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They Shall Be Released
In addition to photos, the Bob Dylan Archive contains surprising artifacts, like a 1978 card from Barbra Streisand thanking Dylan for sending flowers.
Photo courtesy Bob Dylan Archive
A collection of one folk icon’s artifacts rolls into Tulsa.
By Preston Jones
Published September/October 2016
For me, it was an epiphany, like some heavy anchor had just plunged into the waters of the harbor,” Bob Dylan writes in Chronicles: Volume One, his 2004 memoir. “As far as I was concerned, Woody Guthrie had written the greatest songs, and there was no way to top that.”
Dylan migrated from Minnesota to New York City in the early 1960s seeking an audience with the ailing Oklahoma artist, then sequestered in New Jersey’s Greystone hospital. Dylan would bring Guthrie the Raleigh brand cigarettes he asked for and play the folk icon’s songs, like “Dust Bowl Blues” or “Tom Joad.”
“Woody was not celebrated at this place,” Dylan writes, “and it was a strange environment to meet anybody, least of all the true voice of the American spirit.”
Scholars would argue that the student became the master: Dylan assumed the mantle of Guthrie’s progressive politics and simple, direct folk songs, at least early on.
It now is an argument that can be conducted over the Bob Dylan Archive, which primarily will be housed at the Helmerich Center for American Research on the grounds of Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum. Roughly 1,000 items from the Dylan Archive have been transferred to Oklahoma, and there are 5,000 more to come.
The archive, which The New York Times reported was acquired for approximately $15 to $20 million, was purchased in August 2015 by the University of Tulsa and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the same organization that acquired Guthrie’s archives and orchestrated the creation of Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center.
“Bob Dylan is a national treasure whose work continues to enrich the lives of millions the world over, and we are proud to be bringing such an important, comprehensive, and culturally significant archive to Tulsa,” says Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. “Our combined philanthropic and academic approach made a strong case for assuring Dylan and his representatives that Tulsa would provide the ideal environment to care for and exhibit this collection.”
For Dylan die-hards, the list of materials—mostly viewable by researchers—is mind-boggling. Consider this sampling: A notebook from 1974 containing handwritten lyrics to songs like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate”; never-released concert films from 1980 and 1993; and Dylan’s earliest recordings from 1959. The sheer volume and breadth of what will reside in Tulsa are astounding.
“I’m glad that my archives, which have been collected all these years, have finally found a home and are to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American nations,” Dylan says. “To me, it makes a lot of sense, and it’s a great honor.”
Gilcrease Museum, 1400 North Gilcrease Museum Road in Tulsa, (918) 596-2700 or gilcrease.org. dylanarchive.com.