Dylan-mania in Oklahoma

The archive includes a stage outfit (above) custom-designed for Bob Dylan as well as photographs (right) taken throughout the musician's career.
The archive includes a stage outfit custom-designed for Bob Dylan as well as photographs (above) taken throughout the musician's career.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
The archive includes a stage outfit (above) custom-designed for Bob Dylan as well as photographs (right) taken throughout the musician's career.
The archive includes a stage outfit (above) custom-designed for Bob Dylan as well as photographs taken throughout the musician's career.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

A big trove of artefacts related to Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan will soon go on show in Tulsa

TULSA (Oklahoma) • Robert Zimmerman was born in Minnesota, made a name for himself - as Bob Dylan - in New York and lives in California when not on perpetual tour.

Oklahoma barely figures in his life's narrative or his work.

But the state's second-largest city is now the polestar of Dylanalia, home to a massive trove of artefacts related to the artist, plus 84,000 items in a digital archive of audio, video, film and photography.

Curator Michael Chaiken pulls gems from the temperature-controlled archives at Tulsa's art museum: a pristine leather jacket Dylan wore for his historic 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance; the scarred Turkish frame drum that sparked Mr Tambourine Man; and spiral pocket notebooks crammed - in microscopic, tidy schoolboy scrawl - with the seismic lyrics to Blood On The Tracks.

In a reading room, he produces Otis Redding's business card (Dylan wanted the soul singer to record Just Like A Woman, but it did not happen) and a piece of paper scribbled with Johnny Cash's phone number (865-1550).

The collection of 6,000 objects includes Dylan's written versions of many songs - 20 pages of lyrics for Dignity plus versions of Visions Of Johanna and Like A Rolling Stone.

Dylan, 76, the only musician to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, cautioned "don't look back", the title of D.A. Pennebaker's 1965 documentary on the artist, yet his camp has assiduously guarded his writings and recordings so that other people will soon be able to.

The collection will be made available to scholars and biographers this month. At least 200 have already filed requests for access.

The bulk of the material will remain at the museum, but many of the objects, plus audio and video highlights, will move to a planned Bob Dylan Centre in a former paper warehouse.

The facility is expected to open to the public in 2019. It cannot be soon enough for the singer's legions of fans and chroniclers, many of whom border on the obsessive.

There are more than 1,000 books about the artist, said associate archivist Mitch Blank, a noted collector of Dylanology, though "very, very few reveal very much".

The arrival of the musician's archive is bound to make this city of 400,000 a musical haven. Tulsa is already home to the Woody Guthrie Center, a museum and archive devoted to the folk singer.

The heirs of Johnny Cash, a frequent Dylan collaborator, are reportedly in discussions about basing the country music singer's archives in Oklahoma as well.

The Dylan collection is improbably located in Tulsa largely because of two men: Guthrie and Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser.

Six years ago, the George Kaiser Family Foundation purchased Guthrie's archive for about US$3 million.

When New York rare books and archives dealer Glenn Horowitz, who handled the Guthrie sale, was offered the Dylan collection, he e-mailed the foundation in 2014.

He thought that Dylan's material might be right at home down the street from the Guthrie collection.

Dylan thought so too. He idolises Guthrie.On tour in October, he dropped by the Guthrie centre.

As for Mr Kaiser, Forbes estimates his wealth at US$7.7 billion (S$10.4 billion), from oil, gas and banking.

His own personal zeal for Dylan's work is muted. "I am not a fan," he said, but "I was a fan of Dylan's lyrics in the 1960s".

His foundation is open to purchasing additional musical collections, he added, so long as the artist's message is one of justice and equality, a message that aligns with that of Guthrie's.

Cash would fit that bill.

As an enthusiastic booster of his city, Mr Kaiser sees the benefit in spending millions on Dylan if it helps Tulsa "become more energised, a draw for talented younger people, the next cool city".

Dylan is fine with that too.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Dylan-mania in Oklahoma'. Print Edition | Subscribe