Steve Higgins acknowledges that one aspect of the soon-to-open Bob Dylan Center won’t make everyone who sees it happy.
Even a simple description is enough to trigger quite heated debates.
This is an exhibit, drawn from the more than 100,000 items that make up the Bob Dylan Archive, designed to give visitors a deeper insight into the creation of six of Dylan’s iconic songs, through items such as drafts of song lyrics, both typed and handwritten. , photographs and other memorabilia.
The point of contention is, when it comes to a catalog of songs as rich and beloved as Bob Dylan’s, only six songs to feature.
“We spent months trying to agree on songs that would be in the exhibit,” said Higgins, executive director of the American Song Archives, a nonprofit organization that oversees the Bob Dylan Center and the Woody Guthrie Center.
“And in the end, no one was completely happy.”
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This includes Higgins, who was one of the promoters of the exhibit including “All Along the Watchtower,” that allegory of anxiety and conscience that Jimi Hendrix later dramatically covered.
“I also thought that, to represent Dylan’s comeback in the late 90s, we should include ‘To Make You Feel My Love,’ which Adele and Garth Brooks covered,” he said. “But instead, that period is represented by ‘Not Dark Yet’.”
The other five songs that will be part of the exhibit include three of Dylan’s most famous songs, “Chimes of Freedom”, “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Tangled Up in Blue”, as well as slightly lesser known songs “Jokerman and “The Man in Me.
That even the most casual Dylan fan can come up with six titles equally deserving of such treatment is in a way a testament to what the organizers of the Bob Dylan Center want to achieve.
“We put a lot of thought into our mission statements, for this and for the Woody Guthrie Center,” Higgins said.
“The Woody Guthrie Center focuses on social activism and social justice, and the ways music and art can advance these issues,” Higgins said. “The Bob Dylan Center focuses on restless creativity and the role creativity plays in our lives.”
The American Song Archives is a limited liability company of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which originally purchased the Woody Guthrie Archive in 2011 and the Bob Dylan Archive in 2016.
Dylan, who had no role in the creation of the Bob Dylan Center, said his reasons for selling the more than 100,000 items that make up his archive to GKFF included the fact that Tulsa was already the guardian of the legacy of Woody Guthrie, and Guthrie was a formative influence on Dylan in the early years of his career.
“To me, this makes a lot of sense and it’s a great honor,” Dylan said in a statement when the sale was announced.
Take it all home
While official opening day is May 10, the Bob Dylan Center has a slate of events scheduled in advance, including concerts by three legendary artists.
“We’ve put together a wish list of people we’d like to see attend the opening of the center,” Higgins said. “And we have the first three people on that list.”
Mavis Staples, who along with her family the Staples Singers and as a solo artist was one of the most acclaimed gospel artists of all time, will be part of a special event open only to founding members of the Bob Dylan Center on Thursday, May 5 at the Cain Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
“She was also one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement along with her family, which was a big influence on Bob Dylan,” Higgins said.
Staples was also almost Mrs. Bob Dylan – Dylan proposed to Staples several times in the 1960s, but she turned him down. However, the two remained on good terms, with Staples performing on Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” album and touring with him in 2016.
The following two events are open to the public and tickets are still available.
Singer-songwriter Patti Smith and her band will perform at Cain’s Ballroom on Friday, May 6. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the show starting at 7:45 p.m. Smith has long credited Dylan with influencing his own work, and When Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, Smith accepted the award on his behalf , performing the song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.
Smith’s concert, Higgins said, will also be her first time performing in Tulsa since 1978.
Elvis Costello, whose multi-faceted career rivals that of Dylan in its variety and range, will perform with his band The Imposters on Saturday May 7 at Cain’s. Costello also acknowledged the impact of Dylan’s work on his own; his song “Pump It Up” was written as a kind of homage to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and Costello was one of the artists featured on the 2014 project “Lost on the River: The New Basement”, a collection of hitherto unknown songs. lyrics by Dylan, which Costello and others put to new arrangements.
Tickets for Patti Smith are $50, while tickets for Elvis Costello start at $75. Tickets are available at etix.com.
When I paint my masterpiece
The installation itself, at 116 E. Reconciliation Way, will include a permanent exhibit that traces the life of Bob Dylan from his beginnings as Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota, to modern folk singer to award winner Literature Nobel Prize.
Other planned exhibits include “The Church Studio Control Room,” sponsored by the legendary Tulsa Recording Studio, which will give visitors the experience of working with Dylan in a recording studio, creating mixes of a selection of Dylan recordings.
“It will make people feel like they’re in the studio, because the tapes we use include the chatter of Dylan talking to the producer and the other musicians,” Higgins said. “Dylan is also one of the most documented artists in history, so we’re going to have a screening room where we can share all of this amazing film footage that we have.”
The center will also include an archive wall that will provide space to showcase items that allude to the depth and breadth of Bob Dylan’s archives. There will also be space for temporary exhibits drawn from the archives, as well as traveling exhibits that align with the center’s mission, such as the Bruce Springsteen exhibit currently on display at the Woody Guthrie Center.
“One thing we decided early on was that we didn’t want centers Dylan and Guthrie to be at odds with each other,” Higgins said. “We even worked out our exhibition plan so that we could stagger the openings of the special exhibitions, so that there are no exhibitions open on the same day at both sites.”
Jessica McKenzie, director of development for the American Song Archives and acting executive director of the Woody Guthrie Center, said interest in the Bob Dylan Center has gone international.
“We’ve sold memberships to people in 40 states and 13 countries,” she said. “In fact, only about a third of the nearly 500 memberships we’ve sold so far have been to Tulsa-area residents.”
Bob Dylan Center memberships start at $60 for general membership and go up to founding memberships, which are $7,500. All membership packages include a range of perks and benefits, including free entry. Dual membership for the Dylan and Guthrie Centers is available.
“People who have purchased season tickets are excited to come to Tulsa,” McKenzie said. “Even if they don’t come for the grand opening events. They just want to see what this iconic person has created in his lifetime.
“And we can bring those people to Tulsa,” she added, “so that we can then show them what makes this city so special.”
“And that’s kind of what it’s all about — bringing people to Tulsa,” Higgins said. “We will be hosting virtual events for members, but we also know people will want to come and see the center for themselves.
“To put it simply, Bob Dylan is the most important living American artist, and having his archive here in Tulsa is a game-changer for the city,” he said. “It will raise the cultural profile of Tulsa like nothing else before. When I think of great American artists – Walt Whitman, Louis Armstrong, Orson Welles – I can’t think of anyone with a bigger and more lasting impact on our culture than Bob Dylan.
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