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  Field Notes From
ZipUSA: 55746



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On Assignment
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From Author

Sean Elder



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From Photographer

Catherine Karnow



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Lawrence Lucier (top), and David Dunai
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
ZipUSA: 55746

Field Notes From Author
Sean Elder
Best Worst Quirkiest

While in Hibbing, I saw a surprisingly good community-theater production of “Sly Fox,” a modern retelling of Ben Johnson’s “Volpone.” Michael Ricci, the head of the theater department at the local community college, directed the play. He found his way to Hibbing from New York about five years ago. Since then he has managed to recruit people from the school as well as the churches, bars, or any place he can find them. Hibbing’s population is aging, and a lot of the people seem embittered. The young people can’t wait to get out. But Ricci has sparked an excitement in them that comes through in his elaborate half-college, half-community productions. Being that it was small-town theater, I feared the worst. But the play was really very good.



I hate to say it, but the worst was the night we went to Zimmy’s , a local bar that’s also a Bob Dylan shrine. They told us that it was sixties night and the best costume would win tickets to see Bob Dylan in concert. It was a great photo opportunity, so the photographer was very excited. We showed up and not only was hardly anyone in costume, but as the evening progressed the locals were actually becoming kind of hostile. We got there and tried to fit in but, clearly, people just saw us as total outsiders. One drunk guy came over to me and said, “National Geographic wouldn’t really do a story about Hibbing.” And I said, “Why do you think we’re here? I mean, you think I got nothing better to do? Look at this woman. She’s got something like two thousand dollars worth of photographic equipment. What’s she doing all this work for?” Some people thought of themselves as kind of stuck there for whatever reason, and they thought we were from a big city and were there to make fun of them, which wasn’t true at all. I grew up in a small mining town in California.



I met a guy who knew Bob Dylan when Bob was a teenager. He used to ride a motorcycle, and Dylan would come to his house and listen to his rhythm-and-blues albums. So I got his phone number and met him at a senior men’s club outside Hibbing. He carried a photocopy of the pages from a locally written book about Dylan that happened to mention him. And he had me sit there and read it out loud. So I sat there and read out loud about how Bob rode motorcycles with him when he was a teenager, and how he had records, and they liked the same kind of music. That was really the biggest moment of his life. All these years later he’s still carrying around this piece of paper and having strangers read it.





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