My husband, documentary photographer Edward Grazda, was invited to attend the May 2022 opening of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Okla. Still squeamish about traveling, he decided we should not attend, and it turned out COVID was spread at the opening dinner. A couple of months ago my husband mentioned he has a photo in the forthcoming Dylan book “Mixing Up the Medicine,” and there would be an accompanying exhibit, talks, and concerts. So we went to Tulsa for the Oct. 20 weekend of events. Though this was a Bob Dylan–centered trip, I was reading Robert P. Jones’s “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future.” Jones’s book begins in 1493, but there is a strong focus on the murder of 300 African Americans during the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, the destruction of the Greenwood Section of the city, and the history of trying to get acknowledgement. The arts district abuts the Greenwood Historic District. Like memory stones in Germany, there are small brass memory plaques in the sidewalk in front of where businesses once stood. Though the Greenwood neighborhood did revive, it was completely ruined by urban renewal in the 1970s. We visited the Greenwood Rising History Center on our last morning, a powerful experience and a must if you get to Tulsa.
Tulsa is flat, downtown is empty during the days, and parking lots fill at night, as do the rows of restaurants, bars, and music venues. Neither Ed nor I had ever been to Tulsa. Our first morning, Friday, Ed hung out having coffee with Mitch Blank, Terry Gans, and Jerry Schatzberg. Then we walked over to the Dylan Center, a couple of blocks from our hotel, when they opened at 10 am, first passing the Woody Guthrie Center two doors down. We spent the day taking in the exhibits before previewing the “Mixing Up the Medicine” exhibition. To Ed’s surprise, he had an entire wall with four large black-and-white prints from a 1965 Providence concert to himself, as did about eight or so other photographers.
“Mixing Up the Medicine” is a 608-page book with 1,100 photographs by 135 photographers. Ed attended RISD (’69), and went to the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, where he photographed Dylan standing within 10 feet of him. On Oct. 22, 1965, he photographed Dylan when he played the Providence Arena, again at close range. In fact, Ed took one color photo of Dylan with New York Times critic Robert Shelton at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Shelton is credited with putting Dylan in the public’s eye; Ed’s photo is the only known image of the two together (I learned during our visit).
The Dylan Center offers 70 years’ worth of Dylan’s personal archive and other memorabilia (more than 100,000 items) in a wonderland of interactive experiences. I loved being greeted by one of Bob Dylan’s nearly two-story welded gates upon entry. You borrow an iPod-size receiver with headphones that connects to many different experiences offered throughout the two-floor center. The interactive experience of going deeper into each numbered case along one side of the ground floor exhibit space allows you to touch a screen, then tap the display case of interest, but instead of talking, you get to listen to the related Dylan song. In some cases, such as Ed’s 1965 photo of Dylan at the Providence Arena, there is no recording, because no collector has ever been able to find a bootleg. For some cases you get to watch a video. On the other side of the gallery are two listening booths where you can enjoy albums that influenced Dylan. Then there’s a jukebox you can play with Dylan, and Dylan covers. Also there’s a recording booth where you can control the vocals; the electric guitars and bass guitar; drums and organ: and acoustic guitar; and piano and bass guitar for two songs, and learn the history of the recording process for three others.
I attended my first Dylan concert in 1978 in the gym at Brandeis. The next one I went to was with Ed at Madison Square Garden in NYC, in July 1986. I learned at one of our Cleaveland House Poet meetings that fellow poet Arnie Reisman had been one of the producers of Dylan’s 1963 Brandeis concert at our alma mater. It wasn’t until Ed and I got back together in 2006 that I began attending Dylan concerts again. At the NYC concerts we would run into a group of guys whom I really only knew from meeting them in venue lobbies, including Mitch Blank, Jeff Friedman, Bill Pagel, and Sean Wilentz. On this trip, I was privileged to hang out with and not only learn more about these Dylanologists, but get to meet many more who have collected, followed, and loved Dylan since their youth. Mitch Blank (a friend of Ed’s since 1986), like many of the other collectors I met, started in childhood with stamps (or coins) and sharing time with his dad. After nearly half a century of collecting, Mitch Blank is now the official collection officer for the Dylan Center (bobdylancenter.com/event/mitchblank).
Photographer and filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg, 96, made the trip alone. His photograph graces the book cover. Another of his images is the basis for the exterior building mural, and another of Jerry’s photos is mural-size and greets visitors as they enter the second-floor galleries. As a photo editor in my previous life (in my 20s and 30s), I recall using his images, but realized the image that had stuck in my head was likely of him and former girlfriend Faye Dunaway for an August 1987 story in Vanity Fair.
Although my husband is a collector, Dylan is not something he’s ever collected, besides his music. Collectors I met over the weekend included Terry Gans, a former mayor of Longboat, Fla., and author of “Surviving in a Ruthless World: Bob Dylan’s Voyage to Infidels.” Terry went into the library and pulled a copy of Telegraph, a fanzine, showing Ed his 1964 photos in the 1980s edition.
Through the Chilmark Authors Festival, I’ve also heard Sean Wilentz (who wrote the introduction to “Mixing Up the Medicine” and in 2010, “Bob Dylan in America”), speak about his book, “360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story” in 2013. This summer I had the opportunity to meet Douglas Brinkley (he wrote the afterword for “Mixing Up the Medicine”), who was, along with his wife, a donor to the center. Another Vineyard connection turned out to be the NYC-based filmmaker Nick Canfield, who’s working on a short documentary about Mitch’s moving “10,000 items” from his Dylan collection at his NYC apartment to the Dylan Center. Nick’s family has summered on the Vineyard since the 1960s, and his film, “The Reverend,” played in the 2022 FilmMusic festival.
On Saturday afternoon, Mitch Blank was interviewed by Dylan Center director Mark Davidson, who first recognized all the collectors in the room. Mitch spoke about knowing which record stores you could go to and speak to the owner, who’d provide “records that were not commercially available of live concerts, demos, rehearsals,” and said, “That really fueled the fire for a lot of people who do what I did, and gave you positive reinforcement to know there are things out there worth finding.” Mitch continued, “Much of what’s been done has been done because of the grouping of a lot of people in this room coming together to liberate material that is now part of the known body of work taught in colleges.” Mitch was recognized as the conduit for both relationships the Dylan Center has, and collections they’ve been able to attain. At the end of the interview, Mitch shared a few objects from his collection, including one from the Rolling Thunder Revue (RTR) in 1975–76. Mitch said drummer Howie Wyeth “used to shove pillows into his drum set to muffle the sound, and Lou Kemp [a childhood friend of Dylan’s and RTR producer] made this for him. It’s a pillowcase with ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ on front and back. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen.” Mitch also held up a Bob Dylan cookie cutter, something he “had no idea” where he’d gotten, as well as two different four-inch-square boxes of ¾-inch square chocolates, a promo made for the 2010 Japanese tour, each with a different record cover wrapping. “On a side note, [Mitch] went to high school with Suze Rotolo (Dylan’s girlfriend) and Sally Grossman (wife of Albert Grossman, Dylan’s early manager) at [William Cullen] Bryant High School in Queens.”
While mingling at the Saturday evening reception for contributors to the book and new exhibition, and donors, etc., Mitch told a story about being at a Dylan concert at NYC’s Beacon Theater in the 1980s. Mitch said, “My job is to keep my seating companion from being talked to so that he could tape. I run interference; when anybody starts to talk, I shut them up. [Next to me] this guy is talking with his girlfriend, and my companion gives me the zetz. So I turn to the person and say, Listen, if you don’t talk, when this is over, I’ll give you a copy of the show. And then he and his girlfriend shut up. Turns out this guy is a lifelong kindred spirit. And all these years he’s been staying in touch with me, and participated in the museum opening.” Mitch turns around and introduces me to David Ekstrom, “who besides owning the largest record store on the planet in Texas, he’s a curator of the most extensive Bob Dylan vinyl archives including the Zimbabwe B-sides; maybe that doesn’t exist.” David adds, “It does, not the B-sides, but the Zimbabwe pressings. By the way, it was Southern Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe, and I have two of those.”
Dave asks, “Did I tell you my latest find? It’s in the mail right now. I’ve got the junior high school choir of Walla Walla, Wash., singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” on vinyl.” I ask, “Circa what?” Dave says, “’70, I would think.” About the store he says, “It’s just a hobby that got out of hand; it’s now my living.” He clarifies, “We don’t sell records, we sell a service of having the records. The records are pretty close to worthless, but the right customer says, ‘Wow, you have that!’ I have a nice, clean copy, and the price includes my service fee, which keeps us in business.”
Mitch continues to tell tales, like when he found the Bailey Collection, which he archived. “Mel and Lillian Bailey were friends of Bob and Suze (Rotolo), whom they knew from Gerde’s Folk City.” He points to a display case and says, “That’s the actual Wollensak machine it was recorded on at Gerde’s [Folk City].” Someone asks about “the wallet-dropping incident,” and Mitch says,”They [Suze and Bob] lived together at 161 West Fourth Street. They got the apartment, Bob wanted her to move in, and Suze wanted to move in, but she was only 17. So everybody told her, ‘Don’t move in, he’ll get arrested;’ this was 1961, you know. So they delayed until she was 18. I guess at one point he dropped his wallet. She picked it up and took a look at it. It probably had his real name, Robert Zimmerman, and he was from another place.” Then Dave tells me about one of his favorite things exhibited, an essay Dylan wrote after Hendrix died.
We stopped at the Woody Guthrie Center on Saturday, and saw the traveling Smithsonian Billie Holiday exhibit, the main galleries, and experienced the virtual dust storm that Sean Wilentz raved to us about. This too was a worthwhile stop. In fact, former seasonal Vineyarder photojournalist Ed Keating’s “Main Street: The Lost Dream of Route 66” exhibition was hanging around the corner at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Humanities, and we saw that too.
I would have loved to meet U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo (now serving her third term); she is the first Dylan Center artist-in-residence, serving a six-year term, getting to present “educational programs and live performances, along with curating special exhibitions.” If you love music, music history, American history, and have the time, you could easily spend a long weekend visiting Tulsa, and like the Dylanologists I met, feel like a kid, soaking in songs, music, and so much more at the Dylan Center and Tulsa’s other cultural offerings.
Read about Dylan’s personal archive here: nytimes.com/2016/03/06/arts/music/bob-dylans-secret-archive.html
Learn more about the characters I met during our Dylan weekend:
Terry Gans: former mayor of Longboat, FL, but hopes to move to CA: author of “Surviving in a Ruthless World: Bob Dylan’s Voyage to Infidels”
Jerry Schatzberg: age 96, photographer and film director – photo on cover of new book, and on the outside of the Dylan Center. jerryschatzberg.com/
Mitch Blank: Music archeologist and collector, and Dylan Center Collection Officer bobdylancenter.com/event/mitchblank/
Sean Wilentz: Princeton American History Professor and author of “Dylan in America” and introductory essay to Mixing Up the Medicine, history.princeton.edu/people/sean-wilentz
Bill Pagel: collector, owns Dylan’s first two homes in Duluth and Hibbing, MN which he’s restoring, besides running www.Boblinks.com, a site dedicated to Dylan that provides set lists from every concert. Learn more about Bill Pagel at startribune.com/ultimate-collector-bill-pagel-owns-both-of-bob-dylan-s-childhood-homes-and-his-highchair/570660742/
Parker Fishel: an archivist and researcher who was co-curator of the inaugural exhibitions at the Bob Dylan Center, co-editor of “Mixing Up the Medicine”. His company, Americana Music Productions, “provides consulting, research, and production work for artists and estates, record labels, and other entities looking to preserve archives and share the important stories found in them. Fishel is also a board member of the Hot Club Foundation and a co-founder of the nonprofit improvised music archive Crossing Tones.”
Mark Davidson: First Dylan Center Librarian from 2017-2023 and now Director; Learn more at thedylanreview.org/2020/06/12/interview-with-mark-davidson-about-the-bob-dylan-archive/
Craig Danuloff: Craig Danuloff is host of the Dylan.FM, a podcast and website he runs as part of the Freak Music Club. See thefm.substack.com/ or learn more about him at thedylantantes.substack.com/p/interview-with-craig-danuloff#details.
Steve Higgins: Managing Director of American Songs Archives for Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan Centers.
Barry Ollman: collector and musician barryollman.com/collections/index.php
Joseph (Joe) Donnelly: lives in Minneapolis, retired from a career at 3M in their Health Care Group, is a photographer and author working on a book about John Lennon and Bob Dylan.
Michael Chaiken: Archived the entire Dylan Archive and was the first Dylan Center director; he’s worked with many greats from Norman Mailer to D.A. Pennebaker, he is credited with coming up for the idea of “Mixing Up the Medicine”. pleasekillme.com/michael-chaiken-bob-dylan\
David Eckstrom: owner largest record store in Texas and maybe the whole of the US: Forever Young Records, Grand Prairie, TX. Read more about him at goldminemag.com/collector-resources/for-the-record-forever-young-records and his and other’s collections at dylan.utulsa.edu/dylan80-collectors-roundtable/
Nelson French; a Hibbing, MN native is an active fundraiser for the New Armory, Duluth, MN – where Bob Dylan heard Buddy Holly play in 1959 three days before his plane crash. See dulutharmory.org/.
Jeff Friedman: after meeting artist/filmmaker Rudi Stern in 1977, he left Brooklyn College to work at Let There Be Neon, in NYC, which he now runs. Lifelong Dylan collector and music archeologist.