In 2022, Bob Dylan released the book The Philosophy of Modern Song, a collection of his commentary on songs by other musicians. As this is his first book of new writing since 2004’s Chronicles: Volume One, the release was met with much anticipation. Some fans even spent $600 on an autographed version of the book. After realizing all of the autographed copies had an identical signature, though, fans began to question the authenticity. Dylan issued a rare public statement to apologize for using autopen to sign the books.
Bob Dylan published the book ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song’ in 2022
In his first book since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, Dylan aimed to give “his extraordinary insight into the nature of popular music” (via Simon & Schuster). In the book, he covered songs by artists such as Little Richard, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Cher, and the Grateful Dead.
“He analyzes what he calls the trap of easy rhymes, breaks down how the addition of a single syllable can diminish a song, and even explains how bluegrass relates to heavy metal,” his publisher explained. “These essays are written in Dylan’s unique prose. They are mysterious and mercurial, poignant and profound, and often laugh-out-loud funny. And while they are ostensibly about music, they are really meditations and reflections on the human condition. Running throughout the book are nearly 150 carefully curated photos as well as a series of dream-like riffs that, taken together, resemble an epic poem and add to the work’s transcendence.”
Bob Dylan apologized for using autopen to sign the books
For some fans, the book became more valuable when it came hand-signed by Dylan himself. These copies, which sold for $600, included a confirmation of the signature’s authenticity from Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp.
Soon, though, fans who had shelled out for the signed copies began to doubt their authenticity. When comparing the signed copies on social media, they noticed that the signatures looked identical across hundreds of books. As it turned out, Dylan used autopen, which automatically replicates a person’s signature. He offered a rare public apology.
I’ve been made aware that there’s some controversy about signatures on some of my recent artwork prints and on a limited-edition of Philosophy Of Modern Song. I’ve hand-signed each and every art print over the years, and there’s never been a problem. However, in 2019 I had a bad case of vertigo and it continued into the pandemic years. It takes a crew of five working in close quarters with me to help enable these signing sessions, and we could not find a safe and workable way to complete what I needed to do while the virus was raging. So, during the pandemic, it was impossible to sign anything and the vertigo didn’t help. With contractual deadlines looming, the idea of using an auto-pen was suggested to me, along with the assurance that this kind of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the art and literary worlds.
He admitted that it was a mistake and that he was working with the publisher to fix it.
“Using a machine was an error in judgment and I want to rectify it immediately,” he wrote. “I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that.”
Simon & Schuster also issued an apology and offered full refunds to anyone who purchased a signed book.
Other artists responded to jabs at them in the book
The book made waves in other ways. Some artists, including The Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz, felt a bit disrespected by Dylan’s commentary. Frantz prickled at Dylan’s assertion that “Elvis Costello and the Attractions were a better band than any of their contemporaries. Light years better.”
“When I read that, I just thought, ‘Jesus, Bob,’” Frantz told Rolling Stone. “’I understand you dig Elvis Costello, but did you have to put it that way?’”
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Other musicians, though, were happy that Dylan mentioned them, even if it wasn’t wholly flattering. When he wrote that the Hank Williams song “Your Cheatin’ Heart” wouldn’t have worked with someone like guitarist Joe Satriani, Satriani was just happy Dylan knew his name.
“Bob Dylan knows my name?” Satriani said, still adding in his defense, “I think the great Hank Williams and I could have sorted things out and made some great music together.”