware of its incredible significance and was badly neglected when it came into Bill’s ownership.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about entering a house, (not even my own first purchase in East Belfast), as I was tonight, entering the unassuming, little white house by the right door, walking up those curling steps and arriving in the tiny first floor apartment where Bob spent his first six years. I saw Dylan’s bathtub, the box room he would come to share with his baby brother, his old-fashioned high chair and perhaps, most poignantly of all the tiny mezuzah which the Zimmermans had fixed to the doorpost leading down to their basement, now painted over with layer upon layer of gloss paint. I stood on the porch outside the family’s living room and even in the dark could make out the hospital where Bob was born and the great, glum grayness of Lake Superior, dozing darkly through the Autumn night.
And I thought, this is one of those rare moments when I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. And I also wondered, why are these people being so incredibly kind and generous with their stories and their precious things? And I decided that even if the rest of this trip is thoroughly unremarkable and I don’t sell a single book from here to New York, even if every plane is delayed and my passport gets stolen and I develop food poisoning in Philadelphia, I will still have stood on Bob Dylan’s porch and everything will have been utterly worthwhile for this one lifetime moment.