by David Safier
Bob Dylan's four page manuscript for "Like a Rolling Stone" just sold for $2.045 million at auction.
Rolling stone. A rock that rolls. Rock and roll. As a word guy (and a Dylan guy), I gotta love it.
The farthest back I can go with the phrase is the Muddy Waters song "Rollin' Stone," recorded in 1950, which is his version of an earlier song, "Catfish Blues," which goes back to the 20s. Jumping forward 12 years, in 1962 (if you're going to believe Keith Richards in his autobiography, "Life"), the very scruffy, very dirty, very poor group of aspiring blues musicians Keith, Mick and Brian, got a gig and were asked, "What do you call yourselves?"
We stared at one another. "It?" Then "Thing?" This call is costing. Muddy Waters to the rescue! The cover is on the floor. Desperate, Brian, Mick and I take the dive. "The Rolling Stones." Phew!! That saved sixpence.
Fact or legend, the Stones' Chicago blues roots are unquestionable.
The name of the magazine Rolling Stone, first published in 1967, either came from the Muddy Waters song or the Rolling Stones, maybe both, depending who you believe. But a better name for a rock and roll magazine is hard to imagine. After all, according to another Muddy Waters song, "The Blues Had A Baby, And They Named It Rock and Roll."
Dylan's songs are such a crazy mix of musical references, literary references and the alphabet soup in his head, there's no way of knowing where the Rolling Stone reference came from. But as for the lyrics themselves, he claims he didn't originally write them as a song.
It was ten pages long. It wasn't called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn't hatred, it was telling someone something they didn't know, telling them they were lucky. Revenge, that's a better word. I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, "How does it feel?" in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion.
From ten pages to four pages, in pencil, complete with some unused phrases ("it feels real," "does it feel real," "get down and kneel," "raw deal" and "shut up and deal"), it went to an unidentified bidder for two million and change. Who knows. A now-rich rocker who was inspired by the song? Some businessman/woman my age plus-or-minus a few years? No matter, it's a genuine piece of history, more important and worth a hell of a lot more than Frank Sinatra's first New Jersey driver's license (1934), which just fetched a mere $15,757 at auction.