Part of music icon Bob Dylan's once-secret 6,000-piece archive, including thousands of hours of studio sessions, film reels and caches of unpublished lyrics, has opened in Oklahoma, curators announced this week.
More than 1,000 pieces spanning Dylan's six-decade career are available to scholars at the Gilcrease Museum's Helmerich Center for American Research in Tulsa.
The public will get a glimpse of some of the material when the Bob Dylan Center opens in the city's downtown Brady Arts District in about two years. The center will, fittingly, occupy another part of a building that houses a museum devoted to Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrie, one of Dylan's major influences.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa announced last year that the collection had been acquired from Dylan for an estimated $15 million to $20 million. The foundation also snapped up Guthrie's archives in 2011, paying $3 million. The Woody Guthrie Center opened two years later.
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"A couple hundred books have been written about Bob Dylan, maybe equal to or more books than have been written about Abraham Lincoln, but none of the writers have had the access to any of this material," said Stanton Doyle, a senior program officer at the foundation. "I think people will get an insight into Dylan and his creative process that's never been released."
The archive is a goldmine for Dylan fans. There are pages of unrecorded verses — one for a song called "No Particular Length of Time"— lyrics scrawled across hotel stationary; pocket memo books of every shape and color, filled with notes on royalty rates and telephone numbers for notables like Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon. Faxes from former President Jimmy Carter and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and letters from former first lady Michelle Obama, director Martin Scorsese and Bono are also in the trove.
Then there are the audio recordings and film reels — enough so that it would take around 113 days to consecutively listen to and watch all of the available material, estimates curator Michael Chaiken.
"Nobody knew Bob held onto so much stuff," Chaiken said in an interview Wednesday. "The materials we are opening up have never been seen before by the public at large."
Chaiken found himself doing a deep dive on the sessions that would become the album titled "John Wesley Harding."
"To hear the alternate versions to 'All Along the Watchtower,' it was amazing," Chaiken said. "He's like a Miles Davis character when he goes into the studio, there's so much improvisation going on and moving things around, trying to find the rhythm."
When it was announced that the archive was coming to Tulsa last year, it raised a few highbrow eyebrows among those who wondered why it wasn't going to an Ivy League school, for example, or a much larger city like New York or Los Angeles, or even to Minnesota, where the singer is from. Curators explained then that the move was vintage Dylan —zigging when everybody else was zagging.
Dylan did it his way again last year when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but declined to attend the traditional Nobel Prize banquet in December, citing other commitments.