Mr. Tambourine Man’s hey
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Mr. Tambourine Man’s hey

For decades, Dylanologists — this author included — have pored over scraps of lyrics to answer the intriguing, if pointless, question: How Jewish is the man born as Robert Zimmerman?

Now there’s one more scrap of evidence — this one on paper.

The clue comes in a page from a notebook that is now in the possession of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which bought Bob Dylan’s 6,000 item trove of notebooks, typed lyrics, recording contracts, address books, and soundboard recordings for a reported $15 to $20 million. As shown in this picture featured on the New York Times’ website, Mr. Dylan took pen to hand to doodle a series of what may — or may not — be the Hebrew letter hey.

The foundation, which bought the archives of Mr. Dylan’s hero and inspiration, Woody Guthrie, in 2011, is the beneficiary of George Kaiser, one of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s two Jewish billionaires. (The other is Lynn Schusterman.) Following the example of Bill Gates, Mr. Kaiser has pledged to donate most of his wealth to charity before he dies. A year younger than Mr. Dylan, who turns 75 in May, Mr. Kaiser was born in Tulsa to refugees from Nazi Germany. Forbes estimates his worth at $7.4 billion, made mostly in the oil and energy business; he has donated more than $4 billion to his foundation, which focuses on eliminating poverty and inequality and supporting the city of Tulsa.

How much the citizens of Tulsa will benefit from the city’s new status as a mecca for Dylanologists remains to be seen. But certainly the field is due for a renaissance, with the revelations in the initial press barrage opening up more questions. It is, after all, impossible to gauge the significance of Mr. Dylan’s possibly Hebrew doodles without knowing what year the notebook is from. And those of us who have found meaning in an apparent reference to a shivah house in the lyrics to the song Dignity — “Drinkin’ man listens to the voice he hears / In a crowded room full of covered-up mirrors” — now have to ask: What other Jewish secrets are concealed in the 40 pages of draft lyrics to the song reported to be in the archive?

 

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