Bob Dylan has picked the University of Tulsa as the permanent home to a massive collection of archives. Yes, in Oklahoma.
It's another decision by Minnesota's most famous son that might be seen as a kiss-off to his native state, but Dylan says it makes sense to him.
The university announced the acquisition of the 6,000-item Bob Dylan Archives on Wednesday morning with a long list of what's in it, including: unreleased studio and concert recordings; decades of never-before-seen films; photographs and artwork; handwritten manuscripts and notebooks; plus memorabilia, personal documents and even musical instruments.
"Dylanology is a growing aspect of social science and humanities research, and Tulsa will soon become the international epicenter for the academic pursuit of all things Dylan," TU President Steadman Upham bragged in the announcement.
With philanthropic support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation and TU's Helmerich Center for American Research — estimated as a $15 million to $20 million investment by the New York Times — some of the archive materials eventually will go on display in a museum in Tulsa's Brady Arts District.
It's not so surprising that the Duluth-born, Hibbing-raised Dylan picked an out-of-the-way private university for his trove instead of a bigger institution or an Ivy League school, including Princeton, which gave him an honorary doctorate in 1970. However, his only connection to Oklahoma is through his musical hero Woody Guthrie, who turned the woes of the Dust Bowl into the blueprint of American folk music, and who also has archival materials stored at TU.
Dylan pointed to his late idol and to Oklahoma's rich American Indian culture in a statement issued by the university. "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," he said. "To me it makes a lot of sense, and it's a great honor."
Of course, the University of Minnesota — the only college Dylan ever attended, or at least enrolled in — might have made a little more sense. It's not clear if the school was even considered. Before hitchhiking off to New York to become Bob Dylan in 1960, the singer born Robert Zimmerman signed up for classes for one semester.
Alex Lubet, a music and American Studies professor who teaches classes on Dylan at the U in Minneapolis, said he did not hear any murmurs of the school going after the collection. "It would be interesting to know if this archive has anything of genuine interest," said a doubtful Lubet.
A New York Times article published Wednesday online, however, suggests it's the mother lode for scholars and fanatics. Specific items mentioned include notebooks full of reworked lyrics from the "Blood on the Tracks" album as well as one curious personal memento: a card sent from Barbra Streisand.
"It's going to start anew the way people study Dylan," Princeton historian and "Bob Dylan in America" author Sean Wilentz told the Times.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658