Restoring Bob Dylan's house is fan's labor of love
NEW YORK - Agence France-Presse
This July 22, 2012 file photo shows U.S. singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performing on at "Les Vieilles Charrues" Festival in Carhaix, western France. AP photoBob Dylan has legions of fans around the world, but only Bill Pagel owns the house in Duluth, Minnesota where the music legend spent his early childhood -- and slowly but surely, he's fixing it up.
Restoring the wood-sided duplex at 519 North Third Avenue East to the way it was in the 1940s is truly a labor of love for Pagel, a pharmacist who is considering turning the modest house into a Dylan museum once it's done.
"I am currently working on restoring it to how it looked when Bob lived there from 1941, when he was born, until 1947 when his family moved to Hibbing, Minnesota," about 75 miles (120 kilometers) away, Pagel told AFP.
"I have a set of photographs taken by the family who moved into the Duluth house in 1947 right after Bob's family moved out, and I am using these photos as a guide in my restoration project." Pagel is a lifelong Dylan fan and memorabilia collector, going back to 1962 when he first heard, then bought, the iconic singer-songwriter's eponymous first album while at college in Madison, Wisconsin.
"I was hooked and have been listening to Bob ever since," he said.
In the global Dylan fan community, Pagel is best known for Boblinks.com, founded in 1995, an authoritative compendium of Dylan-related Internet links plus complete set lists from every Dylan concert going back years.
"I have a number of friends who go to a lot of shows and they call me right after each show and give me the set list, which is then posted on my site," he said. "I also encourage people to send me reviews of the shows." In August, Boblinks.com surpassed 30 million hits, and it's certain to pull more visitors after Tuesday's official release of Dylan's 35th studio album "Tempest," which Pagel ranks as among the raspy-voiced singer's best.
"There isn't a single song that I didn't enjoy the first time I played it," said Pagel after iTunes streamed "Tempest" for free this past week. "In my opinion, it is his best work since 'Time Out Of Mind,'" which was released in 1997.
From infancy to kindergarten, when the family relocated to Hibbing, an iron-ore mining town, Dylan lived in upstairs at North Third Avenue -- a 900 square foot (83 square meter), two-bedroom unit -- with his parents and brother.
The porch looks out toward Lake Superior and Highway 61, the fabled "blues highway" that runs south from Minnesota to the Mississippi Delta, cradle of the American roots music that shaped Dylan's music.
Nearby is St Mary's Hospital, where Dylan was born on May 24, 1941 -- Pagel is a year younger -- and a parking lot that used to be the site of the synagogue where Dylan's family worshiped.
Pagel bought the house in 2001 for $82,000 after it was listed on eBay as a "must-have for the die-hard Dylan fan," then rolled up his sleeves and started restoring it whenever he found the time.
"It was kind of in rough shape," he said.
Work is finished on the exterior, which Pagel has painted a light yellow after peeling off layers of weather-beaten paint to figure out what color the house -- built in 1909 -- might have been seven decades ago.
Inside, with the walls replastered, Pagel is turning his attention to the original wood floors, plus unexpected issues that always crop up with fixer-uppers, such as pipe bursts. "We're coming along pretty good," he said.
Tenants occupy the downstairs unit, while visitors from around the world "are coming by just about every day" to look at the modest house, even if Duluth is off the beaten track for tourists.
"I haven't been offered or accepted any (financial) donations," said Pagel, who jokes that the project is funded out of his retirement account, but he is welcoming contributions of memorabilia to help fill the house once its done.
"I am actively looking for material for the museum project, like handwritten manuscripts, photos, concert posters and tickets," especially from 1941 through the 1960s, he said.
In time Pagel hopes to see the house added to the National Registry of Historic Places -- and to install a plaque on the front to underscore the house's special place in American music history.
"A lot of people in town, even in the neighborhood, don't even know it's Bob Dylan's house," he said. "But it's true."