It feels like a law of journalism that this story must begin with a bad pun riffing on the title of a Bob Dylan song. His fans thought twice, and it wasn’t all right? He could use some shelter from the storm? Maybe if he’d only had one more cup of coffee before … oh, maybe we should just break this law.
The legendary — and legendarily inscrutable — musician and Pulitzer Prize winner released a rare public statement Friday following a controversy concerning supposedly autographed copies of his new book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song.”
Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Dylan’s book of essays about more than 60 pop songs, offered fans the opportunity to purchase a hand-signed special edition for $600. Included with each copy was a letter from Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s CEO, which confirmed the signature’s authenticity.
Only, it turned out they weren’t authentic at all. Suspicious fans began comparing their signed copies on social media, only to notice that all the signatures looked exactly the same — quite a feat if Dylan himself had actually signed all reported 900 or so copies.
That’s because he hadn’t. In what feels like the least Dylan-esque move imaginable, he released a long message on Facebook explaining that he suffered from vertigo throughout the pandemic, which — coupled with coronavirus precautions — made signing so many books a difficult, if not impossible, task. So he used an autopen, a contraption that automatically replicates a person’s signature, to sign all those books.
“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,” his post read. “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.
“Using a machine was an error in judgment and I want to rectify it immediately. I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that,” he concluded.
Simon & Schuster addressed the incident last week, posting an apology to Instagram and offering to provide full refunds to anyone who purchased the special edition.
“To those who purchased The Philosophy of Modern Song limited edition, we want to apologize,” the note read. “As it turns out, the limited edition books do contain Bob’s original signature, but in a penned replica form. We are addressing this immediately by providing each purchaser with an immediate refund.”
Dylan, of course, is no stranger to controversy. Sometimes, it has seemed as if he has actively courted it, such as with his infamous electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, his appearance in a 2004 Victoria’s Secret ad, and the allegations that he borrowed parts of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech from SparkNotes (which he gave via recording after skipping the official ceremony).
But rarely has he explained himself or addressed so-called controversies so directly. Confounding everyone has always been something of his forte, and, for many fans, that’s one of his many enduring appeals.
A previous version of this article gave the incorrect title of Bob Dylan's new book. It is "The Philosophy of Modern Song," not "The Philosophy of Modern Sound." This version has been corrected.