My record collection contains a couple of signed works. John Lee Hooker’s 1992 album Boom Boom, for example. And this is something very special, because Delta blues man Hooker, born in rural Mississippi in 1917, could neither read nor write.
His signature consists of capital letters, with the “N” in “JOHN” drawn incorrectly on the album cover, the middle stroke running from lower left to upper right. For me, this signed album cover represents a high point in my otherwise not-so-special writing career. When I pick up the cover, I know: John Lee Hooker once had this exact piece of record cover cardboard in his hands. It connects me, in a way that transcends the space-time continuum, to an artist I adore. On the cover, a few molecules of Hooker and Wesselhöft dance hand in hand. Fortunately, I can be sure that the signature is genuine. I myself had bought the silver marker in advance, to contrast with the dark cover. And I sat next to it when the man wrote his name. On Hooker’s sofa, his cat Fluffy on his lap. It was 1992, Boom Boom had just been released, and Hooker, already unsteady on his feet, welcomed the ambitious young journalist into his home south of San Francisco.
Ah, joys of nostalgia. Let this dusty story serve as a foundation for another, more recent one: namely, an apology that recently caused a stir in the music world. With the words “To my fans and followers” Bob Dylan addressed his admirers, and that is also something very special. After all, His Bobness doesn’t even call back when Oslo is on the answering machine to present him with the Nobel Prize for Literature. And now this. “With my deepest regrets”, Bob Dylan apologized for the sale of 900 signed copies of his new book The Philosophy of Modern Song. Because for 599 dollars his fans did not get a signed book, but only a copy signed by a signing machine. It was the “written replica” of Bob Dylan’s original signature, the publisher Simon & Schuster tried to wiggle out. But true Dylan followers recognize a forgery. And the actual lettering is not the point, as every fan knows. It doesn’t make any cover, whether of a book or an LP, more attractive graphically. It’s about that certain something. Bob Dylan must have held the book in his hand, even if only for seconds. That may be incomprehensible to people who never idolized an artist. But for the rest of us who adore Dylan, Hooker & Co. it’s a priceless connection in the great cosmos of molecules and feelings.
At any rate, the signing hoo-ha yielded something priceless, something that had never existed in the often errant public life of the 80-year-old Bob Dylan: an apology.
PS: Useless knowledge, part 28: In Tulsa in the US state of Oklahoma, a new museum opened a few weeks ago, the Bob Dylan Center. Billionaire and sponsor Georg Kaiser had previously bought up Dylan’s personal archive with 100,000 mementos. These include the Turkish drum that inspired Dylan to write the song “Mr. Tambourine Man,” as well as the “Blood Notebooks,” three notebooks long considered lost, with Dylan’s song sketches for the album Blood On The Tracks, released in 1975. Why did the introverted Dylan agree to this spectacle? One guess: The Woody Guthrie Center resides right next door. And of the folk singer who died in 1967, the biggest fan to this day is Bob Dylan.