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Bob Dylan Headlines Exhibit of his Early Work


Modern music icon Bob Dylan's original song lyrics and other artifacts are on display alongside original 18th century manuscripts by Mozart and Beethoven at New York's Morgan Library.

Bob Dylan is considered one of the major songwriters of the 20th Century. Songs, such as Blowing in the Wind, "Like a Rolling Stone, and The Times They Are A-Changin, helped define the turbulent 1960s. But finding his original lyrics in the company of manuscripts by Beethoven and Mozart may surprise some visitors to the Morgan Library.

Curator Jasen Emmons says artists are rarely honored during their lifetimes so, he says, this show is a chance to recognize the great body of work Dylan has produced.

"I think often what happens is when people do a retrospective is when they've passed away and people are feeling nostalgic about it. I think one of the things that's exciting about doing it now is that Bob Dylan is still alive," he said. "He just released one of his best albums recently. So I think it's a great way to appreciate him now so people when they go the shows will remember what a fantastic artist he was and still is."

The exhibition Bob Dylan's American Journey at the Morgan spans the early years of Dylan's career from 1956 to 1966, chronicling the evolution of Dylan's musical style from folk balladeer to rock and roll idol.

In a career spanning five decades, Dylan has mixed several musical genres, earning him the adoration of fans and the respect of music critics.

Emmons says people already know Dylan's music, but the exhibit shows people the man behind the music.

"Bob Dylan is such a music idol now that I think one of the things the exhibit does is it really humanizes him," he said. "You see a lot of the personal side of Bob Dylan that a lot of people aren't aware of. One of the first couple of poems that he wrote as a teenager, or a picture of him straddling a Harley Davidson when he was 15, or outtakes from the Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan Cover. I think those sort of personal touches show people who he is."

The show opens with memorabilia from 1956 when Bob Dylan was still known as Robert Allen Zimmerman, a high school student in the small midwestern town of Hibbing, Minnesota. The show then follows Dylan's personal and artistic growth, influenced by the turbulent events of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War movements.

In his early work, Dylan tried to imitate his folk singing idol Woody Guthrie. Emmons says it was during the pivotal 10 years covered in the exhibit that Dylan developed his own musical identity.

" When Bob Dylan first came to New York City, he was really sort of the Woody Guthrie jukebox," he said. "He was playing Woody Guthrie all the time and then Ramblin' Jack Elliott came back from a tour of England and he was doing that better than anybody. He was very close to Woody Guthrie. When Bob Dylan saw him play, he thought 'Oh my God! Somebody's already doing this.' and he realized if he was going to make it, he was going to have to come up with something more original. That was really one of the things that sparked his own songwriting, trying to create something for himself and from there on he developed the style that he is so famous for now."

Booths in the show allow visitors to watch footage of Dylan's live performances and listen to songs from albums released during the period covered in the show.

The biographical exhibit includes over 150 objects including Dylan's highschool school yearbook, handwritten and typed lyrics and letters. Instruments like Dylan's signature guitar and harmonica are also shown to give visitors a comprehensive portrait of the man who became a music legend.