We can all claim at least a symbolic stake to the lyrics penned in the mid-1960s by Americana prophet Bob Dylan for the iconic and timeless “Like a Rolling Stone” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” seeing as though those songs are firmly embedded in the very heart of rock consciousness.
But the original, handwritten copies of those lyrics? No, those belong to the highest bidder in a Sotheby’s auction on Tuesday called “A Rock ‘n’ Roll History: Presley to Punk” that will see a slew of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia pull in millions that could have otherwise been spent buying new music.
Auctioneers told CNBC they anticipate the lyrics to 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Dylan’s groundbreaking shift to electric guitar that inspired the naming of the world’s most famous music magazine and one of rock’s most iconic and enduring bands, to rake in as much as $2 million.
That’s almost twice as much as the current record-holding manuscript, according to Rolling Stone: the $1.2 million sale price in 2010 for “A Day in the Life” by John Lennon.
Written on four pages of letterhead from the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington, D.C., the lyrics for “Like a Rolling Stone” start pointedly yet playful… “Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?”… and build to soaring, roaring heights that have yet to grow stale or saccarine.
“They are the holy grail of lyrics,” said Sotheby’s Richard Austin of the memento from an undisclosed collector who originally bought them directly from the troubadour. Whittled down from 10 pages, the final draft (below) is a collector’s dream, crammed with alternative rhyme sequences and thematic tinkering.
“In this near-complete, four-page working draft,” according to a Sotheby’s statement, “the distinctive often-repeated ‘how does it feel’ lyric is clearly visible alongside unused lines, stray thoughts on American cultural imagery and interesting doodles.”
It ended up heralding in a sound, on Blond on Blond, that reignited a fire under Dylan that he told Playboy had nearly been extinguished, according to the Sotheby’s blog: “Last spring, I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained…. But ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ changed it all. I mean it was something that I myself could dig.”
But hey: Maybe you’re familiar with this song because you have ears and a few years behind you and still can’t fathom Dylan’s allure, you’ve clearly been scratching the surface or perhaps focusing on the voice and not the poetry and soul-stirring melodies that voice delivered.
Take a listen to “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” from 1963 (below), which is another set of Dylan lyrics that Sotheby’s expects to earn about $500,000 from on Tuesday, and then try to find a more prescient protest song from the era that also wasn’t written by Bob Dylan (read: “Blowing in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changing,” et al).
No, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” or “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” don’t even come close.
But these are just two items among a trove of rock collectibles. Guitars once commandeered by Eric Clapton and Lennon will be sold alongside a contract signed by Jimi Hendrix in 1965 that secured a live performance and studio time by the acid-rock guitarist for a mere $1. Also up for bids: Elvis Presley’s peacock jumpsuit from his getting-husky Vegas days and an upright piano from the famed Record Plant studio in New York City that had sentimental value for Lennon, David Bowie and Elton John all at once.
For those looking for more use from their hard-earned expendable income, however, Bob Dylan is still churning out the tail-end of his catalog.
Later this year, the 72-year-old plans to release his 36th album.
[Image courtesy of HubPop]