By James D. Watts Jr. • Tulsa World
The world of Bob Dylan is a great deal larger than Sean Latham first imagined.
This weekend, academic scholars, rock critics, music archivists, musicians, fans and all manner of Dylan experts and obsessives will come to Tulsa for the “World of Bob Dylan” symposium, presented by the University of Tulsa’s Institute for Bob Dylan Studies.
The four-day event will feature panel discussions, lectures, performances, exhibitions and other activities that will examine the life and work of one of the greatest artists this country has produced.
Events will be held at the Hyatt Regency hotel, 100 E. Second St.; Gilcrease Museum and the Helmerich Center for American Research, 1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road, where the Bob Dylan Archives are currently housed; and the Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
It is the first event of its type to be presented on such a scale in this country, said Latham, director of the Institute of Bob Dylan Studies, which TU created after the George Kaiser Family Foundation purchased the Bob Dylan Archives.
“I don’t have the exact details,” he said, “but I think the last time something like this took place was about 20 years ago in the United Kingdom. But it’s definitely the first time there has been something on this scale taking place in the United States.
“When we started planning this, we estimated that we would have at most about 200 people attending,” Latham said. “We’re now up to 500 people registered, coming from all over the world to be a part of this symposium.”
“The World of Bob Dylan” will provide a deep dive into aspects of Bob Dylan’s work as a writer, performer, filmmaker, artist and public figure that range from in-depth examinations of individual songs and albums and how they came to be, to presentations that link Dylan to such concepts as that of the Trickster in Native American mythology. It will also examine how religious themes and imagery inform Dylan’s music beyond the three albums that make up his “born again” phase in the early 1980s, and the way he addressed concepts of social justice and politics in his songs.
While some of the titles of the planned presentations can sound a bit daunting to the layman — “Madness in Great Ones: In Which the Strange Parade of Street-Legal Radicalizes the Poetic Ideal of Negative Capability”; “Making the Conscious Unconscious: The Inversion of the Psychoanalytic Method in Bob Dylan’s Artistic Process” and “Heideggerian Insights into Bob Dylan’s ‘Up to Me’: Original Truths that the Artist Chose to Bury,” to name just three — Latham said the symposium isn’t a purely academic exercise.
“Because we essentially invented this thing out of whole cloth, it was something of a matter of planning and luck that we ended up with a good mix of academic and nonacademic presenters,” Latham said. “We wanted this to be as inclusive as possible because if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that Bob Dylan and his music has about as universal an appeal as you can imagine.”
Two of the symposium’s keynote speakers are legendary rock critic Greil Marcus, a former writer for Rolling Stone magazine who has written several books on Dylan and his music; and Ann Powers, chief music critic for National Public Radio.
While registration is closed for the symposium, several events are open to the public.
The film “Bob Dylan: From the Archive 1963–2001” will be screened at 8 p.m. Friday, May 31, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, as that day’s keynote event for the symposium, hosted by Bob Dylan Archive curator Michael Chaiken.
The film features rare, largely unseen television and concert performances drawn from the Bob Dylan Archives, spanning 40 years in Bob Dylan’s career, including newly discovered and restored performances from Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe, the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue and 1986’s Hard to Handle tour with Tom Petty.
Tickets for the film are $10, and may be reserved at eventbrite.com.
Roger McGuinn, co-founder of the seminal folk-rock band The Byrds, will discuss his career with music journalist Jeff Slate at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 1, at the Hyatt Regency.
The Byrds’ first single was a chart-topping version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a No. 1 hit, and over the next decade, McGuinn and The Byrds maintained a close personal and artistic relationship with Dylan, with McGuinn taking part in the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
McGuinn will share stories from his long and influential career, from the creation of folk-rock and his work with Dylan, to his acclaimed Folk Den Project and triumphant, sold-out “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” tour with fellow former Byrd Chris Hillman and country legend Marty Stuart.
Tickets are $20 and are available through eventbrite.com.
In addition, Gilcrease Museum has on display the exhibit “Bob Dylan: Face Value and Beyond,” the first regional showing of Dylan’s renowned Face Value portrait series and the debut of drawings, filmed performances, writings and personal effects exclusive to the Bob Dylan Archive collection; and Wisconsin-based visual artist Skye’s large-scale installation titled “Shakespeare’s in the Alley,” which features some of Dylan’s most-loved songs, reproduced on large banners hanging from the ceiling of the museum’s Helmerich Hall.
Some groups in Tulsa are also planning events to be held in conjunction with the symposium, such as the debut “Live at Cain’s” concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, at Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N. Main St. The event will feature nationally known performers Robbie Fulks and Bonnie Bishop, with Paul Benjaman, John Fullbright and the Oklahoma Specials. Tickets are $25-$40, available at cainsballroom.com.
“There’s even a Facebook page for people who are coming to the symposium, and they’re planning all sorts of things that have nothing to do with us,” Latham said. “It just shows the huge fan following Bob Dylan has.”