Michael Chaiken


The Dylan Archive curator’s road to Tulsa was paved with good obsessions, such as free jazz, Godard, the Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker, Norman Mailer and working with Glenn Horowitz. James Marshall hounds out the roadmap in a wide-ranging interview with Chaiken.

In what was most certainly the biggest deal for a writer’s archive in history, the George Kaiser Foundation, a Tulsa-based philanthropical organization that has already done considerable work with Woody Guthrie’s Archives, bought Bob Dylan’s Archive for a reported $30 million, which includes the cost of the new building where it will be housed.

The Dylan Archive deal was brokered by famed NYC rare book and archive dealer Glenn Horowitz. Horowitz has brokered archives for everyone from Norman Mailer to Danny Fields. Before that, he had set up the Strand Bookstore’s Rare Book Room (a must-visit when in NYC) and then became the last of the great Fourth Avenue book dealers. He hired Michael Chaiken to catalog the entire Dylan Archive. This immense undertaking took Chaiken the better part of a year. When it came time to move the entire archive to Tulsa, he was offered the job of curator. These days he spends a considerable amount of time getting the archive ready for public use, as well as sorting through the vast amount of audio, film, and written material.

“Bob is unique in that he owns his own master tapes—we have the master tapes of every recording session and hundreds of hours of concert recordings, and we also have film. He’s been filmed since the beginning.”

Like everything about the story, Chaiken himself is quite an interesting character, with a background in film programming, writing and cataloging. He has worked with Norman Mailer, D.A. Pennebaker, the Maysles brothers, Nick Tosches, James Toback, and the up and coming filmmakers the Safdie brothers (his short film on them, made for Filmstruck, may still be available online; if you want to see it, you better move fast because Filmstruck has just gone belly up).

I sat down with Mr. Chaiken recently and what follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

James Marshall and Michael Chaiken at Anthology Film Archives.

JM: So what is your background? How did you end up in charge of the Dylan Archive? Did you do your doctorate in Dylanology, do your thesis on Self Portrait?

Michael Chaiken: I didn’t get a degree in archival studies or any of that stuff. I grew up in Philadelphia. My dad went to high school with Fabian, when [oldies deejay] Jerry Blavat was a constant on the radio. It started as just collecting stuff, comic books, Mad Magazine, and learning about culture. I grew up in the ‘80’s, and I had an older cousin who oriented me into the world. He had blues box sets. My father was really into rock & roll. He grew up in the ‘50s, he was more of a greaser. My mom was a hippie, born in 1950, they were separated by a generation. So I heard soul, a capella, blues. My father’s parents were from Kiev, he was self-educated. In his family, you went to work, not school.

JM: Your background goes into film…

Michael Chaiken: Out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, I thought eventually I’d get into music. I went to University of Delaware for a year and ended up flunking out. But there were a lot of people hanging around the fringes of the campus, into jazz and stuff. I got involved with a magazine, sort of a precursor to The Wire. I fell in with a group of friends that were interested in people like La Monte Young and Mathew Shipp, William Parker, Charles Gayle.  All that kind of stuff was exploding. I saw Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Saunders and all those guys. I got as far into free jazz as you can go. But I was floundering in Delaware. I was 19 years old and I came home and got a job in a video store. It was one of the first video stores on the East Coast. They were like a supplier for other stores. They had a giant telephone book-size catalog and 50,000 titles. I remember my dad taking me there. I wanted to see [Jean Cocteau’s] Orpheus again, and so I asked them for a job. They hired me, and I got as deeply into movies as you can possibly get. I was into art films, not so much Hollywood films— [Jean-Luc] Godard was my sacred cow, and his entire orbit, everyone influenced by him. Political cinema, avant-garde cinema and I guess what they called Third Cinema. Brazilian New Wave..

JM: Post New Wave?

Michael Chaiken: Exactly. I got deep into that and after about a year I was like “I want to push this, I want to pursue this.” So I went back to school at Temple University [in Philadelphia]. It was totally the opposite of Delaware, I met great people. I met great people in Delaware outside of the school, but Temple is a city school, so the people I met were unbelievable, I went in as an English major. The critical studies of film were run through the English Department. There was a professor named Bill Van Wert who became a very cool friend and mentor. Bill Van Wert had started a radical film journal called Jump Cut. He had written a lot about Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, for me that was beyond my realm. I took a year off and sort of became a collector. We’re talking late ‘90s. Philly had a great tradition of repertory cinema. Like New York. Now you can get blu-rays of all this stuff but like Godard, Warhol films were off the map. I used to write to filmmakers and ask if they had copies, and tell them, “People want to see this film.” I collected rare films, and researched which universities had rich [holdings]….like New Yorker Films rented to a lot of universities who shouldn’t have made copies, but they did. It became an obsession. Bill Van Wert would rent films and make copies just so he had a copy. I found out about the Harvard Film Archive, the stuff they had, the quality. It was what was left of the Grove Press film collection.

Grove Press had an unbelievable library of films they distributed— all the crazy Godard films, William Klein films. By the mid ‘80’s, video was so common people stopped renting this stuff, so they folded and the films were in limbo. I found out Harvard Library had acquired the Grove Press film collection, so I had Billy (Van Wert), who was as ravenous as I was about trying to find this stuff, help me.  I wrote them a letter saying he was writing a book about Alain Resnais and had to see this stuff. It just so happened that the curator at the time knew Bill and knew his writing and said, “Sure, whatever you need”. Bill ended up putting me in touch with the curator and they gave me a job, offered me a job for school credit working at the Harvard Film Archives. I lived there; it took up a whole summer. Basically, they had just acquired the Grove Press film collection and hired me to catalog it. It was a dream job for me. That was my first interaction with film archives. I learned a lot; it was like grad school, and I managed to graduate early, my junior year. They were showing incredible films and letting me watch stuff. I graduated Temple University, was working at the Harvard Film Archives, and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had a vague notion that maybe I’d go to graduate school. What do you do with an English degree?

“The thing the Dylan archive shows is that for whatever natural talents he had, he was a worker, he worked hard and he still is. He was very disciplined. Whatever talents he had, he met that halfway with a lot of hard work.”

It turns out the Philadelphia Film Festival which was run out of an art house theater called the International House. I was the guy who had to co-ordinate getting the prints from the New York Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, about 100 films. We were at the mercy of Fed Ex and UPS. The film festival is run out of the International House, which is a 100-seat theater that gets a lot of money from the state. Part of the money was designated to go to cultural stuff— international music, film, whatever. They hired me in January 2000. Somehow, I convince them to program stuff. It wasn’t like the ‘70s and the ‘80s, there wasn’t much repertory stuff going on anymore. I said “Give me a little budget and let’s see if there’s an audience, see what the interest is.” It turned out there was real interest in this stuff. I was lucky; there was an opening and an opportunity. I started putting together retrospectives around directors, taking advantage of the fact we had this theater, an amazing projectionist, I was in my twenties and it was like wow. I did that for 5-6 years and in that time, we started showing stuff that hadn’t been shown in Philadelphia. Then I got lucky. [Documentary filmmaker] Albert Maysles’ daughter [Rebekah] was going to Temple University. We put together a program around the Maysles.

Norman Mailer by Michael Chaiken.

I started talking to Albert and Rebekah about their archives and spending a lot of time in New York City. Weirdly, around the same time I was hanging around with Norman Mailer. I had a girlfriend who went to school with John Buffalo (Mailer’s son) and we showed Mailer’s films in Philadelphia, these crazy films like Maidstone and Wild 90. Somehow, I got the number for Mailer’s assistant, Judith McNally. I called and said, “I run this theater in Philadelphia and we want to show his films”. I used the theater as a way to meet the people I was fans of, to show their films, and I got a call from Mailer. I was talking a lot with the Maysles and Mailer, and the Maysles were moving their operation to Harlem, and they said they could really use someone to help. They made a lot of money doing commercials. I was telling them that these things, the outtakes of their films and everything, were assets. So they offered me a job. I was living with them, first at the Dakota, then they got a place in Harlem; they gave me an apartment in Harlem and a salary. I was helping them, overseeing the archives. They hired a friend of mine, Sean Williams, the cinematographer. He’d just gotten fired from Kim’s Video. We would sit there at the editing board and look at outtakes from all their films. I was just ready to move to New York. The Maysles archive is really the first archive I really dug into. I began to understand how these things are handled and what they are.There’s amazing stuff in the outtakes of Gimme Shelter. Jim Dickinson talking about when he met Jerome, Bo Diddley’s maracas player. Other bands at Altamont. Anyway, so I was doing this for the Maysles and there was an article in the New York Times called “Paper Chase,” about Glenn Horowitz, the rare book dealer. He was the youngest of the Book Row (4th Ave) dealers. There’s a book called Book Row and the last couple of chapters are about Glenn. Glenn ran the Strand’s rare book room, and then went off on his own. He had just brokered the Watergate Papers. In 2005, he brokered Norman Mailer’s papers. I felt like I knew him because I was working with Mailer a little bit, but I didn’t put the whole thing together. Anyway, there’s this Times profile. He built the Strand rare book room then got his own client list together. He could get these incredibly rare things— copies of Gatsby signed by Fitzgerald to his friends. Then Glenn started to get a foothold in the archive world. There was this mad gold rush from universities for archives, he’s kind of like the Leo Castelli of that world. The Ginsberg archive sold in the ‘90s for a million bucks.

JM: Ginsberg sold two archives. He sold it in the ‘90s, then sold everything after that in ’96, I think.

Michael Chaiken: The main archive is at Stanford, Glenn brokered that. I read this profile of [Horowitz] and I thought, “This guy seems like the perfect guy; he’s doing what I’m trying to do, only he’s incredibly successful at it”. So I just cold called him. I told him I’d worked with Mailer and was working with the Maysles archive and we went to lunch, I think we went to the Union Square Cafe. Glenn is like…well you know him…

JM: He’s a natural born salesman.

Michael Chaiken: Yes, a natural born salesman, but this old school, from this tradition that doesn’t exist anymore in New York.

JM: I feel like when he’s selling stuff to Gillian and I, at a certain point it’s like you want to buy something just to please him, he’s so charming and smart, he’s entertaining.

Michael Chaiken: (laughs) He’s just very good at what he does. So he says, “You worked with Norman, you’re doing this with the Maysles, are you making any money?”. Well, no. I said I was doing this for the good of, well, whatever. He said- “That’s all fine, but you’re a schmuck. If you organize yourself a little better, you can make a very interesting life for yourself out of it.” He offered me a chance to work together. It was a start. It was my transition out of the Maysles. We did a tribute to Norman at Lincoln Center, and showed his films; [Mailer] spoke in the middle. He didn’t want to but at the last minute he came, on two canes. He did a question and answer period in the middle. He said the second most evil person he ever met was Jean-Luc Godard. The first was Reagan. I only knew Norman the last decade of his life, but he was a real mensch. He called me up and told me I was getting a cut, of all the prints, the screenings at Lincoln Center and the Anthology Film Archives.

But meeting Horowitz was the transition. Glenn gave me a lot. I was lucky to have him as a mentor. Glenn told me, “You don’t want to work for me.”  He told me to go out and find collections and he’d introduce me around and we’d work on these things together. He did incentivize me to go out and do this stuff. The first thing we worked on was [film director] Nicholas Ray. Susan Ray was great. There was amazing stuff, storyboards, his early scripts, a really rich, unbelievable archive. Glenn had a strong relationship with the [Harry] Ransom Center [University Of Texas], which is where it ended up going.

The Maysles archive ended up going to Columbia University. I heard Glenn had brokered the papers to Columbia, and I figured I should get a commission for that. I called him up, and that’s when he said, “You don’t want to work for me, but I just got Spalding Gray’s archive, would you be interested in cataloging it?” So I cataloged the Spalding Gray archive and started pushing things I knew about [Glenn’s] way, and that’s what got me into that world. He needed someone to prepare these archives for eventual sale. I’m loathe to call myself an archivist because I didn’t go to school and a get a degree in archiving. But I understood how to put together, say Spalding Gray’s archive— here’s the correspondence, here’s the important manuscripts, here’s the many iterations of this book. It became clear this is the stuff researchers and scholars are going to be interested in. I spent a month preparing the catalog and then turned it over to Glenn. That kept me afloat for a while because Glenn was getting a ton of collections.

There’s amazing footage of them at the Savoy Hotel watching John Mayall on TV, Eric Clapton’s playing with him. You can see the wheels in Bob’s head turning. He’s telling Bob Neuwirth “these guys can play ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ like we play it on the record.” This is May of ’65; Bob goes electric in July of ’65.

I later found out there was also this gallery that Glenn bankrolled, called the John McWhinnie Gallery on 64th Street. Glenn’s thing is literary modernism- Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, but he also had this gallery that was run by a curator and dealer named John McWhinnie. John’s wheelhouse was beat culture, hippie culture, pop culture. Where Glenn kind of trailed off, John McWhinnie picked up. Initially Glenn didn’t introduce me to John, I just kind of found out there was this gallery. I started going back and forth because John’s assistant went on leave. I remember this archive came in; it just said Manson on it. I told John, “I just have to work on this,” and he said “talk to Glenn”. What it was was the Paul Fitzgerald Archive [Patricia Krenwinkel’s lawyer, Fitzgerald was the inspiration for John Gregory Dunne’s novel Dutch Shea Jr. That got me working between Glenn and John McWhinnie, he had all these collections coming in. John also had a really close relationship with [painter and photographer] Richard Prince. Prince has an amazing collection of manuscripts and books and John was his procurer for a lot of these books, and of course Glenn helped because Glenn had this tremendous reach. Richard was one of Glenn’s oldest clients, but Richard and John were really simpatico. I got to know that world, McWhinnie had this unbelievable eye. Do you remember the gallery?

JM: I was only there for the Velvet Underground thing, but nothing was for sale!

Michael Chaiken: Then tragically, and shockingly, John died. He drowned snorkeling in the Caribbean. His whole business went upside down for a little bit. Glenn was traumatized, that was a tough time for a lot of people. John was critical. John had one foot in the art world and one foot in the rare book world. The Gallery was at a really interesting intersection between the two. Such a smart guy, a bookish guy. He went to Columbia for philosophy. Glenn asked me to come help. There were a lot of things already in play that John had a hand in. I took that over for a while. John also had a lot of personal stuff at the gallery and a lot of writers and Richard Prince had given him stuff. It was really complicated to sort out what was John’s personal stuff and what was Richard Prince’s and what was the gallery’s. That’s how I met Danny (Fields). Right after John died, because John had bought [theater critic, Warhol Factory habitue] Donald Lyons archives, which ended up going to Yale.

Danny was the executor for Donald Lyons’ estate. As soon as we sold Donald Lyons, we started working on Danny’s archive. That ended up going to Yale, too. Danny never forgave me because I messed some stuff up, I credited him with discovering the Allman Brothers, and there was something about Ahmet Ertegun, an empty folder it turns out. I apologized but I messed that up a little. That was the ballgame for a while, I was a freelance, I don’t even know what you’d call it. I guess I was working on archives and working with artists. I wasn’t working for a university, I was on the seller side. I was working with Nicholas Ray’s widow. With Mailer, I was working freelance as an archivist. Glenn was helping me place archives.

JM: Didn’t you work with [documentary filmmaker] D.A. Pennebaker?

Michael Chaiken: When I was working for the Maysles, Frazer Pennebaker, D.A.’s son, was there. I got the Pennebaker thing on my own, with the thought that eventually Glenn would help sell it. At the same time, I was working on Nick Tosches’ archives. I’d work for the Pennebakers during the week and Nick on weekends. When you’re working for the Pennebakers, you’re inevitably in touch with Dylan’s office. Pennebaker shot Dylan twice— in May of ’65 for Don’t Look Back and then May ’66, all the color footage that was in Eat The Document and in the Scorsese documentary.

JM: He was a hired hand on the ’66 shoot? His edit (Something’s Happening) was never released.

Michael Chaiken: Right, it was two different deals. With Don’t Look Back, he owns all the outtakes and everything. With the color stuff, Dylan hired him, so he gave all the originals, all the film, to Grossman to develop. The Pennebaker edit was supposed to air on TV, on a show called Stage 67, an NBC show. The way Penny tells the story is he put together a rough cut, about 30 minutes for the TV show. There is a rough cut of Something’s Happening in the Dylan archive. Eat The Document is Bob’s edit. Bob and Howard Alk. Alk was second camera for Don’t Look Back and the ’66 stuff. He edited Eat The Document, Renaldo and Clara, other stuff…

So a lot of things converged. It was 2015, I had been doing stuff with Criterion Collection. Norman Mailer’s films came out on Criterion. I was doing essays and stuff, so I ended up co-producing the 50th Anniversary edition of Don’t Look Back for Criterion. Which means I got to watch something like 22 hours of outtakes. That’s ultimately put me in touch with Bob’s office.

“His interests are so vast and there’s no difference between high culture and low culture with Bob. He sees the connections between traditions that on the surface might seem so far afield. He’s an unbelievable synthesizer of all this stuff.”

JM: What’s the most amazing thing in the outtakes that no one has ever seen?

Michael Chaiken: It’s just that you realize, every shot in Don’t look Back, there’s like ten minutes more of every shot. You realize how brilliant the editing was. It’s not like there was anything really fucked up. What’s interesting is when you unpack the whole thing and you watch all 22 hours, it really gives you the sense of what’s going on in London at the time. There’s amazing footage of them at the Savoy Hotel watching John Mayall on TV, Eric Clapton’s playing with him. You can see the wheels in Bob’s head turning. He’s telling Bob Neuwirth “these guys can play ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ like we play it on the record.” This is May of ’65; Bob goes electric in July of ’65. Donovan plays three more songs, Bob plays three more songs, Dana Gillespie is around. The bottle incident goes on for a long time. Incredible stuff of him and Neuwirth doing Hank Williams and Delmore Brothers tunes.

JM:  I think I helped clear the publishing on that one.

Michael Chaiken: Bob just seems wise beyond his years. As these things unfold, you see how smart and intuitive he was. He was able to read people really quickly. Around the time the Don’t Look Back thing was happening, Bob’s office started thinking seriously about the archives. The manuscript, or piece of a manuscript of “Like A Rolling Stone” that Christie’s auctioned off for some absurd amount of money. That wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. The amount of writing they had, all this stuff was being held at the office and it was like “we need to do something with this”. Glenn got the call to be the agent of the Dylan archive and he called me and I was like “I have to work on this thing!”

The way it got to Tulsa was the Kaiser Foundation was determined to keep Woody Guthrie’s archive in Oklahoma. He’s not from Tulsa, he’s from Okemah. George Kaiser bought the Woody Guthrie archive, Glenn didn’t broker it, but he was an adviser on it. So when Glenn got the call to do the Dylan archive, he called the Kaisers. They had to figure out how to structure it.  It wasn’t the Ransom Center, it wasn’t a college, it was a non-profit organization, but they worked it out. Essentially, I was the go between Glenn Horowitz, Bob’s office and the George Kaiser Foundation. And after the deal happened, they offered me a deal. I had cataloged it, and they asked, “Would you come with the archive”? It was an opportunity to stay with the collection. The Kaisers saw it as a way of expanding the Woody Guthrie narrative. So I said “yeah”. It was done in 2015, it wasn’t announced until January of 2016, and that’s when I started going back and forth to Tulsa. I’m in Tulsa about ten days a month working on the Dylan archives. There’s still more stuff being sent down. We have a full-time librarian/collection manager down there now, so that it can be open to researchers and scholars. Right now, it’s not open to the public. Most of my attention in the past year has gone to what we’re calling The Bob Dylan Center. We’re building it from the ground up.

JM: You’re a living Bob Wills’ tune.

Michael Chaiken: We’re partnering with Olson Kundig.

JM: How do you see this thing? The Dylan Center. A library of sorts? A museum? Dylan attracts a lot of the worst sort of lyric analyzing, stalker type fans. A.J. Weberman stealing his baby’s diapers.

Michael Chaiken: I know, the Dylan Center is not going to be a shrine to Bob, or a museum to Bob. It’s not about how he’s charted his career or lived his life. I think that would be unethical. The Dylan Archive really is an archive. It isn’t full of artifacts, there’s not hundreds of guitars and clothes. Not like what Bowie had. The Dylan Archive is more like a process, where you’re seeing the process of his songs. The other side of the archive—you know, Bob is unique in that he owns his own master tapes—we have the master tapes of every recording session and hundreds of hours of concert recordings, and we also have film. He’s been filmed since the beginning.

JM: It’s sort of a three-headed monster because you have a writer, a musician and a filmmaker.

Michael Chaiken: That’s right. It’s interesting because it’s an archive that kind of reflects this restlessness, it’s very process oriented. You can take something like “Tangled Up In Blue,” you’ve got Blood On The Tracks, but you can trace the first time he started working out that song. In the notebooks are all these lyrics and verses that ended up not making it onto the record. You’ve got all these manuscripts, and session tapes from the first time he steps up to the microphone to record the songs in the studio, and then all these live versions. He’s still doing it.

He re-wrote the lyrics in ’75 and again in ’84 and again in 2013. He’s still doing it. We’re very conscious that this is a place the public can go if you want to access Bob Dylan— if you want to see manuscripts, or film too, if you want to take a deep dive in the archive this will absolutely be the place where people can do that. But the way we’re thinking about this is, that Bob is such a capacious artist. His influences are huge, and the things he influenced are equally as huge. This gives us an opportunity to display a really wide range of material. Things that on the surface might seem a bit tangential to Bob and his career—the way I think of it is Bob is the presiding spirit over this thing—but also give us a chance to explore the things Bob was interested in and the people who’ve been influenced by Bob and also if you want to telescope down to a period of Bob’s career. It’s going to be a relatively flexible space. It’s not going to be like a traditional museum. I’m kind of plotting out that stuff right now. The thing I’m most conscious of is I don’t want this to be a Cult of Saints, full of totemic objects. I mean there’s some of that in the archive, the jacket Bob wore at Newport, Bruce Langhorne’s tambourine. It’s incredible stuff, but we want people to come back. We don’t want people to say— “Saw that, don’t need to go back…”. For the time being, Tulsa and the surrounding community are what’s going to keep the lights on, so we have to keep the place energized. We’re only the custodians of this stuff for a relatively short period of time. You don’t buy an archive with the copyrights, so we have to work very closely with Bob’s office.

JM: How much will be open to the public and how much just to scholars? Can you see all the outtakes from Renaldo & Clara?

Michael Chaiken: Well, you’d have to fill out some forms. Certain things, of course, you’d need credentials. But yeah, if you’re serious about this stuff and you’re writing a dissertation or for Mojo magazine or whatever, you’ll be able to look at a lot of the archives. The Bob Dylan Center will be the place you can do that, but also we want to find ways to show parts of it in interesting and compelling ways. If you want to listen to the session for Infidels or Blood On The Tracks you can. The challenge with the Center is the range of people who would come to the Bob Dylan Center goes from people who are casually interested in Bob Dylan to people that are absolutely obsessed with him. You’re never going to please everyone. Some of them just want to take all the shit home. We have to build this space where…if you want to just know who this guy was and why he was significant, you can do that. But if you want to spend the entire weekend at the Bob Dylan Center listening to things and watching things, that experience will be there too. We want to keep the place energized, we want to use the material in the archives in an almost repertory fashion. There’s more than 100,000 items. We want to keep people coming back so nothing will be sitting around for very long, we have to keep using it. Rotating things, although there’ll be some anchors.

Chimes of Freedom- via bobdylanarchive.com

JM: Do you ever worry about the other side of it? That Dylan, he’s almost like a Rorschach blot of our culture, you can read anything you want into him, that this thing sort of encourages that mentality, writers who obsess over his lyrics and want to guess what his personal life is about?

Michael Chaiken: Well, there’s nothing in there that will give you an “a-ha” moment, but if you are interested in the process of how he arrived at a certain point or lyric…You realize what prodigious writer he was and what a ruthless self-editor he was. The thing the Dylan archive shows is that for whatever natural talents he had, he was a worker, he worked hard and he still is. He was very disciplined. Whatever talents he had, he met that halfway with a lot of hard work.

JM: He’s a great music fan, a listener. You could really hear that in his radio shows. How much different stuff he knows about. Making comments about Link Wray and Gene Austin and Sam Cooke, all over the place.

Michael Chaiken: His interests are so vast and there’s no difference between high culture and low culture with Bob. He sees the connections between traditions that on the surface might seem so far afield. He’s an unbelievable synthesizer of all this stuff.

JM: Writers are so anxious to accuse him of stealing. But the guys he’s stealing from stole it from someone else.

Michael Chaiken: I don’t get that. I never understood that mentality. There’s the obsession with authenticity and purity. It doesn’t make much sense. This notion of pure innovation. Pure innovation would be like complete gibberish.

JM: Well, Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, they were borrowing from other musicians.

Michael Chaiken: Exactly. Everything is built upon something else. The thing with Dylan, is that the folk tradition is a tradition that is based on passing down melodies and ideas.

JM: Folk is a weird word anyway.

Michael Chaiken: Bob was the first to see that the folk tradition and modernism are the same thing. Modernism is a high falutin’ way of reappropriating the folk arts. That’s where his genius lays. Being a synthesizer of all these traditions and an interpreter. The later part of his career he’s so clear about where he’s coming from. If you read the AARP interview and Chronicles and the radio show, he’s giving you the keys. “This is the fabric of what I’m doing”.

JM: When do you think it’ll be ready to go?

Michael Chaiken: So the Dylan Center’s not going to be open until 2021. It’ll be a relatively modest space, 20,000 square feet, a fairly intimate space. We spent a year interviewing architects and what really stood out about Olsen Kundig is they really understood the archive is needed to drive what the Bob Dylan Center will be. How do we make this thing really come to life? Bob’s manuscripts are really really dense. We’re digitizing everything. We’re hoping, I’m hoping, it’s sort of a funky, cool place and wherever you are on the Dylan spectrum you’ll come away feeling like “that was interesting”. But, like I said, we’re custodians of it for a short period of time…

JM: Do you mean in terms of the world might end tomorrow?

Michael Chaiken: Well, that’s the weird thing about Bob, when he does songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” or “The Times They Are A Changin,’” they’re not about civil rights; they’re about the end of the world.


Bob Dylan performs solo in “The Times They Are A-Changin” for the Canadian show “Quest” on CBC, recorded on February 1st 1964.


For a peek at what treasures can be found in the Dylan Archive, see:  https://bobdylanarchive.com/