Dylan archive knocks on US university’s door
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Dylan archive knocks on US university’s door

With his blessing, University of Tulsa acquires singer’s notebooks, early recordings, films, clothes, wallet, part of a piano…

Bob Dylan at his iron works studio, September 2013 (photo credit: © John Shearer)
Bob Dylan at his iron works studio, September 2013 (photo credit: © John Shearer)

NEW YORK (AFP) — A trove of thousands of Bob Dylan notebooks and other artifacts — mostly unknown except to the rock icon himself — will head to a US university to be preserved for posterity.

The University of Tulsa in Oklahoma announced Wednesday that it had acquired more than 6,000 items from the singer’s six-decade career and would create the Bob Dylan Archive.

The archive will eventually go on permanent display in Tulsa near a recently built museum to Woody Guthrie, the folk legend and Dylan influence who was born in Oklahoma, a Great Plains state that was once Indian territory.

“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, who is famously taciturn when not singing, said in a statement.

“To me it makes a lot of sense, and it’s a great honor,” said the 74-year-old, revered as one of the most influential living US musicians.

Early handwritten drafts of his songs have long been studied by “Dylanologists,” but few of them were aware of the vast extent of the collection.

US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performing in France in July 2012. Jonah Lehrer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has resigned and his latest book has been halted after he acknowledged inventing quotes by Bob Dylan. (photo credit: AP Photo/David Vincent, file)
Bob Dylan performing in France, July 2012 (photo credit: AP/David Vincent/File)

Among the items in the archive that were rumored but had not been seen in the public realm is a notebook in which Dylan penned lyrics for his 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks,” as he conversed with the New York painter Norman Raeben.

The album, while initially meeting mixed reviews, is considered a musical landmark for having established a confessional style of songwriting as Dylan reflected on his marital difficulties.

The archive will also feature the leather jacket worn by Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where, in one of the defining moments of rock history, he switched to electric guitar. And it will include part of the piano on which he wrote “Like a Rolling Stone,” one of his best-known songs.

The collection also includes Dylan’s first recordings in 1959, previously unseen concert films and a wallet in which he kept soul great Otis Redding’s business card and country star Johnny Cash’s phone number.

Dylan performs regularly and is believed to be in good health, but he has increasingly paid attention to the preservation of his legacy.

In 2014, he released an exhaustive boxed set with all the recordings from his celebrated 1967 “basement tape” sessions as he experimented in form from a house in upstate New York while recovering from a motorcycle accident.

Dylan, who was born in Minnesota and emerged in the bars of Greenwich Village in New York City, has no obvious connection to Oklahoma other than his admiration for Guthrie.

One of Dylan’s first songs was “Song to Woody,” an ode to the then living singer, and he later mentioned Oklahoma in his cover of Guthrie’s “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.”

The University of Tulsa made a concerted pitch to buy the archive, vowing to properly care for it.

The price of the deal was not revealed, but The New York Times estimated it was worth $15 million to $20 million.

The sale was led by the university with support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the family who became billionaires after fleeing Nazi Germany and entering the Oklahoma oil industry.

The historically conservative city of 400,000 people has increasingly been trying to channel its oil wealth into culture with the development of a central arts district.

Ken Levit, executive director of the Kaiser Foundation, voiced confidence that the archive would be “a boon for Tulsa that will soon attract Bob Dylan fans and scholars to our city from around the world.”

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