Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics are being sold for a huge sum of money
Credit: CBC

Revisit a sprawling letter from Bob Dylan about money, fame and love from 1964

The long and illustrious career of Bob Dylan’s is the envy of the musical world, After breaking through the folk scene of New York in the early sixties he found national and then international fame as the poster boy of protest songs.

The singer-songwriter quickly outgrew the smokey coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, in which he’d cut his teeth, and was now quickly becoming an important voice for a new generation. It was a level of fame that Dylan was thrust into and that he found uncomfortable and unethical.

In the early sixties, the world was beginning to murmur the name of Bob Dylan whenever music was being talked about. But for the young singer, he hadn’t really considered becoming a pop star, for him, writing the songs had just been his expression. “I dont think when I write, I just react and put it on paper,” Dylan said in 1963. Yet he was aware of his growing power “I’m serious about everything I write ….. What comes out in my music is a call for action.”

The singer had become a big voice in the growing civil rights movement and had seen Dylan align himself with the movement and other social projects. Much of that was down to meeting and falling head over heels in love with Suze Rotolo. Rotolo had guided Dylan into politics and his first two albums saw an increase in Dylan’s own songwriting.

“I wanted just a song to sing, and there came a point where I couldn’t sing anything. I had to write what I wanted to sing because what I wanted to sing, nobody else was writing,” Dylan said in 1963. By January of 1964, that vision had been enacted and Dylan had announced himself as a truly gifted songwriter.

The 22-year-old was about to release his third studio album when he sat down at his typewriter to discuss all of these aspects of his wildly changing life with Sis Cunnigham and Gordon Friesen — the founding editors of Broadside. At the time, Broadside was a highly-influential underground magazine of the period and Dylan was keen to connect.

In the sprawling letter below, Dylan speaks about his meteoric rise to fame, the money that was beginning to roll in and equally Dylan’s guilt was rising. He also speaks kindly of his love for Suze Rotolo, the muse behind so much of the singer’s rise to fame.

The letter is not only a joy to read (especially when impersonating Dylan’s tone) but it is a remarkable reflection of a moment in time when Bob Dylan was about to become the biggest artist on the planet.

You can find the full transcript of the letter below.

A LETTER FROM BOB DYLAN

for sis and gordon an all broads of good sizes

let me begin by not beginnin
let me start not by startin but by continuin
it sometimes gets so hard for me —
I am now famous
I am now famous by the rules of public famiousity
it snuck up on me
an pulverized me…
I never knew what was happenin
it is hard for me t walk down the same streets
I did before the same way because now
I truly dont know
who is waitin for my autograph…
I dont know if I like givin my autograph
oh yes sometimes I do…
but other times the back of my mind tells me
it is not honest… for I am just fulfillin
a myth t somebody who’d actually treasure my
handwritin more’n his own handwritin…
this gets very complicated for me
an proves t me that I am livin in a contradiction…
t quote mr froyd
I get quite paranoyd
an I know this isn’t right
it is not a useful healthy attitude for one t have
but I truly believe that everybody has their fears
everybody yes everybody…
I do not think it good anymore t overlook them
I think they ought t be admitted…
an I think that all fellings should be admitted…
people ask why do I write the way I do
how foolish
how monsterish
a question like that hits me…
it makes me think that I’m doin nothin
it makes me think that I’m not being heard
yes above all the mumble jumble an rave praises
an all the records I’ve sold… thru all the packed
houses I play… thru all the communication systems
an rants an bellows an yellin an clappin comes
a statement like “why do you do what you do”
what is this?
some kind of constipated idiot world?
some kind of horseshoe game we’re all playin
responding only when a ringer clangs
no no no
not my world
everybody plays in my world
aint nobody first second third or fourth
everybody shoots at the same time
an ringers dont count
an everybody wins
an nobody loses
cause everybody lives an breathes
an takes up space
an cant be overlooked
an I am a people too
I cannot pretend I’m not
an I feel guilty
god how can I help not feel guilty
I walk down on the bowery and give money away
an still I feel guilty for I know I do not
have enuff money t give away…
an people say “think a yourself, dylan, you’re
gonna need it someday” and I say yeah yeah
an I think maybe about it for a split second
but then the floods of vomit guilt swoop my
drunken head an I spread forth more gut torn
bloody money from the depths of my forsaken
pockets… an I whisper “ah it’s so useless”
man so many people need so many things
an what am I anyway? some kind a messiah walkin
around…?
hell no I’m not
an I ask why dont other people with things give
some of it away
an I know the answer without lookin
security security security…
everybody wants security
they want t be secure
they want t be protected
an I say protected?
protected aginst what?
protected against starvin I guess
an power too
an protected against the forces that they know will
get them if they lose their money.
an why does it have t be like that?
man why are these walls built?
who is this god that is so feared?
certainly not in my life this isnt
yes I have my fears but mine are the fears of
the mind. the fears of the head
a lonely person with money is still a lonely person
I have never had much money before
an so it is easy for me I guess t spend it
an overlook it
but I’m sure that many other people could overlook
some of theirs too
I’m not speakin now of the century ridin millionares
but rather of “get theirs and get out” people
I dont understand them
I dont understand them at all
there’s many things I admit I dont understand
I dont understand the blacklist
I dont understand how people aginst it go along
with it
I’m talkin about the full thing
not just a few of us refusin t be on the show
I’m talkin about the poeple that stand up
against it violently an then in some way have something t do with it…
not just the singers mind you
but the managers an agents an buyers an sellers…
they are the dishonest ones
for they are never seen
they play both sides against each other
an expect t be repected by everybody

the heroes of this battle are not me an Joan
an the Kingston Trio nor Peter Paul an Mary
for none of us need t go on that show
none of us really need that kind of dumbness
but there’s some that could use it
for they could use the money
I mean people like Tom Paxton, Barbara Dane,
an Johnny Herald… they are the heroes if
such a word has t be used here
they are the ones that lose materialistically
ah yes but in their own minds they dont
an that is much more important
it means much more
we need more kind a people like that
poeple that cant go against their conscience
no matter what they might gain
an I’ve come to think that that might be the most
important thing in the whole wide world…
not going against your conscience
nor your own natural senses
for I think that that is all the truth there
is… an no more
thru all the gossip, lies, religions, cults
myths, gods, history books, social books,
all books, politics, decrees, rules, laws,
boundarie lines, bibles, legends, an bathroom
writings, there is no guidance at all except
from ones own natural senses
from being born
an it can only be exchanged
it cant be preached
nor sold
nor even understood…

my mind sometimes runs like a roll of toilet paper
an I hate like hell t see it unravel an unwind
at my empty walls
I’m movin out a here soon
yes the landlord has beaten me it hurts t tell you.
this place I am typin in is so filthy
my clothes cover the floor an once in a while
I pick up somethin an use it for a blanket…
the damn heat goes off at ten
an dont come on til ten…
that’s mornin wise
gushes of warm smelly heat always wake me up
when I sleep here
the plaster falls constantly
an the floor is tiltin an rottin
but somehow there is a beauty to it
columbia records gave me a record player
of the goodness of some keeps on amazin me
an sometimes I play it.
gettin back t the landlord tho
he is really too much
he owns I guess three buildings
I pay him way too high
an I’m gettin screwed an I know it
an he knows it
but I just dont have the time t go down t the
rent control board. I been told they’d get after
him but I’m so lazy. when sue was here he was
gonna jack up the price cause he said I never told
him I had a wife. you really got t see this place
t believe it. I ought a’ve jacked him up a long
time ago an used him for heat. last year he put
in a new window (there was a god damn hole in the
other one) man it was like I asked ‘m for his blood relation
or something. (which he’d probably give away)
anyway the record player’s on now
an I’m listenin t Pete sing Guantanamera for
the billionth time. I dont have many folk music
records (I dont have many records really) but
I do have that one of Pete’s.
god it’s like I go in a trance
he is so human I could cry
he tells me so much
he makes me feel so good
it’s as tho of all the things that’re sold t make
one feel better, aint none of it worth while.
all the cars, an clothes, an trinkets an foods,
an jewels an diamonds an lollypops an gifts of
glad tidings, just dont do nothin for the soul.
I believe I’d rather listen t Pete sing Guantanamera than t
own everything there is t own…
(that’s my own private selfishness shinin thru there)
yes for me he is truly a saint
an I love him
perhaps more than I could show
(as always is the case ha)

I think of love in weird terms.
sometimes I even feel guilty about it
because I know I love sue
but I should love everybody like I love sue
an in all honesty I dont
I just love her that way
an I say what way?
an a voice says “that way”
an I get quite up tite
an I know I have a long way t go
when the day comes when I can love everything
that breathes the way I love sue then
I will truly be a Jesus Christ ha ha
(but I dont wanna be a Jesus Christ ha ha)
an so I am again contradictin myself
away away be gone all you demons
an just let me be me
human me
ruthless me
wild me
gentle me
all kinds of me

saw the last issue of broadside
an especially flipped out over
“talkin Merry Christmas”
I have never met Paul Wolfe but I’d like to
he has an uncanny sense of touch
as for Phil, I just cant keep up with him
an he’s gettin better an better an better
(spoke with someone who was with him in Hazzard
named Hamish Sinclair.. an englishman
of high virtues an common tongue)
I want t get over an see Phil’s baby
I’m told the girl came out yellin about
the bomb. good girl

my novel is going noplace
absolutely noplace
like it dont even tell a story
it’s about a million scenes long
an takes place on a billion scraps
of paper… certainly I cant make nothin out of
it.
(oh I forgot.
hallelullah t you for puttin Brecht in your
same last issue. he should be as widely known as
Woody an should be as widely read as Mickey Spalline
an as widely listened to as Eisenhower.)

anyway I’m writin a play out of this here so called
novel (navel would be better I guess)
an I’m up to my belly button in it.
quite involved yes
I’ve discovered what the power of playwriting means
as opposed t song writing means
altho both are equal, I’m wrapped in playwriting
for the minute, my songs tell only about me an how
I feel but in the play all the characters tell how
they feel. I realize that his might be more confusin
for some but in the total reality of things it might
be much better for some too. I think at best you could
say that the characters will tell in an hour
what would take me, alone, two weeks t sing about

I shall get up t see you one of these days
just cause I haven’t in a while please dont think
I’m not with you. I am with you more’n ever.
yours perhaps is the only paper that I am on the
side of every single song you print
an I am with with with you

my nite is closin again now
an I shall drift off in dreams
an climb velvet carpets up t the stars
with newsweek magazines burnin an disappointin
people smoulderin and disgustin tongues blazin
an jealous mongrel dogs walkin on hot coals
before my smilin unharmful eyes
(oh such nitemares)

an I shall wake in the mornin an try t start
lovin again

I got a letter from Pete an he closed by sayin
“take it easy but take it” I thought about that
for an hour or more when I reached my conclusion
of what it really meant I either cried or laughed
(I cant remember which) I will repeat the same an
add “give it easy but give it” an I’ll think about
that for an hour an at the end either cry or laugh
(I’ll write you another letter an tell you which
one it is)

all right then
faretheewell
shaloom an vamoose
I’m off agian
off t the hazzards an lost angels an minneapoilcemen
an boss towns an burnin hams an everything else
combined an combustioned for me…
tryin t remain sane at all times

love t agnes
she is one of the true talents of the universe
I’ve always thought that an would like t see her
again some time

love t everybody in your house

see yuh

softly an sleepy
but ready an waitin

Bob Dylan

Source: Letters of Note

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