Our route home to Cooperstown from Tucson took us through Tulsa, Oklahoma, last weekend, and there was no way I’d pass through town without stopping at the new Bob Dylan Center. It did not disappoint.
I love every twist and turn of Dylan’s work, have read at least a few dozen books about the guy, own all his records, the whole deal. The Center isn’t just a shrine to random artifacts (“Here’s the chair Bob sat in when he wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’”). Instead, it’s a place that can interest the casual observer (my long-suffering wife) and captivate the devotee (me) with thoughtful exhibits and expositions that delve deeply into the artist’s multitudes. Not unlike our own Baseball Hall of Fame. An experience to treasure.
We spent the night in downtown Tulsa; our hotel that evening hosted a gathering of Black motorcyclists who had traveled to town to commemorate the city’s Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921. I had nearly enough college credits to earn a major in American History but first learned about the event through a New York Times article on its 100th anniversary. Homes, businesses burned, hundreds dead in riots, thousands imprisoned for more than a week for no cause other than their race; a shameful weekend that should be a part of every curriculum.
On our way out of town, we heard the first reports of the mass shooting in Buffalo. As we’ve come to learn, a race massacre. People much more intellectual than I will discuss and debate its causes and reasons, but from where I sit, it’s straight-up racism rearing its horrible head in a culture that seems to take pride in reducing public discourse to bumper sticker sloganeering. And no one will ever be able to convince me that any person outside of legitimate military (that would be the United States Armed Forces) needs an AR-15 for any reason whatsoever.
I’m currently reading “Music is History,” a deep study of music’s parallel and interaction throughout events in recent history. In it, the brilliant polymath Amir Thompson, who goes by the name ‘Questlove’ in his music, Oscar-winning movie director, and author careers, writes this: “In years when the future’s being insisted upon, there can be an ugly impulse to hold on to the past.” I’ve run that sentence through my head a few times since walking through what used to be Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood and when thinking about the poor souls in Buffalo who, last Saturday, were just out running their errands. Grocery shopping. Defenseless, because the only defenses one should need in a grocery store would be a sharp eye for discounts and coupons. Utterly heartbreaking.
Tulsa was home to a few of music’s innovators; we stopped by the city’s centerpiece cemetery to pay our respects. Leon Russell, who wrote a lot of songs you love and played piano on hundreds of hit records in the 1960s. Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing, who blended jazz and bluegrass and had a lot to do with the birth of rock and roll. Roy Clark, the grinnin’ and pickin’ guitar master who many know from his cornball “Hee Haw” co-hosting but was so much more than that. His grave sits on a small hill overlooking the lake at the cemetery’s center; I’ll use his epitaph to wrap it up this week as we all move forward and hope, again, that the nation wakes up, gets a grip, and knocks it off with all the division and name-calling.
“The next chance you get, do somethin’ nice for somebody – say ‘good day,’ hold a door open – and don’t wait around for a thank you … you don’t need it. And because of you, that person will go out and do something nice for somebody, and then that person will go out and do something nice for someone else, and this whole world can wind up doing nice things for each other and we can be the ones that start it. It takes all of us working together to get things done – no one does it alone. Only one did and I’m not that strong. Let’s start it – here’s to love – it’s still the best!”