July 3, 2014

The Value of the Written Word

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Bob Dylan’s manuscript for his 1965 song ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was reported on June 24th to have sold at Sotheby’s for $2,045,000.  Dylan, an icon in the world of Rock and Roll, was only 24 years old when he penned one of the most popular songs of all time. The song about a high society debutante was from his Highway 61 Revisited album has endured 50 years.

Dylan had written the song in pencil and on 4 sheets of stationery from the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington DC. The $2,045,000 set a world record for the price paid for a popular music manuscript beating out John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for ‘A Day in the Life’ which brought $1,200,000 in 2010. It is amazing what these manuscripts brought at auction but there is a legitimate reason why.

These manuscripts were written by icons of the music industry. They were written at a historical time when the world was rapidly changing and reflected some of the thoughts of that day. They had the personal touch of the writer in several ways. It was their hand writing, it was their doodling on the pages and it was their editing.

In the case of Dylan, his thoughts concerning the use of different words when rhyming the lyrics was written in the margins and used or scratched out. His doodling was of various things like animals, people and just doodles. His lyrics from beginning to end are shown as written with his thought process and apparently his method of writing. It was a document that revealed a lot of the writers inter most thoughts on writing. But there may be another answer to this extreme amount of money paid for these documents.

Let's say Dylan were to write today as most of us write. He may be on a laptop or some other devise as most of us are. There would be no stationery, no doodles, no thought process revealed. There would be only neat, clean pages spellchecked and edited with easy to read Times New Roman font at a size we feel most comfortable with. As a matter of fact with this manner of writing, the actual process could have been over with long ago and it is being transferred by anyone anywhere. Any changes made when rhyming words would not be hand written in the margins. They were denied us by the use of either the backspace or delete button.

We would end up with song lyrics which we can find on Google. Go to 'Like a Rolling Stone' lyrics, it's all there but without the revelation of the written word. Dylan also said, 'These Times They Are A-Changin'. One of the changes, we have gotten away from the written word, meaning handwriting. We digitally connect and write so there is not that personal touch or revealing process we see. There is great value in seeing the process and method and there is little insight to either without that personal touch. We try to make up for it with another digitally produced document which explains the process and method but that is not the same.

So what do we do? I suggest that from time to time, according to the piece we are writing, the importance of it and our personal preference we complete a handwritten manuscript. Leave all the doodles, rewrites and the like. Expose the process and method for all to see. We may learn something about ourselves. We may also want to share that with others. The value of the written word could be valued by more than the dollar.  


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