A newly recorded, one-of-a-kind record of Bob Dylan singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” sold at an auction at Christie’s in London Thursday for over its estimated value — going for 1,482,000 pounds, or $1,769,508 million in US dollars.
The live bidding topped out at 1.2 million pounds, but an official release sent out by Christie’s cites the higher price, including commissions. The price was well over the estimate the auction house had posted for the recordiong, which was in the range of 600,000 to 1 million pounds (or, in US dollars, $716,000-$1,194,000).
Although two people could be seen on the live feed volleying back and forth as the auction top bidders, consulting with buyers on the phone, the winner’s winner was not immediately revealed.
The “Blowin’ in the Wind” record was the only remotely freshly minted item in Christie’s “Classic Week” sale. The other items being auctioned prior to Dylan’s new record being the climax of the sale were more along the lines of an Egyptian limestone statue from circa 2400 BC, which went for 5 million pounds, and a Stradivari violin that had a starting bid of 6 million pounds.
The new version of Dylan’s 1962 folk classic was produced by T Bone Burnett with a small band of musicians, with Dylan recorded in Los Angeles and the rest of the group in Nashville. It was recorded directly to a newly invented kind of acetate recording, which Burnett, who had worked to develop the analog technology for years, calls an Ionic Original. Although it is a new format, with reportedly higher fidelity and a coating that is said to make it almost impervious to normal wear-and-tear, the 10-inch disc can be played on a normal record player.
The people who have heard the recording thus far have been limited mostly to potential bidders at listening sessions at Christie’s in London, New York and Los Angeles, and at a few select playbacks Burnett held for members of the media and others.
In a release following the close of the auction, Peter Klarnet — Christie’s senior specialist in Americana, books and manuscripts — said in a statement, “We are so pleased with the excellent result this evening for the ‘Ionic Original’ disc of Bob Dylan’s first new studio recording of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind ‘ since 1962. To work with such an incredibly important and groundbreaking advance in analogue playback technology is a tremendous honor. We are excited that this is just the beginning for this amazing new opportunity for recording artists to work with T Bone and NeoFidelity to reset the value of music.”
Burnett spoke recently at length with Variety — in a story titled “Why Did T Bone Burnett Record a Song With Bob Dylan That Only One Person Can Own?” To Disrupt the Art Market” — about the making of the new recording and the intent behind putting it up for auction — and addressed the question of whether the average Dylan fan will ever get to hear it, or whether it really could have just one listener-owner.
Burnett pointed out something “I think it is important to know for people who are concerned about the exclusivity of what we are doing. An Ionic Original is not a ‘copy.’ It is an original recording. We are not contriving scarcity. This is actually scarce. It is a unique, handmade, original recording. We have all been conditioned to accept the terms of and react to things from the frame of mass production. This is not that.
“This really started because recorded music has been commoditized to zero over the last 20-30 years. Because we work in an age of mechanical reproduction, musicians have had to accept the definition of the value of their music from the government, from corporations, from technologists, from record companies, from streamers. Well, in this case, we have taken matters into our own hands, and we control the means of production and we control the copyright. We’ll be able to explore: What is the value of a song? What is the true value of Bob Dylan singing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ 60 years after he wrote it, in this environment? And we’re gonna find out.
“But the has always been to create a new one-of-one program. In fact, what I’m trying to do is enter a music space in the fine arts market. Because music is to the United States as wine is to France — it’s the most valuable and important part of our culture. And for the last 25-30 years, we’ve had parts of the audience telling us that we had to put our music out for free. This is a chance for us as artists to work at complete autonomy. It’s something both Bob and I have done to the degree we could for our whole lives, but this is a chance now to do it not just for Bob, but for many other artists who are gonna do this with us, who’ve already signed up. With any luck, this is the way I’ll spend the rest of my working life, doing these beautiful one-of-one pieces of high art.”
As to whether the rest of the world apart from the auction winner will get to hear it, Burnett indicated that he would be largely in the hands of the buyer, but that any public dissemination would likely happen if it ultimately gets put up for listening in a museum space, and that any digital reproduction would be unlikely, if not expressly prohibited.
Any commercial distribution would have to be the result of a three-way deal between Dylan’s record company, Sony Music, his publishing company, Universal Music Publishing Group, and whoever bought the record, which has not yet been revealed. But Burnett’s contention has been that the record was not really conceived for that public a dissemination, and he made it clear he would consider any kind of digital distribution to be anathema to their hi-fi analog intentions.
“This is a full rebellion against mass consumerism,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want people to hear it. I think this is the best record I’ve ever made in my life, so I want everybody to hear it. For my ego and my sense of ‘I would like everybody to like me,’ this is a sacrifice. I mean, you heard it. Bob sounds good. The band sounds good. The song’s great. And I have to say, I think it’s the best thing that I’ve ever been involved in. It’s the best singer, the best song, great musicians, the sound is a killer. I’ll say this: I’ve never done anything better, to be sure.”
To those Dylan fans who are worried they won’t get to hear the track, Burnett said, “They shouldn’t worry about that, because there are thousands of Dylan recordings they can hear for free. … I can tell you, though, when Cézanne was in Aix-en-Provence painting a landscape, he wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, man, I hope everybody gets to see this!’ or ‘How is everybody gonna get to see this?’ He was just thinking, ‘How do I get this down? How do I get this on this thing?”’ But, he added, in a belief that the buyer might be magnanimous about eventually making it publicly available, “Listen, that will work itself out in time.”
Burnett said he and Dylan recorded several other versions of his classic songs that may go up for auction as well, although he wanted to get through the “Blowin’ in the Wind” sale at Christie’s before determining any next steps.
In a statement released following the auction, Burnett said, “Marshall McLuhan said that a medium surrounds a previous medium and turns the previous medium into an art form, as film did with novels, as television did with film, as the internet has done with television, and as digital has done with analogue. With Bob Dylan’s new version of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ our first Ionic Original archival analogue disc, we have entered and aim to help develop a music space in the fine arts market. I trust and hope it will mean as much to whomever acquired it today at Christie’s Exceptional Sale as it does to all of us who made it, and that they will consider it and care for it as a painting or any other singular work of art. ”