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1958 Original Bob Dylan/Bob Zimmerman Handwritten High School Essay

  • Sold For: $14,950
  • Year:
  • Auction: 2004 spring
  • Lot #: 798
  • Auction Category:

Offered is an amazing Bob Dylan (formerly Bob Zimmerman) High School essay, dating from 1958, with fantastic implications relating to the development of his musical direction in the years to come. Signed "Bob Zimmerman" and totaling 22 single-sided, handwritten pages, to the best of our knowledge this is the only Bob Dylan high school essay known to exist, and its survival no doubt relates to its extremely significant content. The paper, written as his 11th grade English thesis, was given as a gift by Dylan to one of his close high school friends, and was saved for decades as a personal keepsake until sold in the 1990s. Titled "Does Steinbeck Sympathize With His Characters?" the paper deals in large part with the novel The Grapes of Wrath. The strong connection between Dylan and John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath lies in part in the work of Woody Guthrie, universally recognized (even by Dylan) as Dylan's greatest influence. In 1940 Guthrie saw the film version of the Steinbeck novel, and was so moved that he wrote one of his greatest ballads, "Tom Joad," based on The Grapes of Wrath, and often referenced Dustbowl era themes in other songs as well. "Tom Joad," in fact, was first released on Guthrie's 1940 album entitled Dust Bowl Ballads. In The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck depicts the lives of ordinary people who have fallen victim to the ravages of the Dustbowl crises of the 1930s, following their travels from Oklahoma to California, and capturing their efforts to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation. Guthrie himself admitted to having never read the novel, but was quoted as saying, "If I felt compelled to spread the news, it must have been pretty damn good." While Guthrie may have never actually read The Grapes of Wrath, his influence was almost certainly responsible for Bob Dylan reading it. Young Bob Dylan was greatly influenced by the themes presented by Guthrie, themes which played a significant role in the development of an entirely new folk music scene that exploded in the early 1960s. This new folk music scene was characterized by lyrics sympathetic to the common man, as so brilliantly characterized by Steinbeck, or as Dylan writes in his essay, "You see Steinbeck's characters in everyday life, but who stops to sympathize with them? Everybody, in one-way or another, is one of John Steinbeck's characters. We all need sympathizing (sic)." The paper only received a "B." We suspect that when Minnesota Hibbing Public High School's 11th grade English teacher "Mr. Rolfzen" assigned this grade, he had no idea of what the future might hold for Bobby Zimmerman, or what significance the contents of the paper might have on the future of music and American culture. The paper's connection to Dylan's early music is strong and clearly in evidence in early Dylan works such as "Song For Woody" (referring to Woody Guthrie), "Blowin' In The Wind," and "The Times They Are a-Changin'." On the title page are the original notes and suggestions of Bob's teacher ("I think more could have been done with this, don't you? As a whole, however, this is quite good" and "You use this phrase too frequently-'You can't help but like'"). Additional corrections and notes by the teacher also appear on interior pages. Bob Dylan's unique style has left an indelible mark on American popular music. This 1958 high school paper, dating from years before Dylan burst on the national scene, represents the most significant personal document in existence relating to the roots that influenced Dylan's music in the very beginning of his career, and in turn defined the American Folk Music Movement of the early 1960s. The paper itself is ever so slightly yellowed from age and has a couple light creases, and minor wear along the edges from handling. A corner chip to page 15 has been professionally restored, replacing a small section of missing blank paper. (This is virtually undetectable, does not affect any writing, and does nothing other than replace a missing corner.) These condition flaws are extremely minor, and the paper is otherwise in fine condition. The writing is bold, clear, and perfectly legible throughout. The title page signature and all writing grade "10." Overall Very Good to Excellent condition. LOA from James Spence, Steve Grad and John Reznikoff/PSA DNA. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000/$20,000. SOLD FOR $14,950.00

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