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Dear Mike: My Letter From Bob Dylan's Dad in 1966

January 23, 2024, 11:00 PM

A native Detroiter, Mike Nickele has enjoyed a long career writing for newspapers and magazines, as well as print, radio and tv advertising. He was born in the Detroit projects and worked his way through Wayne State University building Chryslers and making Whoppers. He fronts the local rock band Cocktail Shake. Oh, and he really likes Bob Dylan.

By Mike Nickele

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The letter, Dylan's parents and Mike Nickele today.

Kids do dopey stuff. And me, I probably did some of the dopiest. But this one paid off super big time back then, and then again over 50 years later.

Back in 1966, I was in the eighth grade in Roseville, Michigan. My parents moved us from the projects on Detroit's east side to Roseville. And to ensure what they believed to be a better education than I could have received there, I was enrolled in Sacred Heart Catholic school.

One day, my teacher, an IHM nun, assigned our eighth grade class to write a letter to our congressional representative and ask a question. She said it was their job to answer. Well, I was just as lazy back then as I am now, so I took the easy route. I simply asked, “Where does Bob Dylan live?” Stamped the envelope, licked it closed, dropped it in the box and took off to ride bikes, shoot slingshots, watch the Three Stooges or any of the other goofy stuff a 13 year-old does.


The actual 1966 letter

Two weeks later, lo and behold, an official letter from Congress arrives at our house. My mother immediately wants to know what I did wrong and how bad of trouble was I in this time. I ripped it open and found the answer to my previous question as to the whereabouts of Bob Dylan. The letter said that they didn’t know, but they believed somewhere in New York City. However, they did supply me with the only address they could find - in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Then I started thinking. Getting a letter to Bob Dylan looked to be impossible, and probably even more impossible to think I would get a letter back. So, I dashed off a letter to Dylan’s father Abraham Zimmerman at the address supplied by Congress. It was most likely a silly fan letter from a little kid in a bedroom suburb of Detroit. I’d be embarrassed to read it today. “I like Bob Dylan."

Can you send me some childhood  photographs, blah, blah, blah?” I even enclosed a self addressed stamped envelope to make it easier for Bob’s dad to reply. I put two 4-cent Abe Lincoln stamps on it and printed Via Air Mail with two squiggles under it, to help scoot it from Minnesota to Detroit a little quicker.

After a couple weeks of not having it on my mind, my self-addressed envelope appeared in the mailbox. Shaking with excitement, I opened it to find a hand-written letter from Dylan’s father, Abraham Zimmerman. It was penned with kindness and offered some sage advice. He said he hoped Dylan’s music would have a positive effect on young people. And, he told me to learn to understand my father and to watch his health — informing me that he was recovering from a recent heart attack. The thrilling part was his signature - “Your friend, Abe Zimmerman”. (See transcription of letter).

I took a few days to show off the letter to teachers and friends, then wrapped it Glad Wrap and put it in my Bob Dylan scrapbook along with articles and photos of my favorite singer/songwriter. I tucked the scrapbook away and forgot about it as my teen years were mostly spent working, cruising in cars, playing in bands and chasing girls.


The Bob Dylan Center

A few years ago I found the scrapbook and reread the letter. Then I thought, I’ll bet Bob would like to see this letter, read what his father had said to a strange young kid from Michigan. Perhaps just to touch this piece of writing that his father had offered up so generously. I know I would want to see a letter my dad wrote to someone. So, I set out to try to get the letter to Dylan, knowing it would be next to impossible to reach him personally. It wasn’t about that. I didn’t need to meet Bob Dylan. It wasn’t a scheme to attain an audience with the understandably reclusive artist. I put word out on social media - nothing. I even contacted a producer of the Pawn Stars TV show to see if they could contact him. He once appeared on the show and was rumored to be a fan - again nothing.

So, fast forward to October 2023 and I hear that a new Bob Dylan Center has opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right next-door to the Woody Guthrie Center. Cool. I jot off an email to the BDC, telling them that I have this letter and wondered if they could alert Dylan and give it to him, or have it for their archives. I love the letter, but it belongs in the Center more than in my basement storage area. Well, the archivist of the Center, Mark Davidson, emailed me back immediately. He said they would love to have the letter for their archives and that they would alert Dylan’s team of the letter.

Davidson and the Center’s director, Steven Jenkins, contacted me and said they would arrange for the letter and envelope to be shipped to them. Since I had a stack of frequent flyer miles thanks to the lengthy Covid shutdown, I said I’d prefer to bring it to them in person. I wanted to visit the Center anyway. So, I hopped on a plane with the scrapbook and letter and zoomed into Tulsa. I wanted them to have the letter in the scrapbook so it could be viewed in context of a silly kid from Michigan in contact with Abe Zimmerman.


Photo from the Bob Dylan Center

Long story short, the Bob Dylan Center is a wonderful multi-media space just jampacked with photos, videos, manuscripts — everything you’d ever want to know about this fabulous singer/songwriter. I spent over three hours perusing the collection. I understand it was made available by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which purchased Dylan’s archives in 2016 for a reported $15-20 Million. I also toured the Woody Guthrie Center (also a Kaiser Foundation project) and visited The Church Studio - Leon Russell’s place about a mile or so from the centers. All in all, it’s nice to know that generations to come will be able to visit the Bob Dylan Center and also view some of “my back pages”.

THE TEXT OF THE LETTER 

12/13/66

Dear Mike,

It was very kind of you to let me know that you are such a fan of Bob Dylan. We receive many letters like yours and only wish we could send pictures, etc. to all who ask, but it is impossible.

We very humbly appreciate the influence Bob has had on the youth of this country and sincerely hope it will result in something good. However, none of you should go to extremes to upset your parents, as life is too short to make a major crisis out of every little thing. I’m glad you cut your hair according to your Dad’s wishes. He must be proud to have such a fine son, and you should be equally proud of him and learn to understand him as I’m sure he understands the things a young boy lives through. Above all, watch his health and yours! (I am recovering now from a heart attack!!) Some of us get more than one chance.

Thanks again for your interest in Bob and try hard to be a good, sincere and healthy boy.

Your friend,

Mr. Abe Zimmerman

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Outside the Dylan Center

Mike Nickele at The Church Studio - Leon Russell’s place.

 



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