We all know who Bob Dylan is. Most of us know him through a parent’s liking or friends with a taste for vintage American folk music, but some of us know him on our own. Few musicians have had the opportunity or willpower to infuse the American musical scene with their own brand of musical insight and passion.
Bob Dylan is part of a handful of artists that have inspired generations of young people to think for themselves and create what they believe in their own hearts is a true form of art.
“Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966,” presented by The Skirball Cultural Center, is a comprehensive multimedia exhibition chronicling the life and times of one of America’s most influential and prolific song writers.
It is an exhibition that invites listeners and creators alike to come and experience Dylan for themselves, in a very up close and personal way.
As an introduction to the “American Journey,” the exhibition opens with a wall dedicated to over 100 cover versions of the song “Blowin’ in The Wind,” in the form of vintage vinyl 45’s. The significance here is that this is a song that was to become a staple of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, and was covered by everyone from Stan Getz to Peter, Paul and Mary.
After the introduction, viewers are taken through the opening stages of Dylan’s life. From being just a normal middle-class teenager in the small town of Hibbing, Minn. visitors get a first hand point of view as to who Dylan was before he became a “voice of a generation.”
The customary nature and vast array of early Dylan memorabilia humanizes the iconic figure and allows people to understand where he came from and why he chose the path that he did.
From Dylan’s yearbook in his senior year of high school to his first guitar with the words “The Machine Kills Fascists” carved into the side of it, you get to see the world through the eyes of the boy and not the man.
As a devotee, you get to see the obvious and powerful impact that folk artists, such as Woody Guthrie, had on Dylan. You even get to see Dylan’s own copy of Guthrie’s book “Bound for Glory,” a book that would later inspire Dylan to go to New York City and begin his career.
As you move through the visually and aurally stimulating compilation that The Experience Music Project has gathered, you get a sense of incredulity at the amount of material and audio history that has been gathered.
From the grimy and time-stained tambourine that inspired the classic tune “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the first live recording ever captured of Dylan back in 1961 at Carnegie Chapter Hall, this exhibition is wide-ranging and all-inclusive, in regards to the little trinkets and rare sounds that would come to personify Robert “Dylan” Zimmerman.
According to a press-release issued by the Skirball Cultural Center in Dec. 2007, the exhibition had originally opened at the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Nov 2004.
Since its inception, this collective showing has toured all over the country, through museums such as Cleveland’s famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and New York City’s Pierpont Morgan Library.
Luckily for those living in Los Angeles, this is the last but most interactive and stimulating version of the exhibition.
The exhibit touts an “Interactive Music Experience,” which invites visitors to stimulate playing keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, drums and organ, as well as experiment with a mixing consol on an authentic Dylan recording.
Essentially, you can be a part of the music. If you want to play drums, remix a song or even play a guitar over Dylan’s “Sooner or Later (One of Us Must Know)” from his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, you can. This is a fully interactive listening station that will not only complement your love of Dylan but put you, as a listener or player, into the music.
Most people have an affinity for just one aspect of American culture such as history, music, or literature. The beauty of an exhibition such as “Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966” is that all participants get a steady balance of all three of these very complex facets that encompass Dylan and his idol-like status that he has rightfully attained.
In the end, even if you don’t like Bob Dylan, or had barely known his name, you walk out of the Skirball with a fervid sense of fascination and insight that is easily worth the $10 admission for such a vivid and intimate point of view of one of the last true American heroes.