“You don’t need my autograph. If you needed it, I’d give it to you.”
Bob Dylan said that to Dublin fans in 1966.
But things have changed.
Now he’ll robo-sign it for $600.
Over the weekend, Dylan did something I’ve never seen him do before: Address his fans directly on social media in a signed statement.
Fans who doubted the authenticity took to social media, after spending $600 on a book you can buy for $28.93 on Amazon.
On Nov. 26, Dylan’s Facebook page posted a statement from him:
“I’ve been made aware that there’s some controversy about signatures … in 2019 I had a bad case of vertigo and it continued into the pandemic years. 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. … 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.’ … Using a machine was an error in judgment.”
I feel for him with vertigo — though I’m not quite sure where the “crew of five” fit in that particular excuse. It feels like he’s throwing too many rationalizations on the fire there.
But the bottom line is the bottom line: Need to use an auto-pen? Cool. Don’t charge $600.
I had vertigo, then OK’d the idea to charge $600 for an auto-sign, is not just “the dog ate my homework” — it’s, “I was told I could feed my homework to the dog and that it would be no problem.”
Let me say here that Dylan has near-mystic status with me. I think he’s an Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, endlessly fascinating. I can study what he does like a birder watching a red-winged blackbird.
Because “Bob Dylan” does not exist. He is myth and mystery, carefully crafted by a Minnesota kid with big dreams. Robert Zimmerman poured himself into a Woody Guthrie cocoon, and “Bob Dylan” broke free and has been in perpetual metamorphosis ever since: Country crooner, one-earringed rocker, mystery man in pinstripes. He might do an ad for women’s underwear. Weld iron gates. Inexplicably wear a wig to Newport Folk Fest or shout-out Dunkin’ Donuts on a book dedication page.
I laughed throughout it all: Classic Bob!
Whether he’s spinning yarns straight-faced to the camera in a Martin Scorsese movie about him or skipping the Nobel Prize ceremony, there’s a mischievous kid in there, giggling into his hand while we slip on his banana peels and trip down his false-bottom floors. He lives by no man’s code save for this: leave ‘em guessing when you go.
I love him for it. When it comes time to celebrate him, I’ll lead the parade.
But knowingly using a machine and no apology until you were caught? I can’t laugh that one away.
The book is brilliant — the prose is classic Zimmerman bebop and humor, a bit Tom Waits, a bit Larry David. But no one needs a $600 copy. Instead of becoming something you can read and enjoy, it now becomes nothing more than a totem. A thing someone doesn’t touch or read or soak up, just hopes to flip on eBay.
But it takes gall to charge that much for signed copies. The ego-trip is half the sting. You can find signed copies of novels in any bookstore. David Sedaris is no monk or pauper, but go to a reading and he’ll talk to you face-to-face for five minutes before signing something outrageous, personalized, absolutely unprintable, and somehow perfect — for free.
As for machine-made autographs, I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.
I’m hurt that Dylan thought he could get away with it, that he thought it was an OK thing to sign off on, even if he was told “this kind of thing is done ‘all the time.’ ”
I’d like to believe my hero is better than that.
Yes, I know: The Dylan mask changes by the day. Dylan in 1963 is not the same person as he was in 1973, or ’75 or ’82 or ‘09.
But ‘66 Bob had it right: You don’t need my autograph. If you needed it, I’d give it to you.