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Bob Dylan apologizes following controversy about autographs in new book

He admitted to using an auto-pen. But the singer said, “using a machine was an error in judgment and I want to rectify it immediately.”

Bob Dylan performed on a double bill with Neil Young at Hyde Park on July 12, 2019 in London, England.Dave J Hogan/Photographer: Dave J Hogan/Getty

Some people rob you with a fountain pen. But in this case, it was an auto-pen.

Bob Dylan issued a rare public statement on social media Friday after passionate fans of the legendary musician questioned the authenticity of the autographs included in a run of limited edition copies of his new book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song.”

Simon & Schuster, which published the book of more than 60 essays about some of Dylan’s favorite songs, offered listeners the chance to buy a special edition copy for $600. The company said each book was hand-signed by the artist, and came with a letter from Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s chief executive, confirming the signatures were real. Around 900 books were sold.

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But it didn’t take long for fans to start sharing — and comparing — their autographs on social media last week and figure out something was off.

In online posts that included extensive documentation on a message board, Dylan devotees deduced that an auto-pen — a device used to automatically sign signatures — may have been used to autograph the books. Approximately 17 different, subtle variations of Dylan’s signature were shared on the forum “Autograph Live.”

Not so authentic after all. But Dylan was willing to look back on this mistake.

In a break from the singer-songwriter’s typical air of mystery, he wrote a lengthy post on Facebook explaining what happened.

“I’ve been made aware that there’s some controversy about signatures on some of my recent artwork prints and on a limited-edition of ‘Philosophy Of Modern Song,’” he said.

Dylan said while he’s hand-signed “each and every art print” throughout his career, he developed a bad case of vertigo in 2019 that continued throughout the pandemic.

The musician said coupled with COVID-19 precautions, his vertigo made signing autographs an “impossible” task. So, he resorted to using an auto-pen, after someone pointed out the option to him.

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“It takes a crew of five working in close quarters with me to help enable these signing sessions, and we could not find a safe and workable way to complete what I needed to do while the virus was raging,” he wrote. “With contractual deadlines looming, the idea of using an auto-pen was suggested to me, along with the assurance that this kind of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the art and literary worlds.”

But Dylan, who offered his “deepest regrets,” said the decision was ultimately a mistake.

“Using a machine was an error in judgment and I want to rectify it immediately,” he said. “I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that.”

Following days of complaints from fans, Simon & Schuster acknowledged the incident last week and announced that they would offer customers a full refund.

“To those who purchased THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG limited edition, we want to apologize. As it turns out, the limited edition books do contain Bob’s original signature, but in a penned replica form,” Simon & Schuster wrote on Instagram. “We are addressing this immediately.”

Not everyone was pleased with the company’s response, however.

In reply to Simon & Schuster’s Instagram post, one person said the publisher “ruined [their] reputation.” Another told the company it “should be investigated by the New York Attorney General’s office for fraud and attempted theft.”

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While at least one person said the solution should include “sending a real, handwritten autograph to all ...of us that bought the book,” others wished Dylan had been honest from the start.

“Dude, I also have vertigo. And I’m truly sorry that you are suffering from it. If you can’t sign things, then be transparent about it,” one fan wrote on Dylan’s Facebook page. “People aren’t going to be upset if you can’t sign them. But they will be upset if you lie about signing them.”

But many fans appeared touched by Dylan’s personal apology, noting how unusual it was for the artist to address something so publicly.

“The times they are a changing... Thanks for the explanation, Bob Dylan — it’s what the fans needed and so generous of you to give it,” one person wrote. “Stay cool.”


Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.