David Bowder – AP Media Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Elvis Castello, Patti Smith and Mavis Staples will be among the high-ranking guests expected in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend at the opening of the exhibition. Bob Dylan Centera museum and archive dedicated to the work of the Nobel laureate.
Dylan himself will not be among them, unless he surprises everyone.
The center’s subject and namesake has an open invitation to come at any time, although his absence seems entirely notable, said Stephen Jenkins, the center’s director. Ironically, Dylan was in Tulsa three weeks ago on a date on his concert tour sandwiched between Oklahoma City and Little Rock. He did not ask to look back.
“I don’t want to put words in his mouth,” Jenkins said. “I can only guess at his reasoning. Maybe he would be embarrassed. “
It is certainly unusual for a living person – Dylan to turn 81 on May 24 – to have a museum dedicated to him, but he has cast such a shadow on popular music since its inception in the early 1960s. He is still working, performing on stage in a show dedicated primarily to his latest material.
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And he’s still pushing the envelope. Dylan’s nearly 17-minute reflection on Kennedy’s assassination and the celebrity “Surder Most Foul” is as stunning as “Like a Rolling Stone” almost half a century ago, even though he is no longer at the center of popular culture.
The center offers an exciting film, a space for performances, a studio where visitors can play the producer and “mix” different elements of instruments in Dylan’s songs, as well as a prepared tour in which people can make a musical journey through his career. The archive has more than 100,000 items, many of which are accessible only to scholars by appointment.
The creators of the museum said they wanted to create an experience for casual visitors who may not know much about Dylan’s work, and for true fanatics – skimmers, swimmers and divers, said designer Alan Muskin of Olson Kundig.
The museum hopes to celebrate the creative process as a whole, and the opening will feature an exhibition of works by photographer Jerry Schatzberg, whose 1965 image of Dylan adorns the three-story facade of the building.
As Dylan is still creating, “we will continue to play catch-up with him,” Jenkins said.
So for a figure who was born and raised in Minnesota, reached musical age in New York City and now lives in California, how did a museum dedicated to the work of his life end up in Oklahoma?
He never seemed a nostalgic type, but Dylan recognized early on that his work could have historical interest and value, Jenkins said. Together with his team, he set aside boxes full of artifacts, including photographs, rare records and manuscripts showing how his songs were reworked and rewritten.
Using these lyrics, two early shows will focus on how the songs “Jokerman” and “Tangled Up in Blue” were formed – the latter with such resilient lyrics that Dylan still changed the lyrics after the song was released.
Dylan sold his archive in 2016 to the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa, which also manages Woody Guthrie Center – a museum that honors one of Dylan’s musical heroes and is just steps away from Dylan’s new center.
Dylan enjoys the Guthrie Museum and also appreciates the rich art funds of the Tulsa Indians, Jenkins said. Much of this is on display at another new facility, the Gilkris Museumwhich is also the world’s largest art holding of the American West.
“I think it will be a real tourist attraction in Tulsa for all the right reasons,” said Tulsa Mayor GT Bainum. “He’s one of the great musicians in human history, and anyone who wants to explore his career and see the evolution of his talent will be drawn to it.”
Bynum hopes this will also encourage others who will one day want to put their archives on display and make Tulsa a center for the study of contemporary American music.
Dylan designed and built a 16-foot-tall metal sculpture to be exhibited at the entrance to the museum. Otherwise, he had nothing to do with the design of the museum and declined to comment through the spokesman on the opening.
“If Bob had told us what we could and couldn’t do, it would have seemed like a parasitic project,” Maskin said. “It was a huge relief not to have to satisfy Bob Dylan.”
However, it is safe to assume that the lines of communication are open when necessary: Jenkins, the center’s director, is the brother of Larry Jenkins, Dylan’s longtime spokesman in the media.
In addition to dinner to celebrate the opening this weekend, Castella, Smith and Staples will perform separate concerts at Cain’s Ballroom. Stephen Jenkins said Castello was asked to program a jukebox to be exhibited at the museum, and during the day he presented his suggestions for Dylan’s 160 songs and covers.
The Bob Dylan Center is open for visits on May 10th.
Maskin doesn’t expect Dylan to ever see the work of a designer. However, he indulges in fantasies about a slow summer day, a guard dozing in a corner, and someone in black jeans, sunglasses and a familiar tuft of hair wandering among the displays.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “I think he’s interested in the work he does, not what he does.”
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