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Bob Dylan’s archive is no longer secret

Bob Dylan’s archive, made up of 6,000 objects, texts, documents and recordings that retrace the history and inspiration of his genius, has been found and acquired in Oklahoma.

The legend of Bob Dylan’s supposed secret archive has come true. A once-sunken treasure trove of texts, letters and other documents belonging to the Minnesota’s minstrel, one of the most discreet artists in the history of pop music, was acquired by two institutions in Oklahoma. There have long been rumors that Bob Dylan had stashed away an archive, but nobody – except for his closest friends – had seen it. Now that it has been acquired, it will be transferred to Tulsa, next to Woody Guthrie’s archive, Bob Dylan’s idol and mentor.

The material Dylan collected during his sixty-year-long career counts more than 6,000 objects and builds up an archive that, according to the New York Times is “deeper and more vast than even most Dylan experts could imagine, promising untold insight into the songwriter’s work”. The archives were bought by oil billionaire George Kaiser’s Foundation and the University of Tulsa  for an estimated 15 million to 20 million dollars.

Dylan said in a statement that he was happy and honoured that his documents have found a home in Woody Guthrie’s native city, “alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American nations” and a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence.

 

The heart of the archive is an extraordinary collection of notebooks where Zimmerman wrote, corrected and perfect many of the artist’s songs. The New York Times previewed some of them but only after two years of cataloguing they will be exhibited. Dozens of rewrites track the evolution of even minor songs like Dignity that, even if it went through more than 40 pages of changes, wasn’t included in the 1989 album Oh Mercy but published only in 1994.

 

Bob Dylan show 1965
Bob Dylan in 1965 © Val Wilmer/Redferns/Getty Images

 

Among torn and coffee-stained bloc-notes, manuscripts and typewritten texts there have been found tape-recordings, contracts, drafts and concert films. There’s also a letter from Barbra Streisand dated November 1978 that thanks the songwriter for sending flowers and suggests that they record a song together.

 

An exhibition will make part of the material accessible to the public but most of it will be analysed by scholars and Dylanologists. It’s time for them to study.

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