Friday, August 30, 2013

Greetings From Bob Dylan On Highway 51, $12,500

by Stephen J. Gertz

A one-page, 8 1/2 x 6 inch autograph manuscript in black Flair pen by Bob Dylan from 1973 has come to market. Any Dylan material that finds its way into commerce is precious and highly desirable, and this piece, possessing a typically enigmatic, absurdist and surreal inscription and drawing, is no exception. Offered by Rulon-Miller Books, the asking price is $12,500.

The inscription to an unknown party reads: Proud of You. You never sniffed drainpipes but you have a good grasp of the Alphabet - Highway 51 is not your road. Bob Dylan 1973. To the left of his signature Dylan has drawn the rear end of an automobile with gross tailpipe trumpeting exhaust.

Those familiar with Highway 61 Revisited, the song from Dylan's sixth album of the same name released in August 1965, may be unfamiliar with Highway 51, Highway 61's sister road. Highway 51 appeared on Dylan's first album, Bob Dylan, released on March 19, 1962.

Highway 51 runs right by my baby's door
Highway 51 runs right by my baby's door
But won't get the girl I'm loving
Won't go down Highway 51 no more

Well, I know that highway like I know my hand
Yes, I know that highway like I know the back of my hand
Running from up Wisconsin way down to no man's land

Well, if I should die 'fore my time should come
And if I should die 'fore my time should come
Won't you bury my body out on Highway 51?

Highway 51 runs right by my baby's door
I said, "Highway 51 runs right by my baby's door"
But won't get the girl I'm loving
Won't go down Highway 51 no more
Copyright 1962 © Bob Dylan

Highway 51 is strange. Highway 61 is stranger, a malignant ribbon of asphalt that runs through purgatory straight to hell:

Now the rowin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61.
Copyright 1965 © Bob Dylan

Highway 51 is, in contrast, a benign boulevard. Though it's required that you have experience sniffing drainpipes before you hit the on-ramp, it is not necessary that you suck exhaust from a tailpipe as if it were hashish, a standard activity on Highway 61 and key survival skill on the way to Hades. Highway 51 is merely where love escapes to who knows where and leaves hearts behind as roadkill. Knowing the alphabet is a disadvantage; love spells trouble.

The difference between the two roads is the difference between the blues and psychosis. You are advised to avoid both. On the road with Bob Dylan makes On the Road with Jack Kerouac seem, in contrast, like placid motor down a country lane with flower petals strewn in advance of your car.

Image courtesy of Rulon-Miller Books, with our thanks.


  1. but you didn't mention Desolation Row

  2. Ah, yes. But DR is more a neighborhood than highway, isn't it?

  3. I always thought it was "cloven gambler" meaning Satan. I looked at and the word is "rovin." All these years I thought Bob was singing about the Devil


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