TULSA, OKLA. — “That’s my program,” said Bill Pagel of Hibbing, America’s most obsessive Bob Dylan collector.
“No that’s it my program, ”said his Greenwich Village rival, Mitch Blank.
The two friends are both right: Pagel’s program for Dylan’s first concert in London and Blank’s program for the 1964 Newport Folk Festival share a showcase at the Bob Dylan Centre, the new museum which opened on Tuesday morning in Tulsa.
Offering priceless history, context and memorabilia for casual fans and serious seekers, the Dylan Center shines a light on the elusive Minnesota bard, but ultimately lets music lovers decide what his songs are about.
“It’s a story you could tell a million ways,” said Rock Hall of Famer Elvis Costello, who took part in the opening week festivities. “The balance is truly amazing. Just in terms of subject matter, I don’t think you can ask for more.”
At Tuesday’s grand opening ceremony, the Sistema Tulsa Youth Orchestra performed an instrumental version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and an acoustic trio delivered “I Shall Be Released” in Cherokee.
American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo recited an essay titled “Tangled” about listening to Dylan and finding her own voice.
“Dylan reminded us in his poem-songs that each of us has a story,” she told a crowd of about 250 people.
To no one’s surprise, Dylan wasn’t at the opening. The singer-songwriter, who turns 81 on May 24, didn’t even stop last month when he performed just blocks away.
There is no explanation to Bob Dylan, which is both the mission and the purpose of the Dylan Center.
With over 750,000 items in its digital archive – including thousands from Dylan himself – it serves the curious, the casual and the hardcore.
There are film clips of Dylan speaking and playing, recordings of songs both known and obscure, photographs and manuscripts, Christmas letters and cards, paintings and even a 16ft metal door that Dylan – an exhibited sculptor – made to welcome visitors once. inside the entrance doors.
Dylan didn’t stipulate how his personal artifacts might be used, though his manager had “been a confidant on a lot of things,” said building manager Steve Jenkins.
Of course, this being Dylan, there are the inevitable controversies.
Why is the center in Tulsa?
The short answer: Dylan sold his personal archives to the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation in 2016 for $20 million, in part because the foundation honored one of Dylan’s heroes by creating the Woody Guthrie Center here.
Kaiser – oilman, banker and philanthropist – is he a fan of Dylan?
“Yes and no,” the billionaire told the Star Tribune. “I admire her. I’m a fan of Joan Baez. She’s true to her ideals.”
Kaiser met Dylan once, in 2016, and found him “a modest guy”. Dylan was at the Woody Guthrie Center when he was supposed to be in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
At a cost of an additional $10 million, the 29,000 square foot Dylan Center was built in a former paper warehouse that also houses the Guthrie Museum.
There are two floors of exhibits. Multimedia is used to tell the stories behind six Dylan songs, including “Tangled Up in Blue”. The center’s archive room — open by appointment — is filled with treasures such as four drafts of the mid-1960s manuscript for his book of prose poems “Tarantula.”
Hall of Fame in concert
Opening events last week drew Tulsa’s elite and Dylan supporters, including historian Douglas Brinkley, author Clinton Heylin, and collectors Pagel and Blank.
After a gala banquet on Thursday for 500 donors, there were three nights of concerts at the historic 98-year-old Cain Ballroom by Rock Hall of Famers with ties to Dylan.
Mavis Staples was in a witty mood with great conviction in her 82-year-old voice, although she didn’t mention Dylan much, who asked for her hand in marriage.
Patti Smith, making her first Tulsa appearance since 1978, was amped up for the occasion, giving wonderful performances of three Dylan nuggets – “Boots of Spanish Leather”, “Wicked Messenger” and “One Too Many Mornings”.
After replacing Dylan at her Nobel Prize ceremony, she proclaimed in Tulsa, “Tonight [Bob] is not there but we are there. I laugh. He is everything[expletive]or.”
Costello entered the spirit, recounting lighthearted tales of encounters with Dylan and delivering a beautiful rendition of the bard’s “I Threw It All Away” and a cheery “Like a Rolling Stone.”
The three stars visited the Dylan Center, where Costello curated a jukebox filled with 162 songs by Dylan, his influences and his performers.
Less famous visitors were also impressed.
“It exceeded my expectations and I was optimistic,” said Matt Simonsen, 46, of Eden Prairie, who purchased a membership at the center. “It’s amazing how the songs started and evolved. In the archives, they had 10 or 12 pages of [changing lyrics for] ‘Dignity.’ He’s a hard worker.”
Minneapolis musician Kevin Odegard, who played on Dylan’s seminal 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks,” was moved by what he saw, including the guitar he used during those sessions.
“Being here renews my hope that great art, photography, sculpture and song still have the power to lift us to a higher level,” he said. “I’m leaving Tulsa better than he found me when I arrived.”
Ann Margaret Daniel, a writer and lecturer in the humanities at The New School in New York, scoured the archives, looking for what Dylanologists consider the crown jewel of the Dylan Center: three pocket notebooks with tiny lyrics manuscripts that describe the evolution of “Blood on the tracks.”
“This center isn’t just about Bob Dylan,” she said. “It’s about American culture during the years he was alive. You can buy Clinton Heylin’s [Dylan] books here or “The Grapes of Wrath”. “
The Dylan Center, like Dylan himself, continues to evolve. Blank said a tractor-trailer from his collection will arrive in August from New York.
“This place is a miracle,” Blank said. “When we surreptitiously gathered materials, we were criminals. Now the criminals are in a museum.”