On April 30, the news broke that Sotheby’s would be auctioning Bob Dylan’s original handwritten lyric manuscripts for Like A Rolling Stone and A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall in June– big news in the Dylan community. As someone who’s written more than his fair share about Dylan and his manuscripts, I’ve gotten many calls and emails about these–and I can happily confirm they are indeed the real thing (unlike many dubious “Dylan handwritten” items that have surfaced.)
Last year I was fortunate to have brokered the sale of two other Dylan manuscripts from this same cache, for similarly legendary songs (as these were private sales, I can’t say more about which songs or the selling prices. Suffice to say they were equally important songs in Dylan’s canon.)
It’s rare to see authentic Dylan lyric manuscripts on the market, and these are as good as it gets. According to The New York Times, Sotheby’s “expects “Like a Rolling Stone” to fetch as much as $2 million. That would double the current record price for a rock manuscript at Sotheby’s, held by John Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” which the house sold in 2010. “Hard Rain” is expected to sell for $400,000 to $600,000.”
That might be a bit high for Like A Rolling Stone, but maybe not. I think these are certainly in-the-ballpark estimates for these two enormously important cultural artifacts.
And since authentic Dylan manuscripts rarely surface, I thought I’d share two more genuine ones, from his 1966 masterpiece Blonde on Blonde. Below are working manuscripts for I Want You and Absolutely Sweet Marie. While the Sotheby’s manuscripts are pretty much finished versions, these illustrate Dylan’s working process in a different way. Absolutely Sweet Marie is probably Dylan’s earliest attempt at the song; here he’s working out lines and verses, coming up with rhymes, but leaving dashes where he’ll later fill in words. I Want You is further along, with Dylan likely refining a previous draft, but still not having written the “Queen of Spades” verse. In both cases, he hasn’t written out the chorus; I’d guess the chorus was the starting point for each, and he didn’t feel the need to write it out.
Dylan finished most of the lyrics to his Blonde on Blonde songsduring the recording sessions at CBS’s Nashville studios. Musicians who played on the sessions reported they sat around killing time for hours, playing ping-pong, taking naps and watching television while Dylan worked late into the night on his lyrics. These two manuscripts were part of a group of lyrics that Blonde on Blonde engineer Charlie Bragg kept after the sessions, and later gave to a friend.
If you’re interested in reading more about Dylan manuscripts and handwriting, put “Dylan” in the Search Blog box on the top right for a number of other posts. And if you’re really got time on your hands, you can read about (and watch me) authenticate Dylan lyrics on the PBS show History Detectives.