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Bob Dylan.

A February 3-April 29 exhibit at the Weisman explores 10 years of the music and life of the U's famous former student Bob Dylan, via listening stations, film, artifacts, lectures, and conferences.

Bringing it all back home

A new Weisman exhibit explores Bob Dylan and his music

By Martha Coventry

From M, winter 2007

On the U's new Wall of Discovery, where it honors its famous sons and daughters, Bob Dylan sits between Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug and James Thorton, who helped design the first super computer. Rarified company for the kid who hung around coffeehouses in Dinkytown, played in bars on the West Bank, and never finished his first year of college.

But Bob Dylan--or Robert Zimmerman as he was called when he enrolled at the U--turned music on its ear and is arguably the University's best known former student. On the wall are portions of the lyrics for three songs from Dylan's 1966 double album "Blonde on Blonde," which according to Dylan is "the closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind...that thin, that wild mercury sound."

A new Weisman Art Museum exhibit, which opened February 3 and will run through April 29, explores that sound as well as Dylan's contribution to American music and art. Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966 comes from Seattle's Experience Music Project, but is augmented to reflect Dylan's Minnesota roots. Lectures and conferences will add richness and depth to the exhibit.

Despite the scholarship applied to Dylan's career, his Minnesota roots have gone largely unexplored, including his time at what biographer Robert Shelton calls the "university of Dinkytown."

"This show is an artistic biography of Dylan in his first 10 years as he emerges from Hibbing, comes to Minneapolis, makes a big splash on the New York folk scene, and goes on to become a superstar and a pivotal figure in music and youth culture, " says Colleen Sheehy, the Weisman's education director and the Weisman curator for the exhibit.

Tour the Bob Dylan exhibit

Watch a video of the Bob Dylan retrospective at the U's Weisman Art Museum.

The extensive exhibit features more than 150 artifacts, including Dylan's 1949 Martin 00-17 guitar, and films exploring different facets of Dylan's career. Listening stations enable visitors to hear Dylan's musical evolution and there are videos that capture his charm, like the one of him making up a poem on the spot from a jumble of words on a London shop sign. Special iPods are available for visitors to tap into a vast selection of audio tracks, which are also accessible via cell phone.

Homegrown talent Despite the scholarship applied to Dylan's career, his Minnesota roots have gone largely unexplored, including his time at what biographer Robert Shelton calls the "university of Dinkytown."

The exhibit includes photos Dylan's mother took-like the one of him wearing a suit and tie and holding his Sears' Silvertone guitar in their Hibbing living room--and the desk of his influential high school English teacher, B.J. Rolfzen. A map of Dinkytown--noting Dylan's haunts--mirrors a similar map of Greenwich Village.

The most exciting additions to the exhibit may be two home recordings. One is of Dylan playing the piano and singing in his Hibbing home in 1958. The other is an excerpt from the "Minnesota party tape," made in an apartment in Dinkytown in 1960. You can clearly hear Dylan singing.

"One of his voices on the tape is a smooth voice that doesn't really emerge in recordings until 'Nashville Skyline,'" says Sheehy. "He's really quite formed. It's not like he went out to New York with nothing. He learned a lot from the people here, like Jon Pankake, Paul Nelson, Tony Glover, John Koerner..."

The Weisman decided to bring the exhibit to campus because of Dylan's University and Hibbing connections and because he's a good lesson about the role of the artist and staying true to your art, says Sheehy. "So many people wanted him to tell them how to live, how to think, how to love, how to be political," she says. "But he's always thrown it back in their faces--'I don't have any special wisdom,' he'd say. 'You figure it out on your own.' He's a remarkable artistic figure. You can't pin him down. He's constantly changing artistically, even through today, at the age of 65."