Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941. He moved away and changed his name to Bob Dylan after graduating from Hibbing High School and spending an indeterminate, but brief, amount of time at the University of Minnesota.
He went on to make 39 studio albums — the most recent of which came out last year — win 10 Grammys and be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Dylan hasn’t been a regular fixture in his home state for many decades, but that doesn’t stop Minnesotans from claiming him as one of our own.
On the legendary songwriter’s 80th birthday, we decided to celebrate in the most MinnPost-y way we know: by asking Minnesota political types what their favorite Dylan works are and why. We reached out to elected officials in Minnesota’s executive branch, all 10 Congress members, legislative leaders and a few mayors.
Here’s what we heard back:
Julie Blaha, Minnesota state auditor
State Auditor Julie Blaha associates a specific middle school memory with her favorite Dylan song, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
“It does feel obvious, but for good reason,” she said.
When Blaha was in eighth grade, she was in a school play about the 1960s. One of the songs included was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Learning the lyrics, she said it was the first song that made her understand the ‘60s. “You kind of feel what it’s like to be fighting for some change, you know,” she said. “There’s a hopefulness to it, but there’s also a fear to it. There’s a sadness to it. It’s that whole range of emotions that come with fighting the good fight and talking about things that are difficult and that really matter.”
“I felt a real connection with my parents’ generation and what the ’60s really were about, and then going forward to now, when I hear that song, it’s like, oh, that reminds me of the connection to activists over time … the labor movements in the ‘40s or the farm protest movement in the late-1800s; Indigenous rights movements in the ‘70s; women’s rights, which I got to be a part of.”
Angie Craig, U.S. representative for Minnesota’s Second Congressional District
A spokesperson for Angie Craig told MinnPost that the DFLer’s favorite Dylan song is “Dignity,” which Michael Gray, the author of “The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia,” describes as “yearning for the dignity missing in contemporary life.” It was released on Dylan’s third greatest hits volume in 1994 and played on Dylan’s MTV’s “Unplugged,” released in 1995.
Craig said Dylan’s natural talents as a storyteller are what make him a special musician.
Tom Emmer, U.S. representative for Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District
“My favorite album is ‘Blood on the Tracks,’” said Emmer, a Republican from Delano. “It’s one of Dylan’s greatest albums, and every song is better than the last. I join my fellow Minnesotans in wishing him a happy 80th birthday!”
“Blood on the Tracks” features Dylan classics like “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Buckets of Rain” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” Dylan recorded tracks for the 1975 album in New York before coming to Minnesota and re-recording some of them with a group of local musicians, including mandolinist Peter Ostroushko at south Minneapolis’ Sound 80.
Jacob Frey, Minneapolis mayor
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said his love of Dylan’s music goes back to being a junior camp counselor at a camp in Lake George, New York, when he purchased the first cassette tape he ever got with his own money.
“We had a little bit of time so I went into some shop and purchased [Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits] and I memorized every single one of the lyrics on every single one of the songs over the next couple years,” he said.
He said his favorite song, though, at least at this point in his life, is the romantic “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” off of Bob Dylan’s 1969 country album “Nashville Skyline.”
“That was the song that Sarah and I danced to at our wedding. Saying that it’s our song is kind of cheesy so she told me not to say that, but it’s a song we both like,” he said. Frey also said he likes the live versions of the song because Dylan sometimes changes the lyrics.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, Minnesota Senate majority leader
“‘Slow Train Coming’ is my favorite Dylan album because of the spiritual lyrics,” said Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake. “Dylan reminds us that no one is beyond redemption, ever.”
Featuring songs like “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Slow Train,” 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” coincides with Dylan’s conversion to Christianity. Its songs often allude to the Bible and themes of faith and service.
Sen. Susan Kent, Minnesota Senate minority leader
Kent, a DFLer from Woodbury, picked two favorites: Dylan’s protest anthem “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” from 1963’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” and “Every Grain of Sand,” the hymn-like meditation on life from 1981’s “Shot of Love.”
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’ you know, the work consumes me these days,” Kent said. “At the end, it says, ‘And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, and reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,’ so that’s kind of my take there.”
Kent said she loves “Every Grain of Sand” because it speaks to the way people are connected. “It’s that mix — we are individuals but we are all part of one big thing.”
Emily Larson, mayor of Duluth
“Hands down it’s “Positively 4th St.” I love the organ, the musical repetition and the attitude of the lyrics,” said Larson. “Very Minnesota Not-Nice. How can you not love the line “I wish for just one time you could stand inside my shoes; you’d know what a drag it is to see you.”
Ilhan Omar, U.S. representative for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District
“I am a huge Bob Dylan fan,” said Omar. “My favorite song is ‘Times They Are a-Changin,’ one of the most potent social justice anthems ever written. I also like ‘Hurricane’ for its powerful distillation [of] our broken criminal justice system (and a killer fiddle line) and ‘Masters of War’ for its searing indictment of the military-industrial complex. Best album? Live 1966: The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert. Happy 80th, Bob!”
Dean Phillips, U.S. representative for Minnesota’s Third Congressional District
Phillips said his favorite song is “Positively 4th Street,” and attached a story about his grandfather’s run-in with the songwriter:
“In 1960 or so my grandfather, Yale Johnson, hired a young kid named Zimmerman from the University of Minnesota to play guitar at a party for my aunt and uncle and their 20-something friends. He put him up on a ladder and after a few songs that “sounded worse than fingernails on a chalkboard,” gave him a $20 bill and told him he could go home. Little did he know that in a few short years, Bobby Zimmerman would be known the world over as the greatest songwriter of our times, Bob Dylan.”
Steve Simon, Minnesota secretary of state
Simon said the obvious choice would be a song he loves, like “Like A Rolling Stone,” but he has another favorite, introduced to him by a friend in college: “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” which he called “whimsical and silly and mildly political.”
The song is an early one from Dylan, from 1964’s “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” which features snarky stanzas sung in a talking blues style.
“There’s one line that I remember always cracked me up, and I Googled it and I had it exactly right,” said Simon. “It’s fixed in time, like the mid-’60s, picture this being written in the mid-’60s, so it was contemporary at the time … It says something like ‘I am a liberal to a degree. I want everybody to be free. But if you think I’ll let Barry Goldwater move in next door and marry my daughter, you must think I’m crazy.’”
Tim Walz, governor of Minnesota
“As a dad, ‘Forever Young’ has always been my favorite Dylan song. A timeless message from a dad to his son.”
The song, from Dylan’s 1974 album “Planet Waves,” describes a father’s hopes for his child’s future. It was written as a lullaby for his son, Jesse, according to the BBC.