Talkin' Prairie Triangle of Inspiration (A.K.A. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell Make Their Great Escape)


You've heard of the Bermuda Triangle, right? But have you ever heard of the Prairie Triangle of Inspiration? It's not a place where people get lost forever, like in that infamous triangle around Bermuda. No, it's a place that people get the hell out of as soon as possible... though not before becoming incredibly inspired and creative.

I'm talking about the Saskatoon-Winnipeg-Duluth/Hibbing Triangle. And if those three/four places don't mean anything to you, well then you're probably not much of a music fan. For it was from within this one triangle out on the cultural wasteland of the Prairies, or, if you like, Great Plains, that three of the greatest songwriters/musicians/artists of the past 50 years all emerged. I'm talking about Neil, Bob and Joni, of course - that is, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

That's right, three of the greatest songwriters/performers/musical geniuses of the past half century all come from that relatively small triangle in the middle of nowhere.

Coens Too

And what's the center of this magical triangle? Well, Fargo, of course, which is the name of one of the greatest films of the past 50 years, a film directed by the Coen Brothers, who are two of the greatest filmmakers of all time and who, incidentally, are from Minneapolis, just south of the Triangle. What does that have to do with anything, you ask? Well, I'm not sure, but it must mean something.

Formative Years

Yeah, yeah, it's true that Neil Young was actually born in Toronto and spent his first few years growing up in Ontario, but at the age of 12 he moved to Winnipeg, which is where he spent his formative rock 'n' roll teenage years and where he started playing in bands and writing songs. And Joni, born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, did, in fact, spend her first 10 years living all over Western Canada, but she, like Neil, spent her formative musical years living in one place, which in her case was Saskatoon.

All Three Stricken

As a side note, both Neil and Joni contracted polio as children, which is quite the coincidence. Bob never contracted polio, but he did contract Christian Fundamentalism at one point later in life, a much worse disease than polio, of course, as it attacks the brain and the soul, rather than just the body.

Though Bob never got polio himself, his dad did, which forces one to ask the obvious question: What the hell was up with the Prairies? I mean, man, did they ever have a high incidence of polio! However, this does help explain why the Prairie Triangle of Inspiration is also known as the Polio Triangle of Inspiration. Either way, it's the good ol' P.T.I.

Go East, Then West, Young (Wo)Man

Like Neil and Joni, Bob, who was born in Duluth, Minnesota and raised there as well as in nearby Hibbing, also knew to get the hell out as soon as possible. While Neil and Joni headed first to Toronto and then on to California, Bob famously headed to New York to meet Woody Guthrie, who had himself long ago gotten the hell out of Oklahoma.

Songs of Inspiration

Bob wrote "Talkin' New York", while Joni wrote "California" and Neil wrote "Helpless", with its famous line about that "town in North Ontario", but it wasn't until two years ago, when Neil released the album and song "Prairie Wind", that the Prairies themselves finally got paid the due they so rightly deserved.

Joni did release "Songs of A Prairie Girl" in 2005, but that was just a compilation of songs from throughout her career. And Neil did, of course, record Ian Tyson's ode to Alberta, "Four Strong Winds", about 30 years back, but that was a cover. And, besides, no matter how much I love that song, we've got to admit that, excepting greed, environmental destruction, and homoerotic love and envy for all things Texan, no inspiration has ever come out of Alberta (regardless of the fact that Joni was actually born there). Certainly nothing comparable to the amazing creativity that growing up in the P.T.I. so clearly inspired in Neil, Bob and Joni. That is, unless Nickleback is your idea of inspirational and creative genius.

A Family Escapee

And, hey, I do know a thing or two about this inspiration that I speak of, for my own mother was born in Winnipeg and she too got the hell out as soon as she could. She never wrote a great song, but she was inspired to get where the gettin' was good, which certainly wasn't in Winnipeg. She was also inspired to get where it wasn't so damn %$&*ing cold 8 bloody months of the year - and so, together with my dad, she headed to warmer climes, including India and The Philippines and, eventually, down to El Salvador. Which is where I was conceived. How does that relate to anything? Once again, I have no idea, but the point is that the Prairies, besides inspiring everyone to get the %$#& out ASAP, has also inspired some pretty great acts of creativity. That is to say, many great things have come out of those who have escaped the P.T.I. Including me.

Mike Cowie  (Oredakedo)
Friday, April 20th, 2007


If you're a fan of Dylan then make sure to check this out: The 25 Greatest Dylan Songs of The Past 20 Years


And to read my two - yes two - recent rave reviews of Tell Tale Signs click here: Bob's Back: Tell Tale Signs of Joy... and A Complete Lack of Judgement


And here: Tell Tale Signs of Genius: Dylan's Best Album of The Past 20 Years? (Rave #2)


For more on Neil Young try this: The Neil Young Rave: A Film, Two Albums and Incarnations For Everyone


And if you like Bob, Neil and Joni then you're probably going to like this guy as well: The Todd Snider "Peace Queer" Rave


To check out my picks for the best music of 2008 read this: The Best 20 Albums and 50 Songs of 2008: Dylan Tops Both Lists


And for much more on all things Dylan click here: The Bob (as in Dylan)


Or for more on other artists and albums click here: Music Homepage


Or here: Music: Album and Concert Raves


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Lots of great musicians and artists have come out of Winnipeg. Maybe because there's nothing else to do. Both my parents were born there and one's a writer and the other an artist. And of course they both got out as soon as they could. Don't know if it's still the same, but the bars on The Pembina Highway used to be a real hotbed of local talent the likes of which you don't find many other places.