North Country Blues

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"North Country Blues"
Song by Bob Dylan from the album The Times They Are a-Changin'
Released January 13, 1964
Recorded August 6, 1963
Genre Folk
Length 4:35
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Tom Wilson
The Times They Are a-Changin' track listing

"North Country Blues" is a song by Bob Dylan, released on his third studio album The Times They Are a-Changin' in 1964. He also performed it at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

Its apparently simple format (ten verses of ABCB rhyme scheme) and subject matter (the perils of life in a mining community and its ultimate demise) appears to have been influenced by Woody Guthrie.

The specific location of the town is never stated. However, a location on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota is suggested by the song's title, Dylan's childhood residence in Hibbing, Minnesota, and the reference to "iron ore" and "red iron." The reference to "red iron pits" strongly suggests the location is on the Mesabi Range, a portion of the Iron Range where open-pit mining has predominated,[1] and where Hibbing is situated.

The song opens with a deliberately conventional opening (Come gather round friends and I'll tell you a tale...). However, the darkness of the tale soon becomes apparent. Each verse contains at least one tragic situation or event:

  1. For starters, speaking of the current day, "the whole town is empty."
  2. When the narrator was young, her mother "took sick" and obviously died, as she was "brought up by my brother."
  3. One day her brother "failed to come home, the same as my father before him." (The implication is that they failed to come home from the mine, suggesting repeated mining tragedies.)
  4. Her schooling was cut short "to marry John Thomas, a miner."
  5. With three children, her husband's work was cut to a one-half shift "for no reason."
  6. "The man" came to town and announced that mine #11 was closing.
  7. The price of the mined ore is too high and not worth digging, because it's cheaper from South America where miners work "almost for nothing."
  8. Total desolation, hours last "twice as long . . . as I waited for the sun to go sinking."
  9. Her husband is talking only to himself now, and one morning he up and left her "alone with three children."
  10. The stores have all closed and her children "will go, as soon as they grow," because "there ain't nothing here now to hold them."

Dylan hides the fact that the narrator is a woman to the end of verse four. The song ends bleakly, as by this time the woman has lost her husband, mother, father and brother; the mine is closed and the town is virtually abandoned; and soon her children will leave her in complete isolation and desolation.

Within this apparently restricting and morose format, referred to as a "formally conservative exercise in first-person narrative"[2] Dylan manages to achieve significant tonal and expressive variation, and the song is considered by some to be one of his most effective in the 'folk-song' genre.

In 1968, Joan Baez included a cover of "North Country Blues" on her Dylan tribute album Any Day Now.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mesabi Range#Mining operations
  2. ^ Marqusee, M (2003). Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art. The New Press.