Highway 61 Visited
“snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind” - Bruce Springsteen, describing the opening of Like A Rolling Stone
It was close to 5 pm when we got back on the road leaving us 2 hours to sample the delights of the North Shore of Lake Superior. The drive hugs the coast and looks great from aerial photos, but it feels like just a regular scenic road while driving through. Views of the lake are obscured by tree cover all along the route. We did get a few moments at the beach town of Grand Marais and a viewpoint further south at Palisade Head.
Regardless of the quality of the scenery, the road we were on needs mention for an entirely different reason. It is modestly referred to as Minnesota State Highway 61, but that should not fool you. This was the original legendary Highway 61 that ran all the way from Grand Portage to New Orleans hugging the Mississippi river (from the Twin Cities) faithfully as it meandered down the middle of the continent. The Great River Road or Blues Highway as it was otherwise known connected many cultural centers of the country (Memphis, St. Louis, St. Paul) that were the crossroads of the blues. The advent of the Interstate Highway system changed things a bit and today US-61 terminates just a short distance north of the Twin Cities. I-35 continues on to the city of Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior and the highway that continued on to the Canadian border at Grand Portage is now the state highway we were currently on. Of course, the route doesn’t meet the Mississippi till it reaches the Twin Cities. We don’t want to create any more misunderstandings about the actual location of that river. Enough has happened already with bizarre consequences. See, we are getting ahead of ourselves again. The river can wait. We still have a way to go before we get to it.
So, what is the hype all about? Well, there is this small matter of an album released by Bob Dylan in 1965, titled “Highway 61 Revisited”, one of rock music’s significant milestones (put very mildly). Its opening track “Like a Rolling Stone” has been designated the greatest rock and roll song ever written by several respected critics/musicians. Not everybody agrees with these lofty pronouncements but it has its loyal followers. The author, Jonathan Lethem, about an entirely different song from a different band writes “(the song), knowing it has the obligation of becoming a classic, nevertheless sounds tentative and roller-rinky, much as Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone did at the Hollywood Bowl in 1965, mere months before it became the song that destroyed European civilization”. Even the hyperbole has to be delivered in style.
So, what is Bob Dylan’s connection to Highway 61? In his 2004 memoir “Chronicles: Volume One”, Dylan described the kinship he felt with the route that supplied the title of his sixth album: "Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I'd started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was the same road, full of the same contradictions, the same one-horse towns, the same spiritual ancestors ... It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood”.
If you enjoyed the game of chase-the-border-on-google-maps, you may embark on another armchair adventure by tracing US-61 all the way from its northern terminus to its eventual destination in New Orleans. It can be a wild goose chase at times as it merges with other highways, interstates etc. but so long as you stay with the winding river you won’t get lost. I am greatly moved by the existence of such a highway whose purpose seems to be to pay homage to a river - and its cultural associations - rather than just be a mundane conveyor of vehicles.
We stop in Duluth for dinner before crossing yet another border, this time the one between Minnesota and Wisconsin to get some sleep in the town of Superior by the shore of its namesake, just across from Duluth.
Come the morning, we lose no time getting back into Minnesota to get views of Lake Superior and the port city of Duluth from the comfortable heights of Skyline Parkway, a scenic byway. From various viewpoints on the parkway, including the blue stone Enger tower (built to honor a Norwegian immigrant businessman) one gets views of the harbor and the wide green expanse of the State of Wisconsin and the wide blue expanse of Lake Superior. We wished we could have been here in the afternoon when the sun would have illuminated the landscape from behind us, but we had no time to lose as we had to head west to find the Mississippi.
But, first, find the boy behind the Man. Bob Dylan’s boyhood home is a modest house a few blocks uphill from downtown Duluth. It has a small plaque over the entryway proclaiming this fact as well as an embedded sign on the floor that says “In Bob We Trust”. V posed in front of the building wearing his sunglasses and sporting an unsmiling look to emulate the coolness. Further on down the hill is a busy commercial street that has been designated Bob Dylan Way with some memorabilia posted on the walls inside a brewery. After checking these out, we filled the gas tank and hit the long road westward in our quest to find the headwaters of the Mississippi.
What timing. Going to Bob Dylan's boyhood home just a few weeks before ......
Traced Highway 61 all the way down. One of the classic road routes of the world . From , on Oct 29, 2016 at 01:39PM
@Ramesh - We had been to a Dylan concert in June at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. While walking from the BART station to the venue, we saw a row of empty parking spaces with the sign "Reserved for Nobel Laureates only!". We wondered if this was a genuine attempt to pacify irate prize winners who were driving around the campus in frustration or just showing off their "prized" alumni. Never occurred to us that the enigmatic one can drive to his own concert next time he performs at the Greek. He will be assured of a parking space! From, on Nov 7, 2016 at 07:04PM