Where is 56th and Wabasha? "Meet Me in the Morning" Dylan Mystery Solved
The lyric is not "Fifty-sixth and Wabasha", it is actually "Fifty-six and Wabasha", referring to the intersection of old Minnesota Highway 56 and Wabasha Street in Saint Paul, Minnesota. If you listen, you can hear Dylan sing "fifty-six", rather than "fifty-sixth", particularly on the take that was released as the B-side to "Duquesne Whistle". Minnesota Highway 56 no longer intersects Wabasha Street, but from 1963 to 1974 it did intersect Wabasha Street, at what is now (in Feb. 2021) the intersection of George Street and Cesar Chavez Street in St. Paul, or possibly South Wabasha & Cesar Chavez.
"Meet Me in the Morning" is the first song on side two of Bob Dylan's celebrated 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. In the opening lines of the song, according to the lyrics on Bob Dylan's official site (https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/meet-me-morning/), the narrator invites the listener to a rendezvous at a specific intersection:
Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha
Numerous Dylan fans have naturally wondered where 56th and Wabasha is, or if it even exists. If you do a Google Maps search for "56th and Wabasha", nothing comes up: you get sent to the town of Wabasha, Minnesota, which does not have a 56th Street.
There is a Wabasha Street in St. Paul, Minnesota:
The Highway 56 Thesis
Are you sure it’s “56th” and not “56”? From 1963 to 1974 Minnesota State Highway 56 would have intersected with Wabasha St at what’s now the intersection of George St and Cesar Chavez St in Saint Paul.
[Minnesota 56] Constitutional Route between I-90 and U.S. 52, rest authorized 1933. Formerly extended far north of its current terminus at U.S. 52. It followed U.S. 52 to Concord Avenue (now Dakota CSAH 56 and MN-156), then followed Concord Avenue into St. Paul to Wabasha.
So clearly, around the time of the recording of Blood on the Tracks (September 1974 for "Meet Me in the Morning") there was an intersection of Minnesota Highway 56 and Wabasha. Could Dylan have been referring to this St. Paul intersection in the opening lines of "Meet Me in the Morning"? I argue that the answer is yes, and that the standard interpretation of the lyric is wrong: it should be "fifty-six and Wabasha", not "fifty-sixth and Wabasha", as most sources (including Dylan's official site, (https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/meet-me-morning/) have it.
What did this intersection look like?
Subsequent analysis shows it is possible that the Highway 56 & Wabasha intersection was a few blocks northwest, at what is now South Wabasha and Cesar Chavez: the streets were renamed quite a bit and there was a good deal of building re-designating going on throughout the era. If this is the case, then this 1954 image from the same source shows the intersection: we're looking south along Wabasha; Highway 56 would come in from the left about 4 blocks in the distance from were the viewer is standing:
What is Dylan actually singing on the recordings we have available?
The most striking piece of evidence in support of the Highway 56 thesis the sung lyric from the recordings themselves. If you listen to what Dylan is actually singing, you can hear he's singing "fifty-six", not "fifty-sixth". While this is somewhat hard to discern in the version on Blood on the Tracks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE6-uc1zr3s), it is clearer in the alternate take that first appeared as the b-side of "Duquesne Whistle" and later appeared on the 6-disc The Bootleg Series, Vol 14: More Blood, More Tracks compilation: https://vimeo.com/180303449#t=54s.
From my colleague Kevin Feely:
I’ve listened to all of the takes of the song on More Blood, More tracks and . . . I can’t hear a “th” sound for the life of me. To me it sounds very clearly like he is saying “56” especially on takes 2 and 3. I always assumed before he was saying “56th.” Amazing how Dylan can continue to surprise and delight us all of these years later.
In addition, we know that Dylan is willing to sing about highways and refer to them by number: the song and album Highway 61 Revisited attest to that.
Didn't Dyan write the words down somewhere?
- Box 18, Folder 06: “Meet Me in the Morning” typescript copyright edits (1974, Blood on the Tracks).
- Box 65, Folder 01: “Meet Me in the Morning” original sheet music
- Box 99, Folder 06: Small notebook 6, circa 1974. Includes lyrics to “Meet Me In The Morning,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” “Idiot Wind,” “Simple Twist Of Fate,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” and “Shelter From The Storm.”
Finally, for more than forty-two years, like countless others I have had in my head this version of the first verse on the album’s song “Meet Me in the Morning”:Meet me in the morning, 56th and WabashaMeet me in the morning, 56th and WabashaWe could be in Kansas By the time the snow begins to thawIn those days before Google Maps or any Internet at all, I had no idea where Wabasha might be, not that it really mattered. It in fact turned out to be in Minnesota, where it runs through downtown St. Paul, south across the Mississippi. There is no Fifty-Sixth Street in St. Paul, but Wabasha does intersect with Fifth Street and Sixth Street, a few blocks west of Highway 61 and eight miles east of Dinkytown, the place Bob Dylan spent those sixteen months honing his musical skills before heading to New York City in January 1961. On page 1 of the blue notebook there is a different beginning to the verse, with only the ending surviving the process of rewriting:
Meet me in the morning [illegible] we could have a ball
My grandfather had a farm but all he ever raised was the dead
He had the keys to the kingdom but all he ever opened was his head
Meet me in the morning, it’s the brightest day you ever saw
We could be in Kansas by the time the snow begins to thaw
There are currently hundreds of books on Bob Dylan, the best of them clocking in at six hundred to nine hundred pages. We are only started on the long road that is the phenomenon of Dylanology. As Dylan sang on “Mississippi,” “Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow / Things could start to get interesting right about now.”
Summary of Email Correspondence with Harvard Professor Richard F. Thomas
- Unfortunately, according to Thomas, the answer is probably not in the archive, at least not in the notebooks mentioned. He thinks that the only "Meet Me in the Morning" lyrics in the archive are the ones quoted above, so probably no resolution to "56" vs. "56th" will be forthcoming from Tulsa. He did recommend I write to the archive and ask about this.
- Professor Thomas agrees that you do not hear a "th", but that we can't base too much on that, because it's very possible that the "ksthand" sound of "sixth and" shifts to "ksand" in a "linguistic glide". I agree with him on this: hearing "th" would be fatal to our hypothesis, but NOT hearing doesn't prove it. Unfortunately, according to an online Dylan concordance, Dylan never sings "sixth" in any other lyric, so we can't listen and compare. (If you know of an instance, point it out!). He does sing "fourth", "fifth", and "seventh", but the consonant combination is different.
- The "We could be in Kansas" line does appear as it ends up on Blood on the Tracks. This implies that the Kansas line was written first, and that "56 and Wabasha" was chosen partially to rhyme with "snow begins to thaw". If anything, this strengthens our hypothesis, because "56 and Wabasha" has a stronger Kansas connection than "56th and Wabasha".
- Professor Thomas thinks calling the intersection of Highway 56 and Wabasha Street "56 and Wabasha" is weird. He thinks it would be more like "Route 56 and Wabasha". But Professor Thomas is British, grew up in New Zealand, and lives on the East Coast of the US, so I don't think he's familiar with this way of referring to roads. As a Minnesotan, I'm going to say that referring to intersections in this way is pretty typical: My high school is near 100 and Glennwood, meaning Highway 100 and Glenwood Avenue. We wouldn't say "highway" or "route" necessarily. The Mall of America is at 77 and 494 (Highway 77 and Interstate 494). The airport entrance is near 5 and Snelling Lake Road. The United States has a lot of regional variation in how roads are referenced. (In LA, Interstate 5 is "The Five", while in Seattle, it's "I-Five" and NEVER "The Five", at least when I was there in the 1990s.) (I'd be interested in other Minnesotans chiming in on this; the ones who have done so thusfar have backed my position 100%.)
- The biggest blow to the theory is that Dylan's official lyric books (which have the "56th" reading) were not 100% done by others. He "had a hand" (Thomas's words) in editing them, particularly the 2016 edition, and he let the "56th" reading stand and didn't correct it. Now I don't know how "big a hand" Dylan had in the editing, so this isn't fatal to the theory. And Dylan hasn't played this song live EVER, except when Jack White came on and sang the song as a guest at Dylan's show in 2007. The audio is not of sufficient clarity to distinguish 56/56th, and in any case I would expect Jack White to sing the standard "56th" interpretation. And the lyrics on the official site do contain some huge differences from the released versions, e.g. "If You See Her, Say Hello": "If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier / It’s the city ’cross the water, not too far from here"
The Rail Connection
Another piece of supporting evidence: Heading south on Minnesota Highway 56 would be a plausible start to a journey from St. Paul, MN to Kansas. Though why the speaker wouldn't want to take Interstate 35, I don't know. It could be because I-35 was not yet complete.
Brendan Dunn again:
Highway 56 is more a local connector than a through route, and all the highways in that area lead generally southeast following the Mississippi. But after talking to my son, I think you’re thinking of the wrong form of transportation. The album is Blood on the Tracks, and the alternative version [is] on [the B-side of] “Duquesne Whistle”. The intersection is within a few blocks of a Union Pacific train yard on a line which leads eventually to... Kansas City, Kansas.
So one possible reading is that the narrator is inviting the listener to meet at the small business district at Highway 56 and Wabasha to get some breakfast, coffee, and supplies before hopping a freight train to Kansas.
Some Google satellite imagery shows how 56 & Wabasha would be a good meeting place if you wanted to meet in a business district before hopping a train. Google maps says the track is a 10 minute walk away, but the Wellstone Center didn't exist in the 1963-74 timeframe when this intersection existed, so it was probable a more direct route could have been taken, resulting in a 5 minute walk:
I have ordered a 1969 paper street map off of eBay. We can examine it when it arrives and perhaps see in better detail what this intersection looked like, and which of our two intersection candidates is the actual 56 & Wabasha. (Anyone with any photographs of the intersections from the 1963-74 time period, please share them!)
And where do the railroad tracks so close to the intersection of MN Hwy 56 and Wabasha St. go? Again, we turn to our American railroad history expert:
That track is part of the "Spine Line" that runs from the Union Pacific yards in Saint Paul to the Armstrong-Armourdale Yard in Kansas City, Kansas.
This strengthens the interpretation that the narrator is choosing this spot specifically because it facilitates the travel to Kansas mentioned in the next line of the song ("Honey we could be in Kansas / By the time the snow begins to thaw").
Here is a map of freight rail lines in the Twin Cities. You can see the blue Union Pacific lines (in blue) going through the St. Paul neighborhood we're focusing on:
Here's a larger map, showing the Union Pacific "Spine Line" connecting to Kansas City:
Unsung verse in the published lyrics:
The birds are flyin’ low babe, honey I feel so exposed Well, the birds are flyin’ low babe, honey I feel so exposed Well now, I ain’t got any matches And the station doors are closed
What about all the "official" sources that have the lyrics listed as "56th and Wabasha"?
I contend that they are in error, and that the usual convention of listing street intersections in this way has just caused people to assume that the "th" couldn't be heard. Probably there was an initial transcription error which was later repeated and has since spread to all sources (I have two official books of Dylan sheet music that both say "56th").
Also, sources like the official Dylan site have some whoppers. Take a look at "If You See Her, Say Hello" lyrics on the official site:
If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier It’s the city ’cross the water, not too far from hereObviously, this is far from the "She left here last early spring, is livin' there I hear" that we actually hear sung on Blood on the Tracks. If discrepancies this large can exist, certainly we can't expect them to capture a difference as subtle as "fifty-six" vs. "fifty-sixth".
Do we have any evidence that Bob Dylan knew about Highway 56, or this intersection?
So why did nobody figure this out before?
- The strength of the "ordinal + street name" shorthand convention for naming intersections is powerful, and makes the erroneous "fifty-sixth" hearing very compelling.
- In the released version on Blood on the Tracks, the raucous instrumentation makes it hard to hear the "fifty-six", and listeners easily fill in the "missing" "-th" sound due to reason #1, above.
- The fact that Minnesota Highway 56 was re-routed in 1974, right before Blood on the Tracks was released, effectively erased this intersection before listeners had the opportunity to come to this "Highway 56" interpretation of the lyric.
- Minnesota Highway 56 was already fairly obscure at the time of the recording of this song. According to my colleague Brendan Dunn, it was likely that traffic on 56 decreased once the Lafayette Bridge opened to traffic in 1968. Indeed, I wonder if Highway 56 was obscure enough by 1974 that it could be considered one of the "back roads heading south" mentioned in "Idiot Wind".
- An alternate take with a clearer vocal was not released until 2012, as the B-Side of Duquesne Whistle. By this time, the Highway 56 and Wabasha intersection was decades in the past, and the "56th" reading was firmly entrenched. The additional takes with clearer vocals on More Blood, More Tracks weren't widely available until November 2018.
- I suspect that "Meet Me in the Morning"'s relative lyrical simplicity and lack of identifiable biographical detail has caused most Dylan sleuths to focus their energies elsewhere.
- Uncovering the "fifty-six" hearing of the lyric requires both a great deal of Dylan enthusiasm and minute knowledge of the layout and history of minor St. Paul roads and their nomenclature. (That being said, I'm surprised no Dylan fan had looked at the 1974 map shown above that shows Wabasha and Hwy 56 plainly intersecting.)
Implications for Interpretation
As to the implications this reading has for interpretations of the song, that will be addressed in a subsequent post, (or added here later).
- The discussion of this topic on the Expecting Rain Dylan forum
- A shorter thread on the topic devoted to this particular track
- Wikipedia article for Meet Me in the Morning (which as of Feb 22 2021 contains my edit with a very brief version the "Highway 56" theory.)
- A history of Minnesota highways that shows Highway 56 running through the neighborhood we're examining.
- The Wabasha Street Caves, a few blocks northwest of our intersection (or possibly only one block, if it turns out the South Wabasha & Cesar Chavez is the one we want). This was a cave network used by gangsters, and was also a disco in the 1970's. It is possible Dylan had these caves in mind, with their criminal connotations, when he put the meeting spot here. The actual official Wabasha Street Caves site is so retro. Serious 1994-made-with-Microsoft-Notepad vibes here.
- A list of Minnesota Dylan landmarks. Neither of the St. Paul locations are particularly close to 56 & Wabasha.
- An essay on Meet Me in the Morning, to which I responded in the comments with this theory.
- Speculation about 56th & Wabasha on the Dylan Atlas. No way to respond with this theory.
- A blog post about this topic. Back in 2013, a commenter mentioned the existence of Minnesota Highway 56, but doesn't go on to explore the implications for the song. I've submitted a comment linking to this post.
- An old Google Answers session on this topic. I don't see any mechanism for adding an update.
- The (wrong, according to this theory) lyrics on BobDylan.com.
- I am trying to expand my search on this topic to the world of formal Dylan scholarship. Fortunately, "Wabasha" is a wonderfully distinct search term. Here's a Google Scholar search for "Dylan Wabasha". So far I haven't been "scooped" by anyone. And a lot of people might have to revise their work in the light of this new interpretation.
- A brochure describing the neighborhood (see section #3 "Where Wabasha Turns").
- A long thread of train enthusiasts arguing about who had the best freight line from St. Paul to Kansas City.
- A train hopping story that includes going from Kansas City to St. Paul.
- A video of a model railroad journey from St. Paul to Kansas City.