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Bob Dylan, Dick Cheney and Paul Wellstone | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Bob Dylan, Dick Cheney and Paul Wellstone

Most Americans had no idea where Eveleth, Minnesota, was until they saw the maps showing where Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter, three staffers and two pilots perished in a plane crash Friday.

Not so Bob Dylan.

A native of Hibbing, a city just 30 miles from Eveleth, the songwriter grew up as Robert Zimmerman on the northern Minnesota Iron Range where Wellstone was a populist hero to the Steelworkers and other trade unionists who continue to dominate the region's politics.

On Saturday night, at a concert in Denver, Dylan made a rare reference to a contemporary political figure. The singer, who is not known for talking much at his concerts, dedicated a song to Wellstone.

"That song was for my man, the great Senator from Minnesota," Dylan said, as he finished playing an acoustic version of one of his most overtly political songs, 1964's "The Times They Are A'Changin'."

That song includes the lines:

Come senators, congressmen Please heed the call Don't stand in the doorway Don't block up the hall For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled There's a battle outside And it is ragin'. It'll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin'"

Dylan's dedication and song choice fueled speculation that the Minnesota native's Wednesday-night concert in St. Paul, which comes in the midst of a remarkable week of mourning for Wellstone and the other plane-crash victims, could become one of the most distinctive forums for honoring the senator's memory in a state where just about every gathering in recent days has featured some form of tribute.

The largest official tribute was set for Tuesday night at a Minneapolis arena. As many as 20,000 people were expected to participate, including former President Bill Clinton; former Vice President Al Gore; Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson; Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota; Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, and more than half of the members of the Senate. Of special note will be the presence of Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, who joined Wellstone is loudly opposing the resolution that authorized the Bush administration to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq.

For all the big names, however, the event is being planned by veteran Wellstone aides to highlight his populist message and grassroots support. The theme of the event will be "Stand Up and Keep Fighting." Wellstone's green campaign bus will be parked in front of the Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. Most of the speakers and performers will be Minnesotans. They will be joined at the podium by Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, who shared Wellstone's penchant for fiery economic populist rhetoric.

Neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will be present. White House spokeman Scott Stanzel told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Cheney had planned to attend the event. After consulation with the Wellstone family, however, Stanzel said, "We deferred to the family."

Stanzel acknowledged that Wellstone's family members had indicated that they did not want Cheney, who played a critical role in organizing the Republican campaign to unseat Wellstone this year, to be a part of the memorial service.

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