Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize puts Northland in global spotlight
Bob Dylan performs for a crowd of nearly 8,000 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Arena in October 1998. (Bob King / firstname.lastname@example.org)
John Bushey is the guest of honor of an event Saturday celebrating his 25 years as host of the popular Bob Dylan-themed KUMD-FM radio program "Highway 61 Revisited."
Turns out he is going to have to share the limelight.
"Which I'm thrilled to do," Bushey said. "If it gets more people down here, let's party."
Dylan — born in Duluth and raised in Hibbing — was named winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, which has Bushey's party-planners looking for a way to tack on a celebration of the award. The event, which starts at 8 p.m. at The Rex, will include music by Cowboy Angel Blue, The Boomchucks and other special guests. Bushey will be honored by the city of Duluth and there will be a silent auction, with memorabilia signed by Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan and more.
Zane Bail, co-chair of Duluth Dylan Fest, said organizers already were kicking around ideas for incorporating Dylan's prize: maybe a cake, signs, a special toast.
"We'll weave this together," she said. "It's John's party, but it's a big deal. I think he's happy to share a stage."
Bushey's "Highway 61 Revisited," which airs at 5 p.m. Saturdays on 103.3 FM, has a mix of the music that influenced Dylan and was influenced by him, covers, concerts, studio outtakes and rarities.
"It's all put together with a little education," Bushey said. "I never invade (Dylan's) privacy. I'm respectful of his music and his life."
In the process of hosting the show — which he initially thought would last about three months — he has become one of the world's go-tos for Dylan-related things.
"I still don't understand why I am," he said. "I'm one of those nuts. When I get a hold of somebody, when somebody grabs me, they grab me in a big way. Whether it's Harry Houdini, John Lennon or Bob Dylan. I read everything I can get my hands on."
After the prize was announced Thursday in Stockholm — early Thursday morning in Duluth — Bushey began taking phone calls from media around the world. He answered calls from Japan and Great Britain, in addition to those from local and regional reporters.
"I got woken up at 3 a.m. by someone in Australia," he told the News Tribune early Thursday afternoon. "I've been up ever since."
In past years, Dylan had been a contender for the Nobel Prize, at least according to the oddsmakers — especially in 2011 when the British gambling company Ladbrokes made him a 5-1 favorite to win.
"There's been talk of this for several years," Bushey said. "It never seems to happen. There wasn't talk this year; it came out of the blue."
Dylan is not the first artist with Duluth ties to win the award. Sinclair Lewis, who briefly lived in the city, won in 1930. Dylan is the only singer-songwriter to win the award — which resonated with Brad Nelson, who is on the Duluth Dylan Fest committee and whose band The Boomchucks, with Jamie Ness, covers Dylan tunes.
"I think it says that he was a songwriter who just kind of blew the doors open for what lyrics could do and mean and how deep they could go and how complicated they could be," he said.
The news isn't sitting as well with the book world, according to Claire Kirch, the Duluth-based Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly. She said more-popular picks would have been Philip Roth, Marilynne Robinson or Joyce Carol Oates.
"They're saying that there are real writers who may have deserved it more and the booksellers feel like, 'Oh, he doesn't have much of a body of work,' " said Kirch, whose own response is mixed. "I'm proud as a Duluthian that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature because he's a native of Duluth and, wow, that's great. As someone in the book publishing industry, I do feel there are others more worthy."
Bushey predicted that the award announcement will make Duluth and Hibbing, where Dylan spent his childhood after the age of 6, a draw for national and global media in the coming days.
"Let's face it. There is nowhere else in the world that can celebrate Bob Dylan winning this award that can also celebrate his place of birth," he said. "This is big."
IF YOU GO
What: 25th Anniversary of "Highway 61 Revisited"
When: 8 p.m.-midnight Saturday
Where: The Rex, 600 E. Superior St.
Tickets: $10 at the door
More info: Volunteer host John Bushey will be honored by the city of Duluth; a Dylan-themed silent auction with proceeds going to Duluth Dylan Fest; music by Cowboy Angel Blue, The Boomchucks and special guests.