On One Block of Tulsa

I’m so grateful that someone I’ve never met named Jennifer was reading this blog and suggested we stop in her town; otherwise we would have driven past this gem of a city. Tulsa has a complex history: the Creek people, the oil boom, the Dust Bowl, the race riots. We listened to stories about some of this complexity in the truck on the way here, but we chose to spend our one day learning about Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Why?

Woodie Guthrie was born in Oklahoma, and that’s where the Kaiser Family Foundation stores the enormous archives of his work and runs a museum dedicated to him. When they bought a hunk of Bob Dylan’s stuff, they housed it on the same block and built a similar museum. One cool angle is that the building they’re both in, now in the art district of Tulsa, used to be our friend Shana’s dad’s business when the area was all warehouses and industry. And Shana is how I met Jennifer and how I ended up in Tulsa.

Guthrie Museum

I won’t give you a biography of Woodie Guthrie, because, as a lady loudly told her friend next to me, “You can read that on Google.” I will say I was surprised to learn what an artistic powerhouse he was.

From what I gathered, he chose music—as his way to reach people with his stories about America—only because he kept accidentally leaving his art supplies behind on trains and in bus stops.

When he had paper and ink, or anything, really, he was constantly writing and drawing. Every day of his life he was creating cutting-edge art on paper or paper towels or anything, and not just scribbles, but manuscripts and detailed portraits. The man was a creative machine. He documented what he saw as he travelled: the good and the bad of America, specializing in shining a spotlight on specific acts of injustice.

Of course, he also wrote music, and man did he go through instruments. He’d carve messages on them and give them away, so they’re popping up in people’s attics still.

I’m not expressing how floored I was by this man. His cheerful nature as he played music with friends of color before anyone dreamed of doing such a thing, his drive to give this country back to its forgotten people, his brilliant song-writing that used known melodies to introduce subversive ideas. He was a great American genius.

Dylan Museum

It’s surreal to step out of the world of Guthrie and into the world of Bob Dylan. From a man who wanted the spotlight so he could show America to Americans, to a man who hates the spotlight. A man who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and at first said, “Nah, that’s not right.”

I am guessing it was a greater challenge to design Dylan’s displays so you’re not walking trough a boring chronology. Dylan wrote this amazing song, Dylan was honored by this great person, repeat.

To provide another layer to the experience, the museum encourages you to pick up an iPod and headphones at the entrance—you then touch the iPod at each exhibit to hear interviews, concerts, and of course impeccable studio recordings.

I’d known that Dylan holds the public in disdain. The few times I’ve seen him play arenas, he didn’t particularly try to even be heard. He creates his masterful work, decade after decade, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of it or him. I hadn’t considered why he’s that way until I saw footage of how his fans idolized him in his beginnings when he was playing folk music in New York City. And how the media hounded him. And still does.

He never wanted any stardom, and somehow he was (and still is) the biggest star around. How do you live like that? And still be the greatest songwriter there ever was? That was a subject of this museum, at least to me.

Personal Treat

That wasn’t even all of our one day in Tulsa. We ate lunch at a park called Guthrie Green, listening to live music and choosing from a kazillion food trucks. We walked through the art district and admired the funky people and architecture. And we did what we’d come to Tulsa for, which was to meet Jennifer, who’s now a friend.

Thank you, Jennifer! There’s so much more I hope to explore in Tulsa next time.

5 thoughts to “On One Block of Tulsa”