Take Me Back To Tulsa – and to the Bob Dylan Archives!

We´re in the middle of “The World of Bob Dylan”, the symposium taking place in Tulsa from 30th of May until 2nd of June 2019. And this is the case, you actually need a Tulsa Telephone Book to find the Bob Dylan Archives, established in 2016 as a partnership between the George Kaiser Family Foundation and The University of Tulsa, and today we´re invited inside the museum, where infinity goes up on trial. We´ve been with the professors and scholars two days, walking us through different angles to view Dylan´s art, both in old and new ways. Sean Latham and the rest has made a smooth-flowing arrangement with great logistics and a programme where all of us can find inspiring paths to walk.

Greil Marcus had a wonderful keynote speech the 30th of May: “Kill everybody ever done me wrong”, drawing the lines from the collective nightmare of Tulsa, the bloodiest race riots in US history, in 1921(started exactly 98 years since today), and pointed us towards 3 Penny Acre´s great song of this terrible happenings.

Marcus led us through blues history, making the story of Railroad Bill a land mark in his speech, introducing us for the touching story about Will Bennett and his version of the song, then connecting the dots between history, blues and the music of Bob Dylan, making us see Bennett, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bob Dylan singing in the same choir with the blood of the land in their voices. A great speech and a great night.

Today we visited the actual building containing the archives, like a sistership to the Gilcrease Museum, where we could study both beautiful installments of art and culture history of the native americans, side by side with the Dylan exhibition “Face Value And Beyond”. Beautiful.

Nevertheless, the reason I had to write this was that we was taken behind the curtains to see some of the amazing stuff from the archives, first Michael Chaiken and Anne Margaret Daniel led us through some of the many sketches and manuscripts to songs, then giving us examples of audio material now safely stored in this impressive archive. Among the songs we heard was a Buddy Holly-like version of “Ready Teddy” from 1958, first takes of All Along The Watchtower and As I Went Out One Morning from John Wesley Harding, the last in a very different version from the one we know, in an almost waltzlike arrangement – very beautiful. One highlight was the first take of “Love Sick”, a very naked and tender reading by Dylan, and, as much a revelation, a first take of “New Pony” from Street Legal, a very funky version with horns, clearly inspired of the sound on the tour going on at the same time, Dylan´s vocal just superb.

We also got to see some of the 38 000 photographs, before we were shown some of the historic footage stored in Tulsa. We saw outtakes from “Don´t Look Back”, f.i. Dylan playing “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” and “I´ll Keep It With Mine” backstage, new high definition transfers of footage from 1966, incredibly upgraded from the versions we have seen before, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Just Like A Woman” and “Mr Tambourine Man”, we saw silent art movies with Dylan, Tiny Tim and friends from Woodstock circa 1967, and – lo and behold – a snippet of film from the recordings of “New Morning”, Dylan laughing through a spirited take of “The Man In Me” with David Bromberg walking around. Great stuff, and more to come.

A already great day ended with chief curator Michael Chaiken leading us through even more filmed material, once more reminding us the powers of Bob Dylan as a performing artist – many of the clips were known, but with some really fabulous surprises. “Tight Connections To My Heart” from Supper Club in 1993 – it was an incredible electric performance, but with acoustic instruments, Dylan on fire, both on guitar, harmonica, and more on more on vocal through the performance, he is enjoying himself, dancing, smiling and laughing and making eyes to the audience. For God´s sake, let´s hope for the Bootleg Series Supper Club package, both audio and video. Then there was two not circulating songs from the “Hard Rain”-footage of 1976, “Going, Going, Gone” and “You´re A Big Girl Now” – Dylan channeling sorrow and despair in both songs – the last we know from the “Hard Rain” album, but here we also can see it, literally. “Going, Going, Gone” has been substantially re-written and given new heartbreaking lyrics: “You ought to be free, so let go of my hand” – Dylan´s face accentuates the pain and the depths of the song in a way only the greatest soul singers can convey. Also a great reminder of the qualities of the 1976 part of “Rolling Thunder Revue”, a favorite for many of us – let´s just hope and pray Sony Music also will document this part in a way it deserves. A complete and breath-taking version of “Hurricane” from Rolling Thunder, Part I in 1975, is also one of the evenings highlights, Dylan´s whole spectrum of feelings towards injustice is demonstrated in full. It´s like a freight train of power and frustration.

A great day of the symposium, two more days to go, tomorrow night Roger McGuinn will visit. But, as it is – we got our money´s worth already, the rest is a bonus. Thanks!

Johnny Borgan

15 thoughts on “Take Me Back To Tulsa – and to the Bob Dylan Archives!

  1. thank you! I am in Tulsa as well and having the best conference experience of my life ! this is heaven.
    i would like to say hello to you. how can we set that up. there are 500 people wearing nametags (mostly backwards ) and it’s next to impossible to find anyone! can we connect for 5 minutes? (I am the Admin for the Bob Dylan’s Theme Radio Time Hour Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/bobdylan.TTRH/) maybe ‘meet me at the fountain in the Lobby today at the 11:00am coffee Break before the Ann Powers Keynote….?

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  2. Thanks for this nice recap of the proceedings so far. I live here in Tulsa and I’m thoroughly enjoying the conference and I’m glad that so many people from around the world have made the trek here to enjoy this event.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Johnny B. — please look at the last sentence in next to last paragraph and change the word “specter” to “spectrum”. A specter would be a ghost-like entity or ectoplasm. The spectrum would be the full range of colors (or feelings in this case). Thanks. (It’s my job — proofing & editing). Also, appreciate the report from the Tulsa conference!!

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  4. J.B., Enjoyed the article. Martha and I will plan on attending next year. You’ll be getting us to Tulsa just like you got us to the Beacon last fall! Jeff

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