Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Times They Are a-changing hands

There’s a visual religiosity to the original handwritten lyrics of “The Times They Are a-Changin,” by Bob Dylan. At first glimpse, when seen against a stark white background, the two pages of slanted scrawl on unlined paper look like something from the era of the Dead Sea scrolls. When seen together, and given what they’ve come to represent, you can almost see tablets brought down from the mount — or out of the wilderness of Bob Dylan’s feverishly creative mind in 1963.

If you’re looking for a spiritual starting point to The Sixties, this may be it: the words to the song that set the terms of engagement, the song that spelled out the stakes and exploded the collective unconscious into an angry, clarion consciousness. It’s the philosophical operating manual for the years that were about to unfold.

No wonder, then, that when the lyric sheets went up for auction at Sotheby’s on Friday, they moved, and moved fast, for well above the reserve price. Originally thought likely to fetch between $200,000 and $300,000, the “Times” lyrics went for $422,500, a handsome premium for the previous owners.

Selby Kiffer, a Sotheby’s senior vice president, told The New York Times that Dylan gave the lyrics to Kevin Krown, a folk singer whose Dylan befriended shortly after arriving in New York. When Krown died in 1992, the lyrics were passed to Mac and Eve MacKenzie, who hosted Dylan in his early days in the city.

It’s maybe a little ironic that the new owner of the lyrics — Adam Sender, an American hedge-fund manager and art collector — could be considered one of Dylan’s “Masters of War,” given the source of today’s prevailing economic hardships.

But maybe the change of ownership is a perfect example of the heads-is-tails philosophy of life Dylan espoused in the song: the unexpected is always right around the corner. In that fact, the more times change, the more they stay the same.

Image credit: Lyric sheet: AFP/Getty Images. Dylan 1962-1964?: Columbia Records.

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