Why the Bob Dylan Center is worth exploring
TULSA, Oklahoma — I hate to use the analogy, but Bob Dylan is like an onion in many ways.
There are so many facets of his career that even after six decades, he is still something of “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to borrow the phrase.
What is his best song? What is his greatest album? Why did he release that version of a particular song and not the bootlegged outtake? What’s with “Christmas in the Heart?”
Go on any music or Dylan message board, and there is endless speculation. I think it’s fair to say there is more speculation than there is resolution.
I’m a fan of “Christmas in the Heart,” I’m perfectly fine with the released version of “Blood on the Tracks,” and I don’t pretend to know the precise meaning of so many of his songs.
But they speak to me. When I listened to “More Blood, More Tracks,” I listened in the context of profound loss. What if “Blood on the Tracks” isn’t about a divorce per se but is about loss?
The first time I stepped across the threshold into the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, it was like entering Walt Disney World immediately after the “rope drop” on Main Street, USA. So many directions to ponder and worlds to explore.
The center opened on May 10, 2022, in the Tulsa Arts District and is appropriately located on the same street as the Woody Guthrie Center. The George Kaiser Family Foundation bought Dylan’s archives in 2016 and, in doing so, acquired more than 100,000 items ranging from manuscripts to videos to unopened mail.
With such a range of materials, the curators had a tightrope to walk to bring the Bob Dylan story to life.
Do you focus on the highest profile moments of Dylan’s career (The Basement Tapes, going electric and the Newport Folk Festival) or highlight the potentially more obscure and misunderstood? In short, the curators walked the wire perfectly.
Additionally, their use of technology brings Dylan’s career to life, whether it’s listening to an outtake from World Gone Wrong (“I’ve Always Been a Rambler”) or snippets of how “Tangled Up in Blue” has evolved in live performances over the years.
The live version of “Not Dark Yet” from Irvine, California, on October 11, 2019, which is available for listening, proves Dylan isn’t standing still. He continues to reinvent himself and reinterpret his songs.
In many ways, the Bob Dylan Center is to Dylan the man, as The Bootleg Series is to Dylan, the musician. It provides context; however, instead of taking a period of the singer’s career, it takes the entirety of it.
The studio mockup pulls back the curtain to show how some of Dylan’s most popular songs developed into their final versions. Adjust the knobs, and it’s possible to hear Dylan perform “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as a solo performer.
Never-before-seen or rarely-seen videos bring to life unique moments in a six-decade-long career, such as the tour with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. The handwritten lyrics of “Tangled Up in Blue” are a powerful window into one of his most beloved compositions.
It also begs the question, how could he have read the lyrics written in such a small notebook while singing?
The museum is so deep it’s nearly impossible to fully appreciate it in one visit.
The verdict: “Take Me Back to Tulsa to the scene of the crime.”