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Elvis Costello, Patti Smith and Mavis Staples will be among the dignitaries expected in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend for the opening of the Bob Dylan Center, the museum and archives celebrating the work of the Nobel laureate.
Dylan himself won’t be part of it, unless he surprises everyone.
The center’s subject and namesake has an open invitation to come anytime, although his absence seems perfectly in character, said center director Steven Jenkins. Funnily enough, Dylan was just in Tulsa three weeks ago for a date on his concert tour, sandwiched between Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Arkansas. He didn’t ask to take a look.
“I don’t want to put words in his mouth,” Jenkins said. “I can only guess at his reasoning. Maybe he would find that embarrassing.”
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It’s certainly unusual for a living character – Dylan is set to turn 81 on May 24 – to have a museum dedicated to him, but such is the shadow he’s cast over popular music since he emerged in the early 1960s. 1960. He’s still working, performing on stage in a show devoted mostly to his newest material.
And he always pushes the envelope. “Murder Most Foul,” Dylan’s nearly 17-minute rumination on Kennedy’s assassination and fame, is as giddy as “Like a Rolling Stone” was nearly half a century ago, even if he is no longer at the center of popular culture.
The center offers an immersive cinematic experience, a performance space, a studio where visitors can play the producer and “mix” different elements of instrumentation into Dylan’s songs, and a curated tour where people can take a musical journey through stages of his career. The archive contains over 100,000 items, many of which are only accessible by scholars by appointment.
The museum’s creators said they wanted to create an experience both for casual visitors who may not know much about Dylan’s work and for the real fanatics – skimmers, swimmers and divers, said said designer Alan Maskin of the company Olson Kundig.
The museum hopes to celebrate the creative process in general and, when it opens, will feature an exhibition of the work of photographer Jerry Schatzberg, whose 1965 image of Dylan is adorned on the building’s three-story facade.
Since Dylan is still creating, “we’re going to keep catching up” with him, Jenkins said.
So for a personality who was born and raised in Minnesota, came of musical age in New York and now lives in California, how does a museum dedicated to his life’s work fit into Oklahoma?
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He never seemed the nostalgic type, but Dylan recognized early on that his work could have historical interest and value, Jenkins said. He and his team set aside boxes full of artifacts, including photos, rare recordings and handwritten lyrics that show how his songs have undergone revisions and rewrites.
With the use of these lyrics, two of the first displays will focus on how the songs “Jokerman” and “Tangled Up in Blue” took shape – the latter with lyrics so elastic that Dylan was still changing verses after the release. of the song.
Dylan sold his archive in 2016 to the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, which also operates the Woody Guthrie Center, a museum that celebrates one of Dylan’s musical heroes and is a short walk from the new Dylan Center.
Dylan loves the Guthrie Museum and also appreciates Tulsa’s rich Native American art collections, Jenkins said. Much of this is on display in another new facility, the Gilcrease Museum, which is also the largest collection of American West art in the world.
“I think this will be a real tourist attraction for Tulsa for all the right reasons,” Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum said. “He is one of the great musicians in the history of mankind and anyone who wants to study his career and see the evolution of his talent will be drawn to him.”
Bynum hopes it will also encourage others who may one day want to exhibit their archives and make Tulsa a center for the study of modern American music.
Dylan designed and built a 16-foot-tall metal sculpture that will be displayed at the entrance to the museum. Otherwise, he had nothing to do with the design of the museum and declined, through a spokesperson, to comment on the opening.
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“If Bob told us what we could or couldn’t do, it would have felt like a vanity project, in a way,” Maskin said. “It was a huge relief not to have to satisfy Bob Dylan.”
Still, it’s safe to assume the lines of communication are open when needed: Jenkins, the center’s manager, is the brother of Larry Jenkins, Dylan’s longtime media representative.
In addition to a dinner party to celebrate the opening this weekend, Costello, Smith and Staples will all perform separate concerts at Cain’s Ballroom. Costello was asked to program a jukebox for display at the museum and, in one day, submitted his suggestions for 160 Dylan songs and covers, Steven Jenkins said.
The Bob Dylan Center opens to the public on May 10.
Maskin doesn’t expect Dylan to ever see the designer’s work. Yet he indulges in the fantasy of a slow summer’s day, a security guard dozing in a corner and someone sneaking around wearing black jeans, sunglasses and a familiar mop of hair to stroll among the stalls. .
“To be honest, I don’t think that will happen,” he said. “I think he’s interested in the work he’s doing, not the work he’s done.”
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