What’s Inside the Dylan Museum in Tulsa – Billboard

Two of the most memorable exhibits at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are multimedia installations devoted to the songs “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Jokerman.” At the first, visitors to the 29,000 square foot museum and archive can see notebooks with Dylan’s original lyrics, as well as how he changed the lines of the 1975 song over the years. The second lets viewers trace key lyrics through 10 drafts of 1984’s “Jokerman,” as well as see video of Dylan performing a furious version with a punk band that year. Late Night with David Letterman. Together, they offer a vision of Dylan as both a meticulous songwriter and an improvisational performer who constantly finds new meaning in his compositions on stage.

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Most museum-style exhibits of pop music history are item-based – outfits an artist wore, instruments he or she played, even, in the case of Elvis Presley, the house in which he lived. These are museums for artists, in all their glittering glory. The Bob Dylan Center, which officially opens on May 10, is trying to offer fans more information – largely based on an archive of 100,000 items acquired from Dylan himself for an estimated $20. million dollars and now owned by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. (The foundation also funds the center and the nearby Woody Guthrie Center, both of which are part of the Tulsa-based American Song Archive.)

In the entrance to the Dylan Center is an iron gate made by the artist himself, who would otherwise not be involved in the project and did not attend a preview weekend which included an invitational performance only by Mavis Staples on May 5 and public concerts by Patti Smith and Elvis Costello on May 6 and 7, respectively. Visitors enter the center through a room featuring immersive films that place Dylan’s early years in historical context. Across it are two floors of video and audio-rich exhibits, which visitors can hear on portable players they can activate at various touchpoints.

“We always wanted it to be very interactive,” says Steven Jenkins, director of the Dylan Center. “We don’t want it to be a dusty archive, but to bring it to life.”

On the ground floor, a permanent exhibition traces the history of Dylan’s career, amidst six installations devoted to specific songs – currently “Tangled”, “Jokerman”, “Chimes of Freedom”, “Like a Rolling Stone,” “The Man in Me,” and “Not Dark Yet.” A jukebox curated by Elvis Costello features a selection of Dylan tracks and covers, as well as music that influenced him, and a simulated studio uses photos and audio to tell the story of some of his most famous recordings. (The evolution of “Like a Rolling Stone,” over two sets of sessions, could be its own drama, about a musician searching for the sound his lyrics seem to demand.) Upstairs, the center offers video and audio context on dozens of artifacts, while a space devoted to the work of other artists currently features photographs by Jerry Schatzberg, who took Dylan’s portrait on the cover of blonde on blondeamong other iconic images.

Some of the most fascinating items on display are letters, including several from presidents as well as a rejection note from Squire. (Dylan either had the foresight to keep his correspondence, or he was just a bit of a packrat.) Some of the incoming mail, like the get well cards sent to him after his 1966 motorcycle accident, show just how much Dylan was important in the sixties. and seventy. But the most interesting documents also shed light on a creative process that Dylan himself didn’t want to, or maybe didn’t, describe.

“It shows that these songs aren’t just completely formed,” says Jenkins. “Until the bootleg series” – the releases devoted to Dylan’s alternate takes and unreleased songs – “we hadn’t seen that”. (Over time, says Jenkins, the center will exchange different items from the archive, which are also available by appointment to accredited scholars.) The museum focuses on creativity and implicitly encourages visitors to engage in work. of Dylan instead of just admiring the man behind.

At least one prominent visitor was impressed. “In terms of subject matter, I don’t think you can do more,” Elvis Costello said in an impromptu interview with several reporters at the Center hours before his concert. To contrast the Dylan Center with other museums, Costello told a story about a visit years ago to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where curators let him briefly play one of Doc Watson’s guitars in a part of the building that was not accessible to the public – “but Billy Ray Cyrus’ sneakers were in front.”

That night at Cain’s Ballroom, Costello played two Dylan songs: “I Threw It All Away” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” It was a solid end to a weekend of music that began May 5 with a performance at the same venue by Mavis Staples, who wrapped up her fiery show with “The Weight” and “I’ll Take You There.” On May 6, Patti Smith opened her show with Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather,” then played “One Too Many Mornings” and “Wicked Messenger,” in addition to her own songs.

It was an effective way to show that while Dylan’s songs might deserve a place in a museum — along with the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he won in 2016 — they are hardly relegated there. Dylan is still exploring them himself, and during his concert in Tulsa last month, which relied heavily on material from his 2020 album Rough and rowdy ways, he didn’t mention the Dylan Center — or even pass by while he was in town. Instead, historian Douglas Brinkley said The Washington Posthe went to see the opening game of the minor league baseball team Tulsa Drillers.

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