Bob Dylan Countdown #186: “North Country Blues”Posted: January 29, 2012
Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota is in the midst of the Iron Range, a unique area of our country teeming with iron mines. Coal mines may dominate the mining conversation in the United States, but iron mines come with similar sets of problems (dangerous conditions for workers, cheaper competition from overseas, low wages, etc.)
It only makes sense then that Dylan would be drawn to this particular occupation when he chose to write his own Woody Guthrie-type ode to put-upon workers and include it on The Times They Are A-Changin’. But Bob takes a somewhat unconventional approach by telling the story from the perspective of a woman with a family full of miners.
He could have easily just given a laundry list of all the hardships miners endure, but, by personalizing it, he makes it seem much less like medicine and more deeply affecting. And by choosing a woman as the centerpiece for the tale, he emphasizes the way that an entire community is affected by these mines, not just the miners themselves. It’s like an anti-war song from the perspective of the widows.
Dylan sings the song almost dispassionately, as if all the emotion has been drained from this poor woman who has lost her brother and father to the mine’s dangers and her husband to the mine’s sudden lack of usefulness. Her final, stoic realization that her children will eventually join the list of those who have departed is almost too much sadness to contemplate.
Dylan obviously witnessed this sadness firsthand growing up. That he captures the essence of this harrowing job without making it seem like a lecture is a testament to his skill and compassion.