It’s hard to quantify the creative process, but the record $2.04 million paid for a near-final draft of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” at Sotheby’s “A Rock & Roll History: Elvis to Punk” auction in New York yesterday showed that our fascination with the greatest works of rock music goes beyond our curiosity with mere memorabilia. Millions beyond. (By contrast, Elvis’ peacock jumpsuit fetched on the lower side of its pre-auction estimate of $200,000-$300,000.)
The four handwritten sheets of the song, along with some doodles, give an intriguing glimpse of young Bob Dylan’s breakout as a songwriter, including where he was hanging out when he wrote it—the erstwhile Hotel Roger Smith in Washington, D.C.—and some of the lines that didn’t make the final cut (“…dry vermouth, you’ll tell the truth…,” rhyming “Al Capone” with “a complete unknown”).
It might seem crude to measure a song’s value by interest in things like lyric sheets, but if the measure of a classic is how it stands the test of time…well, there’s still a ton of interest in Dylan. In fact, the penciled lyrics to his even more bitter classic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” drew $485,000 yesterday.
It may not be surprising that the previous record was paid for lyrics for a Beatles song. Here’s a look at what some other classic rock lyric sheets have drawn at auction:
“All You Need Is Love,” by Lennon–McCartney, $1.25 million, 2005. Lennon’s handwritten lyric sheet actually lost a little value and was resold in 2009 for $1 million.
“A Day in the Life,” by Lennon–McCartney, $1.2 million, 2010. On the back of Lennon’s rough draft is a more polished version, with a space left for Paul to add his “Woke up, got out of bed…” bit. This one is considered to have been the last time Lennon and McCartney really collaborated on a song.
“Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen, $197,000, 2013. The lyrics aren’t final (“they live in fury chasin the bad kind of fools glory down a killers highway”), but that’s part of what’s so fascinating. Also, that Springsteen was a struggling artist on the verge of losing his record deal in 1974 when he wrote the song.
“Freebird,” Lynyrd Skynyd, $4,375, 2010. The price paid for this set of lyrics, handwritten by Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, illustrates that this one is all about the guitar solo.
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