Typed letter from Bob Dylan, unsigned, one page both sides, 8 x 11, postmarked December 6, 1963, accompanied by the original mailing envelope that is addressed in Dylan's own hand. Letter written to close friend and blues musician Dave Glover during a particularly transformative period in Dylan’s life as a songwriter and lyricist. With sharp, poetical prose, Dylan writes of his own creative metamorphosis (spelling and grammar retained): “My guitar strings have escaped my eyesight…they remain with me now as a friend a flashin dashin friend who stands in front a me makin me look better…an its gettin so now that I'm growin not t need it…an soon I expect I will shout my words without it. for it's colors are wearin off on me an soon I myself will vanish into the sound hole…an all that will be going down will be stark naked undressed obscene flesh colored songs…yes maybe lunatic…ha you ask about harps I cant even understand how my own harp fits into me…it has the fuckin job of tryin t meet me hard hard…oh pity my own poor harp I am a writer of words I am honest I do not mean t harm nothin an nobody save that that runs against the boards of nature its a big nature…sometimes a circus nature an other times a courtroom nature but above all it is my nature an I own stock in it as much as anybody an I will defend my clown courthouse with the eyes of a lawyer.” The title of his forthcoming third album, The Times They Are a-Changin', can be readily linked to not only Dylan’s political aggravations but likewise to his own musical maturation.
In the next paragraph, Dylan alludes to his philanthropy by making mention of how he “last month gave too much money t scc or as you'd say sncc…or as winny churchhill snick.” Dylan’s background with the SNCC, or Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is well documented; five months earlier he famously traveled to Greenwood, Miss., with singer-activist Pete Seeger to support the SNCC’s voter-registration drive.
With language reminiscent of his 1965 song ‘Ballad of a Thin Man,’ Dylan seems to question his own fame, perhaps his new public persona, by asking Glover, a friend before the success: “where's it at? I dont know I dont even know what the fuck the 'it' is let alone where this so called 'it' is at Its me man an its at me no farther…an the funny thing about it is that I'm the 'it' too…nonsense shout the gods of the buffalo what buffalo? what; what the snaky shit does the buffalo got t do with me? I dont know none dont wanna either.” In fine condition, with a few light stains.
On December 13, 1963, seven days after writing this letter, Dylan accepted the Tom Paine Award from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. The event occurred less than a month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and Dylan, who had begun to feel both manipulated and constrained by the folk and protest movements, arrived intoxicated to the proceedings where he began to question the role of the committee, characterize the members as old and out of touch, praised an unauthorized trip to communist Cuba, and claimed to partially identify with assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. The energy of Dylan’s speech seems to have been bottled up and preserved in this passionate letter, which reads beautifully, erratically with the voice of an artist making sense of a changing identity.
From the Tony Glover Collection.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.