What do T. S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Pearl Buck, Elias Canetti, Gunter Grass, John Steinbeck, Harold Pinter, Ernest Hemingway and Bob Dylan have in common? They have all been honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, the world’s most prestigious and coveted award. The 2016 winner, Bob Dylan, was described by the Swedish Academy, as having “a tremendous impact on popular music, signified by new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The Academy, typically awards the prize based on an author’s artistic contributions on the whole, rather than on the merits of a single item of an author’s works.
Bob Dylan’s career achievements include eleven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and this, the Nobel Prize in literature. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In May 2012, Dylan also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Bob Dylan’s literature artistry is for the most part expressed through the lyrics of his songs. As such, the collector of his works may choose from the myriad of works and memorabilia that includes albums, guitars, photographs, music sheets, film footage, personal items, song lyrics etc.. For the rare book collector, however, the selection is limited by the small number of books written or signed by the artist. There is actually only one book that was written by Dylan, the rest are collections of his lyrics.
In 1966, Dylan was within two weeks of making the final changes to the printer’s galleys of his first book, Tarantula, when a motorcycle accident caused him to postpone the project. Before the book was officially published in 1971 by Macmillan, a mimeographed pirated edition was issued by Wimp Press from a copy of the uncorrected proof that had been circulated. The majority of the 54-page, stapled pirated issues that are available for sale were printed in 1970 since it includes cover notes claiming that profits from the publication are to further Woodstock Nation.
A more attractive bootleg edition of Tarantula was published in 1968 by A. J. Weberman, an American writer, political activist/gadfly, and Dylanology specialist. In the introductory notes inside front cover he writes: “The copy we received to work from was xeroxed and, according to the grapevine, was taken from the printer’s galleys. We have tried to keep as close to that as possible. This edition has the same number of pages. Each line has the same words in it. The graphics were of our own choosing. Proceeds from the sale of this underground edition are going to legal defense funds around the country”. The book features a psychedelic illustration – “The Meth Freaks fight the Feds to the finish” signed S. Clay Wilson – underground cartoonist known for aggressively violent and sexually explicit panoramas of “lowlife.”
When Tarantula was finally published, in 1971, the young protest movement and Dylan’s influence to the folk music scene was eclipsed by the polarizing effects of the Vietnam War and the political upheavals of the late Sixties. The largely enigmatic poetry written by the 23-year old boy at the height of his influence, had a very different impact than if it had been released as originally scheduled in 1966.
The uncorrected proof copies of the suppressed first edition, in spiral-bound original salmon-colored wrappers, eleven inches in height, seventy-eight pages in length, are very scarce. Macmillan’s public relations describe the edition’s size as “a few copies.” Perhaps only 3-5 copies were produced! A copy that belonged to Quentin Fiore, noted graphic artist and book designer, recently sold by Ken Lopez for $8,500. Another dealer is offering a similar copy asking $10,000. No copies are known to have ever been offered at auction.