On the side of Underground Printing in Dinkytown, a monochrome Bob Dylan, circa 1965, looks out from a maroon and orange dusk with the words “Positively 4th Street” floating around his head.
The mural commemorates where Dylan really fell in love with folk music. It freezes him in the brief moment between his life as an adolescent and his life as an artist: the space in Dylan’s history when he lived simply as a young man. The mural is amateurish and humble, much like Dylan during his tenure in Minneapolis, and it serves as an adequate tribute.
But, as of September 8, three new faces loom over downtown Minneapolis. Adorning the side of a five-story building, the three Bob Dylans look out, their faces checkered with polychromatic squares, all of it representing the many eras and styles of Dylan. Local media covered it like the moon landing. This massive mural is a loving tribute to one of the most important figures in 20th-century music, but the eagerness of Minneapolitans to paint Dylan across downtown is, like the mural itself, excessive. The whole city needs to calm down with its Dylan love.
What is Dylan’s unique connection to Minneapolis? Born in Duluth and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, Dylan moved to Minneapolis in September 1959 to attend the University of Minnesota. However, Dylan dropped out of school in May 1960, and by early 1961, he had moved to New York City. A number of years passed, and in December 1974, Dylan, at the behest of his brother, recorded five songs for his 15th studio album, Blood on the Tracks, at Minneapolis recording Sound 80. And in 1979, Dylan and his brother bought the Orpheum Theatre on Hennepin Avenue, selling it in 1988 to the city of Minneapolis.
And that really is it. One and a half years in Minneapolis, a few tracks recorded here 13 years later, and a stint owning a theater. These are the brief gifts bestowed onto Minneapolis by Dylan, or bestowed onto Dylan by Minneapolis, depending on who you think was the beneficiary.
Dylan’s period in Minneapolis was somewhat important. As acknowledged in Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home, his time in the Dinkytown area sparked his interest in folk music. But young Robert Zimmerman was just another face in the crowd, one of a handful performing the same set of folk music with no distinction.
It wasn’t until New York City that the talents Dylan was incubating really blossomed, burgeoned, and bloomed. That's where Dylan found his voice, signed to Columbia Records, recorded his first seven studio albums in four years, and became known as the voice of a generation. How about we give Manhattan a fucking Bob Dylan mural?
Minneapolitans sure take an awful lot of pride in someone with such tenuous connections to their city. Outside of the garish, enormous, and superfluous new mural, property managers in Dinkytown and Marcy-Holmes try to coax college students into living in their buildings with alluring signs decreeing that Bob Dylan just may have lived there (because we all know today’s EDM-loving kids just can’t get enough Bobby D).
Local music blogs [editor's note: sorry!] and radio stations discuss and play Bob Dylan more than they talk about actual local artists. Minneapolitans have more love for someone who left their city in 1961 than they do for those still living here, those adding to their communities and scenes, producing new and exciting art.
But maybe there’s merit in arguing that Minneapolis, as the largest city in Minnesota, serves as a synecdoche for the entire state of Minnesota. Framing it that way, Minneapolitans have as much of a right to be overly proud of Dylan as anyone from Duluth or Hibbing. There will never be a figure as colossal and influential as Bob Dylan (at least in rock music), and it’s interesting that he's a product of Minnesota, even if Dylan talks like the best thing our state did for him was give him a reason to leave.
We should celebrate Bob Dylan, we should acknowledge his influence on all popular music, and we, as citizens of Minneapolis, should be proud of him. But let’s temper that pride, because two murals is one too many.