Inside Bob Dylan’s Historic New Tulsa Archive: ‘It’s an Endless Ocean’
Chaiken has only begun to dip into the hundreds of hours of raw Dylan recording sessions, but he’s already come across a completely different version of 1997’s Time Out of Mind produced by pianist Jim Dickinson [update: Dickinson denies such a thing exists] and the complete John Wesley Harding sessions. “It’s such a mysterious record,” he says. “I heard a couple of alternate takes of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that were, to me as a fan, just incredible.”
The film footage is equally compelling. It includes 30 hours of outtakes from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1965 tour documentary Don’t Look Back, another 30 hours of footage shot on Dylan’s legendary 1966 electric tour, upwards of 50 hours shot on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue along with a Toronto stop of Dylan’s gospel tour and footage of Dylan, the Band and Tiny Tim goofing around in Woodstock, New York, around the time that work began on The Basement Tapes. “The collection is going to continue to grow,” says Chaiken. “As Bob continues to tour, there’s going to be more stuff that’s added.”
The bulk of the collection chronicles Dylan’s musical career, onstage and off, but there are also more personal items like a mid-1960s address book with phone numbers for Nico, Lenny Bruce and Allen Ginsberg, a private letter from George Harrison praising the recently released Nashville Skyline and 1978 postcard from Barbra Streisand thanking Dylan for sending her flowers.
Dylan’s complete recording sessions reside in Iron Mountain, a secret, climate-controlled underground facility, and the University of Tulsa and the Kaiser Foundation are no hurry to move them to Oklahoma, but they are being digitized, and curators plan on making them available to visitors via an offline computer at the Gilcrease Museum. Sony retains the right to release the material to the public via future volumes of the Bootleg Series and other archival packages, but the Tulsa facility will retain ownership of the physical tapes.
Since there’s no other way to experience the collection other than traveling to Tulsa, organizers are hoping it boosts tourism to the area. “That’s our greatest hope,” says Levit. “Maybe this can finally get us direct flights from New York, Los Angles and London.”