Echo Helmstrom Casey died in California last week at 75. She was said to be the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s haunting song, "Girl From the North Country" – and for the wonderful covers that live to this day.
The song will be a classic as long as people have drifting thoughts of the first girl/first boy they loved.
I didn’t know anything about Echo Helmstrom until Laura Vecsey, my eldest, sent me a link from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Of course, there had to be an Echo Helmstrom.
Echo. Not even Bob Dylan could make that up.
She echoes in the soul.
It’s a winter song. Winter in New York, early 60’s, and the former Bobby Zimmerman is thinking how cold it must be in Hibbing, so he writes:
Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds
What kinder thoughts could anyone have for a girl back home in the north country?
According to the very nice article by Matt Steichen in the Star Tribune, Echo Helmstrom was a seeker, much like young Bob Zimmerman; they met in high school and then parted. Later, he must have known – Bob knows everything – that she also got away from the howlin’ winds, and moved to California, and lived her life, often complicated by the Dylanologists. (One of them even went through Dylan’s garbage in Greenwich Village but that’s another story.)
There’s no sense that Bob and Echo ever met again, or kept in touch. Then again, Dante met Beatrice only twice, fleetingly. But Dylan thought enough of Echo and her piercing eyes and blonde hair that he wrote the song about her, and really, what else is there?
The music and the lyrics live on – in Dylan’s original, and in the covers which can be tricky, ranging from the ridiculous to the masterful: Levon Helm and The Band acing Springsteen’s “Atlantic City;” and KD Lang owning Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in my opinion.)
I came to Bob Dylan via my kid brother Chris, who sang and played guitar and harmonica in coffee shops in the mid-60’s.
In 1969, Dylan made the immortal album “Nashville Skyline” in the city that had long resonated with me. Johnny Cash, who admired the brash kid, welcomed him to town and came into the studio, clearly not having totally mastered the lyrics to “North Country,” and he fluffed some entries, but Dylan let it flow because it was Johnny Cash and because it was real.
(NB: the version above is from Dylan’s respectful visit to Cash’s TV show later. Cash had long since mastered the lyrics and the beat of the song.)
Impromptu or rehearsed, what a duet – Dylan’s cutting brilliance, Cash’s throbbing pain, singing about a girl from back home.
See for me that her hair's hanging down
That's the way I remember her best
The song is perfect today, nearly half a century later. Rosanne Cash included it in her 2009 CD. “The List,” springing from the 100 songs her father deemed vital to the American soul. There is a very sweet guitar riff by her husband John Leventhal, and backup by three other musicians.
“The Girl From the North Country” lives, whether by Bob Dylan, or Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, or Rosanne Cash, back-to-back-to-back, on my iPod.
Now Laura Vecsey has an idea, which she has posted on Twitter: Rosanne Cash and Bob Dylan should record a duet, to complete the circle, to honor the girl from the north country.
For she once was a true love of mine.
1/25/2018 04:27:39 pm
comments are always welcome
1/25/2018 09:48:15 pm
I always thought that the song, "Bob Dylan's Dream" expressed similar sentiments about good friends from our youth with whom we've lost contact:
1/26/2018 08:22:17 am
Roy nice to hear from you. Speaking of friends, your comment reminded me of what I was listening to on the treadmill the other night: (Great workout music)
1/26/2018 09:53:07 am
Great song. I'm with Laura for a Dylan-Cash duo.
1/26/2018 12:20:24 pm
Alan, thanks for that memory of time and place.
1/26/2018 09:53:44 am
As with all things Dylan, there is a lively debate a bout who the "girl" actually was. Echo is one of three or four women who have their partisans in that debate. Dylan lends himself to heavy parsing with no reliable answers.
1/26/2018 11:56:11 am
George - I love this song and have for as long as I can remember. I have it on my Spotify mix. I just went back and note it was one of the first on my list when I signed up for the service in 2011. Souful music indeed! Thanks, Michael
1/26/2018 12:02:34 pm
1/28/2018 04:38:51 pm
Bruce--I forgot to mention the Canadian Oscar Brand. He was great at taking a song through its origin and many changes until it is one that we know.
1/28/2018 06:02:59 pm
1/26/2018 01:21:43 pm
What I notice here is that guys make the huge percentage of comments. In this case, all. What we need is a female point of view of old love., Let's say, for example, Joan Baez:
1/26/2018 01:40:24 pm
1/26/2018 04:11:05 pm
1/26/2018 04:33:34 pm
1/28/2018 12:09:22 pm
Bruce mentioned "Lay Lady Lay." That brought back a memory. George will be a step ahead of the rest of you on this one, because he's had the good fortune to meet my wife, Guadalupe.
1/28/2018 12:18:58 pm
1/28/2018 06:22:16 pm
Gene, I am here to attest.
1/28/2018 04:52:49 pm
George, now for some women.
1/28/2018 05:43:35 pm
1/28/2018 05:55:52 pm
Gene, makes sense.
1/28/2018 06:23:54 pm
1/28/2018 06:29:45 pm
Makes sense to me. I just posted a reply to Gene about meeting his wife at an "advanced age" for him. Something to be said for waiting to get it right.
1/28/2018 06:32:56 pm
2/13/2018 05:50:31 pm
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.