Bob Dylan fans know that, along with his melodies and voice, much of the appeal of Dylan’s music comes from his lyrics, which eventually led to his Nobel Prize-winning collection of experimental prose poetry: Tarantula.
Written in 1965 and 1966, Tarantula is a complicated work, begging the question of if a folk singer usually focused on writing lyrics can create a work of literary value when you take away his guitar. But Dylan wasn’t only part of the folk-music crowd; he was also on the outskirts of the Beat circle, the two groups related by their desire to bring art back to the people. In his novel, Dylan somewhat followed the stream-of-consciousness style of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, two significant Beat writers.
"Tarantula(s): Bob Dylan’s Novel Revisited," a film series at Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center, investigates some of the unanswerable questions surrounding Dylan’s writing and situates it in the period in which it was written. Beginning on June 24 and continuing on June 29 and August 26, the exhibition will include films by Robert Frank, William S. Burroughs, Ken Jacobs and multi-media artist Red Grooms; recorded readings by Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure; and Dylan’s directorial debut Eat the Document (1972) in a new high-definition transfer.
Several selections included in the exhibit are making their Tulsa debut, and this exhibit marks the first time that items from the Bob Dylan Archive have been on long-term public display in Tulsa. The archive — including hand-written lyrics and old harmonica holders — is usually housed at the Helmerich Center for American Research at the Gilcrease Museum for scholars and biographers to access.
In the near future, parts of the Bob Dylan Archive will be permanently accessible to the public in the Bob Dylan Center that will find its home in the Tulsa Arts District — aptly near the Woody Guthrie Center, which honors Dylan’s idol.
Dylan has a difficult relationship with recognition. When he received the Nobel Prize for Tarantula in October 2016, he ignored it for two weeks, declined to attend the prize ceremony in December and eventually accepted to prize in private in March. The Swedish Academy requires that recipients deliver a lecture within six months of the official ceremony to receive the prize money. Dylan lectured on June 4, 2017, narrowly missing his June 10 deadline.
The content of Dylan’s lecture revealed what he had been contemplating in his time avoiding the Nobel Prize: How do his song lyrics relate to literature? What he concluded is that songs, like his favorite novels, address broad themes that can’t fully be captured in either songs or literature. But Dylan has tried his hand at both.