News & Politics

See Bob Dylan’s Jacket at the Smithsonian

The jacket the folk legend wore during the “Electric Dylan controversy” will be on display at the museum.

Photograph courtesy of Flickr user badosa.

Update (02/07): The Smithsonian plans to make an official announcement regarding the item later today.

Bob Dylan’s leather jacket will be making a permanent home* in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, according to a source familiar with the transaction. The jacket is significant because he wore it the night of what Wikipedia calls the “Electric Dylan controversy.” It was the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and Dylan shocked the folk music community by switching from acoustic to electric on three numbers, including “Maggie May” “Maggie’s Farm” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” The performance reportedly received boos as well as applause from the audience.

At the time, Dylan was the king of American folk music, and the popular performers of the genre (Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Judy Collins) were steadfastly acoustic. Folk music topped the charts in the early ’60s, and bridged the gap between the rock tidal waves brought by Elvis Presley in the ’50s and the Beatles in 1963. The Beatles revolution eventually prompted other folk stars to go electric. Dylan, though, caused a stir, because he was Dylan.

Another reason the gift is significant, according to the source, is that “Bob Dylan didn’t save anything” from the early years. Apparently he’s not a pack rat.

Among the Smithsonian’s most beloved and talked-about collections is the museum’s assortment of entertainment artifacts. They include Irving Berlin’s upright piano, Minne Pearl’s hat, a yellow guitar that belonged to Prince, a signpost from the hit TV series M*A*S*H, Archie Bunker’s chair from All In The Family, the “puffy shirt” from a memorable episode of Seinfeld, and Carrie Bradshaw’s laptop from Sex and the City. These pieces of American pop culture are a reason the Smithsonian is often called “America’s attic.”

Our source did not know when the jacket will be presented, nor whether Dylan himself will make the presentation.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the status of Dylan’s jacket. It will be loaned to the Smithsonian, rather than given as a gift to the permanent collection.