Born in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941, Bob Dylan‘s interest in music and performance began in his high school years and, after moving to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota in 1959, he emerged on the American folk music scene. He soon dropped out of college and moved to New York City where he sought out his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, whom he described as “the true voice of the American spirit” and aspired to be his “greatest disciple.”
The American folk music scene of the 1960s was becoming increasingly politically explicit under the influence of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. Dylan emerged on the scene as a powerful and articulate voice, expressing the ideals and concerns of the 60s counterculture with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” which became anthems of the generation with the release of his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
The album featured several other songs which came to be regarded as among Dylan’s best compositions and classics of the 1960s folk scene: “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Janet Maslin said of the album: “These were the songs that established [Dylan] as the voice of his generation—someone who implicitly understood how concerned young Americans felt about nuclear disarmament and the growing Civil Rights Movement: his mixture of moral authority and nonconformity was perhaps the most timely of his attributes.”
At the same time, in Liverpool, England, folk music was transforming into rock & roll with the immensely popular songs of The Beatles. George Harrison, himself, said of Dylan’s Freewheelin’: “We just played it, just wore it out. The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude—it was incredibly original and wonderful.” During their 1964 international world tour, journalist Al Aronowitz arranged for the Beatles to meet Dylan. They met at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City, where Dylan introduced them to cannabis, an experience that would come to play a major influence on the evolution of their style, particularly Harrison’s.
In the fall of 1968, Harrison visited Dylan’s home in upstate New York, where they co-wrote the song, “I’d Have you Anytime”, a testament to their friendship. The song was released on Harrison’s first solo album, “All Things Must Pass”, which also featured a song about Dylan, “Behind That Locked Door” and a cover of Dylan’s song, “If Not For You”. The two musicians continued occasional jam sessions in private and onstage, but their close bond was not truly apparent to the public until the formation of the Travelling Wilburys in 1988, which consisted of Dylan, Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty.
In 1963, Dylan met American poet Allen Ginsberg and the two formed a close personal and artistic union. As a teen, Dylan read the major beat writers, his work was arguably equally as influenced by the literary and performance style of the beats as it was by Guthrie and the American folk music scene. Dylan admired Ginsberg’s poetic style and techniques, particularly his long line experimental poems, such as Howl (1956) and Kaddish (1961) that drew on the epic, free verse style of 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman. The two worked on a variety of projects together, including the 1975-1976 collaborative tour: Rolling Thunder Revue, which also featured appearances by Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.
Dylan never met Ginsberg’s fellow Beat Generation icon Jack Kerouac; Dylan was rising to fame when Kerouac was beginning to decline, yet many recognizable phrases from Kerouac’s poetry often appear in Dylan’s lyrics, most apparently in his song “Desolation Row”, the closing track to his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited, released in 1965. Considered Dylan’s most ambitious work up to that date and likely titled with a nod to Kerouac’s “Desolation Angels” and Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row”, “Desolation Row” has been praised for its length and surreal, haunting lyrics which take “…the form of a Fellini-esque parade of grotesques and oddities featuring a huge cast of iconic characters, some historical (Albert Einstein, Nero), some biblical (Noah, Cain and Abel), some fictional (Ophelia, Romeo, Cinderella), some literary (T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound), and some who fit into none of the above categories, notably Dr. Filth and his dubious nurse” (Gill, 89).
In 1966, Dylan released his seventh studio album, Blonde on Blonde, which is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time. One of the first double albums produced, Blonde on Blonde peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S., where it was soon certified double platinum, and it reached number three in the UK. The album spawned two singles that were top-twenty hits in the U.S.: “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” and “I Want You”. Two additional songs—”Just Like a Woman” and “Visions of Johanna”—have been named as among Dylan’s greatest compositions and were featured in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Dylan’s biographer Robert Shelton described the album as “…a remarkable marriage of funky, bluesy rock expressionism, and Rimbaud-like visions of discontinuity, chaos, emptiness, loss, being ‘stuck’.”
That same year, Dylan published his first book, Tarantula. The collection of poems and prose offered a unique insight into Dylan’s creative evolution, capturing his preoccupations at a crucial juncture in his artistic development and showcasing his ability to combine the humanity and compassion of his country roots with the playful surrealism of modern art. Angry, funny, and strange, the poems and prose in this collection reflected the concerns found in Dylan’s most seminal music: a sense of protest, a verbal playfulness and spontaneity, and a belief in the artistic legitimacy of chronicling everyday life and eccentricity on the street.
On October 13, 2016, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in recognition of his countless contributions to music and letters over the last fifty years. Some months later, he delivered an acceptance lecture that is now memorialized in book form for generations to come. In The Nobel Lecture, Dylan reflected on his life and experience with literature, providing both a rare artistic statement and an intimate look into his wide variety of influences. From finding inspiration in the music of Buddy Holly and Leadbelly to the works of literature that helped shape his own approach to writing—The Odyssey, Moby-Dick, and All Quiet on the Western Front—the book reveals the many layers of the American icon.
In addition to the rare signed first editions and albums featured above, our collection currently includes a first edition of the Bob Dylan Song Book , an original LP of Nashville Skyline inscribed by Dylan, and a signed limited edition of Dylan’s Face Value among others.
View the complete collection here.