On Sunday November 4, Amanda Petrusich, staff writer and music critic at The New Yorker, will visit Tulsa and give a talk at Duet sponsored by the Bob Dylan Center and Magic City Books. She will discuss the fascinating and strange phenomena of the “music pilgrimage,” asking why so many of us flock to homes, apartments, and studios once inhabited by our favorite artistic icons. What is it about going there that adds authenticity to our experience of a given artist’s work?
Petrusich has recently written about Paisley Park and Graceland, both established hubs for immersive musical pilgrimages. In a June 15th 2018 article in the New Yorker, she discusses the otherworldliness of Prince’s sprawling home and recording studio: “An ungenerous reading might be that Americans are so ill equipped to manage death that we are forced to mediate it through tourism.” Her more generous reading links our visits to a desire for deeper understanding: “Stuff becomes a conduit for understanding, and for making more sense of the wild, alchemical rush that fuels both fandom and the art itself. How did Prince come to make so many nonpareil recordings? What allowed for it? What clues now lurk in his silverware drawer, or under his pillow, or in the back of his makeup case?”
In a similar article about Elvis’s gaudy home in Memphis, she reflects on a larger search for America itself: “I recently found myself turning to Presley with hopes of understanding something about the state of my country: what it’s been through, where it’s going.” She sees in Presley’s legacy both the ugly and beautiful values we associate with America, including the agonies of slavery and racism. Presley is known, after all both for a deep commitment to integration and as an archetypal figure of cultural appropriation and exploitation. In Petrusich’s words, “Graceland tells a story about what America can be, and how those ideals can go wrong.”
This sort of pilgrimage has existed long before Elvis and Prince. Literary fanatics, for instance, have historically taken trips to Dublin to find that every street, alcove and old haunt resonates with James Joyce’s vision in Ulysses. Similarly, we trek to Hemingway’s bars in Paris, to Wordsworth’s immortal Tintern Abbey, and to Shakespeare’s often-reinvented Globe Theatre.
Petrusich’s work on such pilgrimages raises some important questions for the city of Tulsa as it increasingly becomes the hub for such tourism. The Woody Guthrie Center, Church Studios, OK POP, and Bob Dylan Archive now mean that fans—some diehard others just vaguely curious—willingly come here to make sense of some of the nation’s most iconic artists. This, in turn, raises questions about how to design and integrate such sites and about how we will use these figures to the tell the complex, often contradictory story of American popular music. Petrusich has herself written often about Dylan and provided the liner notes his gospel bootlegs reviewed Tempest for Pitchfork, and even reflected on Dylan’s whiskey (pairing each glass with “a complementary Dylan song”). On November 2, she’ll share some additional thoughts about the singer-songwriter while reflecting on what it might mean for Tulsa take its place on the itinerary of musical pilgrims.
For more information on the event, follow the link below!