So if you're travelin' in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
Read full Lyrics
Minnesota farmland skies
In 1961, Bob Dylan met Suze Rotolo. Dylan had just dropped out of college to pursue his musical career in New York City; Rotolo had just graduated from high school and entered the Greenwich Village folk scene. Dylan and Rotolo first met at the Riverside Church folk concert. Dylan described their meeting in his memoir quite passionately, “Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard.” By 1962, Rotolo and Dylan were living together and Dylan's lyrics, largely inspired by Rotolo's activism, began to take on the topic of civil rights for which he would later become so famous.
But their love affair wasn't all plain sailing. In June 1962, Rotolo left New York to continue her studies abroad in Italy. Around about the same time, Dylan took a trip to England where he allegedly penned “Girl from the North Country,” pining for Rotolo. Their separation left their relationship on the rocks and Dylan went to Italy in search of Rotolo to mend the growing rift. Unbeknownst to Dylan, Rotolo had already returned to the States. Their relationship didn't fare much better even when they were both on American soil. Following Rotolo's abortion of Dylan's child in 1963 and Dylan's affair with Joan Baez, the couple eventually parted for good. Dylan and Rotolo's love was, however, immortalized on the album cover for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
, which features a photograph of Dylan and Rotolo walking arm in arm.
Although “Girl from the North Country” is generally accepted as a love song written about Rotolo, there's one glaring error in this assumption. Rotolo, of Italian-American descent, was born and raised in New York. By the lyrics of the song talking about borderlines and snow storms, never mind the "north country" title, the setting is clearly not New York, but Dylan's native Minnesota. Perhaps then, this song refers not to Rotolo, but some teenage sweetheart Dylan abandoned up north to pursue his Big Apple dreams.
Minnesota, a word meaning "sky-tinted water" in Dakota, was the 31st state to be admitted to the Union in 1858. Known as the Land of 10, 000 Lakes, Minnesota is renowned for its natural beauty and extreme climate. Bob Dylan, although born in Duluth, grew up in Hibbing, a small town on the Mesabi Iron Range. As far as towns go, Hibbing doesn't have much to offer besides being home to the world's largest iron ore mine. But perhaps there was a girl, a beautiful girl with long hair, as described in the song, who stole Dylan's heart, at least for a while.
“Girl from the North Country” was first released as the second track on Dylan's 1963 album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
. Dylan later recorded the song as a duet with Johnny Cash and released it in 1969 as the first track on the album Nashville Skyline
. Musically, “Girl from the North Country” is almost identical to “Boots of Spanish Leather” and is just one example of the way Dylan recycled melodies and even lyrics.
Regardless of who this song was written for, it remains a firm favorite, well established within the Bob Dylan canon, having been covered by Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart, Pete Townsend, Eddie Vedder, Sting, and even the Counting Crows, amongst others. Perhaps there is girl from Minnesota out there who hears this song and knows it was written for her. But her identity remains a secret neither Dylan nor the mystery girl are willing to share. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and
The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
Girl From The North Country Songfacts
Browse all Songplaces