Bob Dylan, Lyrical Genius

Bob Dylan, Lyrical Genius

Sotheby's upcoming English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations Online sale features lyrics to a song by Bob Dylan.
Sotheby's upcoming English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations Online sale features lyrics to a song by Bob Dylan.

L eonard Cohen used to tell a story. He was in Paris, having coffee with Bob Dylan, and the two were discussing Cohen’s song 'Hallelujah': “he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years. Then I praise a song of his, ‘I and I,’ and asked him how long it had taken and he said, ‘Fifteen minutes.’”

The fecundity of Dylan’s imagination is astonishing; there are periods when his lyrical masterpieces seem to have slipped into the world with an ease that unsurprisingly left his contemporaries bewildered. This leaf of lyrics shows the rapidity with which ideas flowed from Dylan’s pen, as he catches hold of a lyrical idea and begins to develop it into the song ‘Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)’. He wrote these lyrics when he was in Nashville in early 1966, recording what was to be one of his greatest albums, Blonde on Blonde. He was inspired by his new electric sound and a freer and increasingly surreal lyrical style: even though he had released two extraordinarily strong albums of material the previous year, he was still able to provide more than 70 minutes of new material for the album.

Dylan did not come to Nashville with his songs completed and prepared, but continued to develop lyrics for the album even during recording sessions, writing in the studio far into the night. It may well be that these lines were only written shortly before 9 March 1966, when ‘Most Likely’ was committed to record. He is likely to have had a typewriter at his hotel room but not in the studio, which probably explains the mixture of typescript and handwriting on the current leaf of manuscript. We can here see Dylan work through ideas, and whilst one lyrical strand is developed into an early version of the familiar song, others are abandoned or reused elsewhere. With its false starts and clear stages of development, this worn leaf of paper is a fascinating insight into the working imagination of perhaps our greatest living songwriter.

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