Absolutely, ‘Positively Fourth Street’

New documentary ‘No Direction Home’ puts Bob Dylan in the heart of Dinkytown

Frederic Hanson

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows once sang “I want to be Bob Dylan.” He certainly tried. He ultimately failed.

He failed because he never understood that to be Bob Dylan, you first have to destroy Bob Dylan.

Dylan did a fine job of that himself in Martin Scorsese’s new documentary, “No Direction Home,” which aired Monday and Tuesday on PBS.

The film, a long awaited chronicle of Dylan’s early days, from Hibbing to “Highway 61 Revisited,” sees the self-described “song and dance man” cutting his own mythical legend down to size, in true rebel fashion.

The footage says it all. Dylan is a musician. He is not some kind of messiah, despite his fans’ almost biblical devotion. Leave the equally perverse interpretations of his art out of it.

He gets annoyed when people read into his work. He writes songs because he likes to. He is not part of any movement, political or otherwise, and he shies away from any associated responsibilities. People who don’t write music probably will never get it, but they should take his word for it. Et cetera.

Whew. With that out of the way, let’s get on to talking about how cool the University is because Bob-freakin’-Dylan was briefly enrolled here.

He was. It is not a myth; he talks about it in the film. “I was enrolled in classes, but I didn’t go. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to,” he says.

Yes! Vindication! Though he didn’t go to class, Dylan was definitely around campus. From August 1959 to September 1960 he bummed around Dinkytown, playing his first gigs and recording his first songs – some of which turn up in the film.

This article is meant to be a guide to all those Dylan spots in Dinkytown you hear rumors about.

The following label University locations as mentioned by Dylan in his 2004 book “Chronicles: Volume One.” His quotes below come from that book.

Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity

Dylan’s cousin Chucky was a member of this fraternity. Dylan rented a room there in August 1959, upon first enrolling at the University. He recalls the experience, saying, “My mother had given me an address for a fraternity house on University Avenue. There were a couple of guys hanging around when I got there and one of them said that I could stay in one of the upstairs rooms, the one at the end of the hall. It was a nothing room with just a bunk bed and a table by a window without any curtains.” There are notorious rumors of Dylan being chased down by fraternity members after stealing some steaks from their freezer.


Dinkytown has morphed since Dylan was around. The Bastille and Ten O’Clock scholar coffeehouses are now gone. But by his description, much of it remains unchanged. “The area around the University was known as Dinkytown, which was kind of like a little village, untypical from the rest of conventional Minneapolis. It was mostly filled with Victorian houses that were being used as student apartments. I found the local record store in the heart of Dinkytown.”

Hollywood Video parking lot, formerly the Ten O’Clock Scholar coffeehouse

Hollywood Video’s parking lot is on the site of one of Dylan’s old haunts, the Ten O’Clock Scholar. Dylan played some of his first gigs there. He recalls the place, saying, “I then went further up the street and dropped into the Ten O’Clock Scholar, a Beat coffeehouse. The first guy I met in Minneapolis like me was sitting around in there. It was John Koerner (of Koerner, Ray, and Glover).”

Apartment above Loring Pasta Bar, formerly Gray’s Drugstore

This is Bob Dylan’s elusive former apartment – at least, that is what he says. Others have located it at 714 15th St. Regardless, we’ll take Dylan’s word. If you pass by the Loring Pasta Bar, you can still see the words “drugs” written on the glass. “Gray’s Drugstore was in the heart of Dinkytown. I had moved into a room right above it. The room cost thirty bucks a month (and was) no more than an empty storage room with a sink and a window looking into an alley.”