Positively Main Street
Bob Dylan’s Minnesota
By Toby Thompson
University of Minnesota Press – $15.95
For anyone remotely interested in Bob Dylan, this book will no doubt bring many a surprising smile to many a surprising face. It’s friendly, it’s enjoyable, it’s an easy and attractive read, and what’s more, it could almost have been written by anyone one of us.
I say almost, because what sets the writing of Toby Thompson apart from that of most authors, is its open invitation and rather petulant, rustic quality: ‘’[…] filled with convention types, freshly coiffed midcycle women with balding guys in graveyard worsteds and shiny white shirts, all laughing warbling […] the words to your favourite songs mimeographed for instant happy.’’
Indeed, the two hundred and fifteen pages of Positively Main Street (which includes an interview with Thompson himself), is one of the more cheerier, Dylan books of late. By dipping into the songwriter’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, and interviewing assorted residents who were instrumental throughout Dylan’s early life, Thompson placates the reader by way of revelation and joviality. For among those he managed to speak to include Dylan’s Mother, brother, English teacher and Echo Helstrom, who, as many will profess, is almost certainly the ‘Girl of the North Country.’
Thus, whilst one is garnering an insight into the young Dylan, one is also swept along amid Thompson’s colourful worldview and wordplay: ‘’When we meet again, introduced as friends… October air slipping up like icicles through my unsuspecting floorboards, people hustling along sidewalks bundled Christmas-tree-snug against the fall wind… Please don’t let on that you knew me when… a shadow of the mines, huge frontier-Victorian hotel with parking lot, the ANDROY MOTOR INN, ancient Pontiacs, fords, and Buicks bathed in red iron ore dust… I was hungry, and it was your world… my Volkswagen coughing to rest, collar up, glance back for an instant…’’
How inviting such two-way, ambidextrous street writing, truly is. By revelling, revealing and simultaneously harking back to the distant past of Dylan’s momentous tomb of flittering (back) pages, Thompson takes the reader by the arm, and in so doing, gently bequeaths them with a kaleidoscopic literary world – all for the taking.
And what a great take it is.
By way of steering clear of academia and analysis of the Hibbingite’s incalculable value as an artist, Toby Thompson has written a book that is a joy to both read and behold. As mentioned at the outset, Positively Main Street really is an inviting read in much the same way that a diner really is an inviting place to enter on a cold and windy, autumnal evening. One’s not expecting French cuisine and white tablecloths, but rather, a warm and cosy atmosphere, hot coffee and perhaps a little something to eat that’ll just hit the spot.
As Greil Marcus has said: ‘’Toby Thompson was there first.’’