We, the public, know barebones about the life of Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan.
Since he has been an enigma to all but his innermost circle, we know only that a Jewish kid from Minnesota turned up in New York City as a Woody Guthrie wannabe, became a folk legend, a Christian, an ever-touring mystery man-rock star. Along the way, there was some iron-sculpting, a Nobel Prize in literature, and the cultivation of a persona.
Now another side of Bob Dylan has landed in Boston.
Dylan’s close friend, the late bluesman and music writer Tony Glover, kept a secret trove of memorabilia including personal correspondence, interview tapes, handwritten lyrics, and photographs. There’s even an original bootleg of “The Basement Tapes.” The historic haul is up for auction now through Nov. 19 via www.rrauction.com.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of Boston’s RR Auction. “We work with astronauts. We sell things that went to the moon. But when you stumble onto something that’s unknown, undiscovered, and extremely historically significant — it’s thrilling.”
Dylan’s letters to Glover are fascinating in that they show poetry, yes, but also the star’s humor, worries, and unedited thoughts. Near the end of one early ’60s letter, Dylan tells Glover: “gotta go … noose is waiting joan baez is hot an bothered. type writer turns her on.”
In a letter from ’64, “from what I can tell by talking to historians — he writes about his first time meeting the Beatles,” Livingston said. “He says: ‘john lennon groovy also ringo.’ Six weeks after the famous meeting in New York City where [Dylan] supposedly gave them marijuana. This is primary source material.“
And in interview tapes, we hear, as Livingston put it, “a joie de vivre,” that Dylan never showed the press. “He’s not talking to a journalist — he’s talking to his friend.”
Dylan loves nothing more than weaving fact and fiction. Take, for instance, his early 1960s press conferences. Or Martin Scorsese’s 2019 Netflix “story” on the “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour, where Bob blurred truth and lie like rubbing an oil pastel. So it’s especially dazzling to find a 37-page interview Glover and Dylan were creating for Esquire in 1971. It was never printed; Dylan lost interest. But it shows where Dylan crossed out his actual quotes, replacing them with what he wanted published instead.
For instance, on the question of keeping a secret marriage, Dylan strikes through his initial response: “I didn’t keep it a secret, I just didn’t find it — I just didn’t think anybody needed to know that.” Instead he scrawls the funnier, more in-character quip: “My wife knew.”
Or when asked about “the role that has been thrust on you” as a generational spokesman, Dylan provides an in-depth answer. Then he crosses it all out and goes with the mysterious: “It’s not real.”
“The interview [transcripts and tapes weren’t] known to exist,” Livingston said over the phone recently. “[Glover] never shared this with anyone. Being the treasure hunter that I am, it was woah, woah, woah, woah.”
RR Auction has handled a few Dylan letters in the past, Livingston added. It’s one reason he thinks that Glover’s widow, Cynthia Nadler, called him in February. “I said, ‘When you put down the phone, I’m going to the airport,’ ” Livingston remembered.
Livingston found a file cabinet laden with rock treasure. “I don’t think Tony ever told his wife it existed — that’s how secretive and protective he was.”
Glover knew Dylan from the late 1950s-early ′60s Minneapolis coffeehouse scene. Glover was “one of the original college kids to grasp onto the importance of Mississippi Delta blues, Chicago blues, and begin playing it on college campuses” as a link between the two worlds, Livingston noted. Glover was a figure Dylan clearly respected.
Besides being an influential Minnesota blues musician, Glover also worked as a music writer and critic, notably for Rolling Stone. In addition to Dylan artifacts, Glover’s archives include signed letters from Jim Morrison and Donovan, an original photograph from the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, a handwritten letter from Pete Seeger, a signed letter from Joan Baez.
“He never made any money,” Livingston said of Glover, who died last year at age 79. “He was a struggling, shuffling journalist/musician.”
But he was also “a renaissance man,” Livingston added. “The collection is a time capsule. Tony Glover crossed paths with most major musical figures of the 20th century.”