Update: At yesterday’s sale, the New York Times reports, Dylan’s handwritten lyrics sold for $2,045,000—a sum above even the upper limit estimated for the lyrics’ value.
This isn’t your ordinary music memorabilia auction, and it isn’t your ordinary collectible. 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is the definitive song by Bob Dylan, the Hibbing native who’s widely regarded as the single greatest songwriter of the rock era. An early handwritten manuscript of the song’s lyrics, scrawled on stationery from the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington, will be auctioned next month at Sotheby’s in New York. Based on the $1.2 million price John Lennon’s “A Day in the Life” lyrics earned in 2010, the auction house expects that the “Like a Rolling Stone” lyrics might fetch up to $2 million.
The lyrics’ anonymous owner, who the New York Times reports lives in California and received the lyrics from Dylan himself after meeting him through a “non-musical connection,” is also offering handwritten lyrics to “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” (1962), another seminal Dylan song. The lyrics will be offered to the public in a rock-themed auction that will also include a Jimi Hendrix bail bond and vintage posters relating to Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, and other top acts.
Fortunately, you don’t need to buy the lyrics to see them: they’re posted online at the Times. They’re a gold mine for Dylan fans seeking some insight into the writing process that produced “Like a Rolling Stone,” a song that is not only considered one of Dylan’s masterpieces but also a zeitgeist-capturing anthem of the turbulent decade that produced it. A close look at the notes reveals alternate lyrics considered by Dylan and offers insight into the development of the song’s iconic chorus.
“Like a Rolling Stone” is one of Dylan’s two biggest hits, peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts in 1965 (though Dylan’s never had a number one hit under his own name, the Byrds took his “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the top of the charts that same year), as did “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” in 1966. Its status as Dylan’s defining anthem was cemented in the Dylan-approved Martin Scorcese documentary No Direction Home (2005), which took its title from the song’s chorus. “Like a Rolling Stone” was also the second song (after “Maggie’s Farm”) played by Dylan when he infamously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, just days after the song was released.
When Bruce Springsteen inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, he described the song’s uniquely transformative effect. “The first time I heard Bob Dylan,” said Springsteen, “I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind.”