Following the auction in 2022 of a new version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that sold to a bidder for $1.8 million, three more re-recordings Bob Dylan has made of his classic songs with producer T Bone Burnett are also now being put up for sale via Christie’s: “A Simple Twist of Fate,” “Masters of War” and “Gotta Serve Somebody.” But this time, the purchase of the unique discs containing the songs will happen via a private sale, rather than a public auction.
As with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the three songs being offered to prospective buyers of means as one-of-a-kind Ionic discs come from a recording session Dylan did in 2021 with Burnett. That leaves two other songs Dylan cut at the time that are still being withheld for a future sale: “Not Dark Yet” and “The Time They Are A-Changin’.”
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The proprietary format Burnett has developed to manufacture the discs is in an analog format but, unlike vinyl records, said to be almost unsusceptible to normal wear-and-tear. Christie’s says these three discs will be custom-manufactured and signed for the buyers — or buyer, if one party were to buy all three — and placed in a display case that is different from the custom box that the “Blowin’ in the Wind” recording was sold with last year.
“We’ve stayed in constant touch with T Bone over the past year after our exciting result last July,” Elizabeth Seigel, the head of private and iconic collections for Christies, tells Variety. “There was much interest and speculation last year in what’s going to happen with the other recordings. We’ve been brainstorming together what a next step could be in trying to reach maybe some of the same people we had interest from in the auction last year, but also the potential to reach new buyers who may be interested. So I broached the idea to them of a private sale going out on our Christie’s, and they were very interested by the idea. The auction process can be daunting for those who haven’t partaken in it before, so this is just another channel that we employ to interact with our clients.”
Burnett puts it this way: “I realized when we had an auction that we had no idea who was going to buy it. It could have been somebody just to hoard it or something. … Christie’s actually came to us and said, ‘What if we do a private sale of these [next ones]?’ So that’s what we’re doing with these three pieces now.”
The Christie’s page that provides information to prospective buyers about the three discs and how to begin negotiations for them is here.
The identity of the party that won the auction for “Blowin’ in the Wind” last year for $1.8 million has never been revealed, nor has what use, if any, that person or group intends for the recording beyond private ownership. Whoever purchases these three discs now being put up, it will be up to them, as well, whether to identify themselves and whether to make the music available to the greater public in some form. Burnett hopes the recordings will be heard by everyone who wants to hear them at some point, but that will be up to the owner.
“Somebody could buy all three. And that might not be the worst eventuality either, if it was the right person,” Burnett says. “Because there’s a Michelangelo painting that sold recently for $450 million, but you can look at it in Wikipedia, so even fine art gets mass-distributed in some form sooner or later.” But the buyer just putting the songs on streaming services might be the antithesis of the point they are making with these sales — that this is fine-art-quality work being non-mass-produced in what he calls the greatest audiophile form possible. “I could imagine an exhibition set up a room where people could go in and listen to these things. That would be interesting,” the producer says. “I would love for people to be able to hear these discs the way they actually sound, rather than a copy of a copy of a copy of them or something like that.”
Besides the discs being put up for private sale rather than auction, one other difference this time is how they will be handed over to the buyer for future display and/or storage purposes. “What’s the best way to secure these discs long term? I think we’ve invented a really great package for them that we can secure the other discs in when it’s time,” Burnett says, without elaborating on exactly what form that might take.
Says Seigel, “This is actually just such a unique opportunity in that if someone agrees to buy them, a recording will be custom-cut for them. It’s really a bespoke process that we will undertake. With the first recording last year, we had it all (beforehand) — they cut it on the new Ionic technology, they had a beautiful custom box made, and there were listening events in L.A. and here in New York and in London, in advance of the sale. But this time we’re doing it a little differently, and if someone wants to purchase one, we will work in the process with them,. And you know when T Bone and Bob Dylan are signing that disc, it will be directly for the client who’s purchasing it. So it’s a really once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Dylan has performed the gospel-era “Gotta Serve Somebody” with different sets of lyrics over the years, and Burnett confirms that the new recording includes the rewritten lyrics most recently heard in road versions of the 1979 tune, or “a variation of the new lyrics.” And with all six songs that were cut, “it’s the same band, the same type of orchestration (as on the previously sold “Blowin’ in the Wind”)— a small, very focused band with Bob very much in the middle of it.” (The musicians listed as playing on “Blowin’ in the Wind” were Greg Leisz on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on violin, Dennis Crouch on bass, Don Was also on bass and Burnett on electric guitar.) “Certainly,” he says, “if it were an album, they would all sit on the album beautifully together.”
The producer has already been playing these three songs for friends in the music community in cities around the country, prior to Christie’s talking with interested buyers. Part of it is for them to enjoy Dylan’s work and part of it is to enlist interest in the possibility for future Ionic recordings that might be available as limited editions and not just auction-level one-of-ones.
“I love playing it for knowledgeable people who understand what we’re doing, and I played it for a couple of heavy, heavy producers about a month ago. They came in the studio and we played ’em a disc that we had played a thousand times — 1,010 times in fact. And it was dead quiet; it was quiet as a CD” — albeit of much higher fidelity than a compact disc, in Burnett’s explanation. “Blew their minds. And it blew my mind. This is an actual advance. I know the record business has been guilty of so much hyperbole over the ages, but this isn’t the record business. This is the art business and this is artists working at the highest level. All of the artists are happy for it — the idea that we have a chance to actually control our own work rather than just have technologists with no ears, no aesthetics, no ethics just rip it out of our hands and put it into any form they want to, for any purpose they want to.”
There’s still no legitimate way for Dylan fans to hear the recording of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was auctioned last year, is there?
“No, there’s not. But I hope one day there will be,” Burnett says. “There’s always a possibility of the owner of the disc going to Columbia and saying, ‘I’d like to distribute this.’ I don’t know if that’ll ever happen with that disc or not, but that’s a distinct possibility. If one of the buyers was altruistic, that kind of thing could happen. In fact, I think it will happen to all of these things eventually.”
If they remain commercially unavailable, that will frustrate a portion of the Dylan fandom that did not consider last year’s Christie’s auction good news, objecting to a Dylan record becoming a museum piece and bemoaning the lack of egalitarianism in that. But for Burnett, it was the ultimate statement about the value of art in the face of a populace he thinks had come to believe all art should be free.
“I believe in equal rights for all people. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to give my work away, or it doesn’t mean I can let somebody else tell me what to do with it,” Burnett says. “First of all, we’re in no hurry to sell these. We want them to go to people who are listeners and who understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And our aim is to revalue recorded music, and this is the way we’re going about that. And one of these days, before too long, both Bob and I will be gone from here — against our wills, you know? But what will one of these be worth then?
“So it’s a simplistic argument to say, ‘Music is egalitarian. Everybody should have it.’ I could say, ‘Well, really, then everybody should pick up a guitar and start playing,.’ It’s a knee-jerk argument as far as I’m concerned. But I understand some people feel that way. I don’t think less of them for feeling that way. And I hope that they’ll get to hear it. I hope that with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ in time, everybody hears it, just like everybody sees a painting. And for my money, the sooner they hear it, the better. But ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ we sold it; it is gone. So I don’t have any more say about what happens to that. They’ll have to talk to somebody else.
“But we don’t want people hoarding these things. That’s one of the reasons that I felt auctions were somewhat problematic — although I think there would be cases when auctions will be incredibly helpful. I know there are a couple of records we’re in the process of putting together that will be sold for charity, for instance.”
The parties involved emphasize that these discs really are one-of-ones, with no further physical dissemination planned, even though multiple copies are manufactured to land the perfect singular copy. At first, when they were doing the “Blowin’ in the Wind” disc, they would go through making dozens of them to land the ideal one that went up for auction. Now, they are at the point of cutting six copies of each, then selecting the one that has the best sound and testing it for durability. The remaining five discs are then either dropped into an industrial shredder or cut up for further analysis to tweak the formula for next time. “So with these three discs that are being sold,” says a member of the camp, “these one-of-ones, there are no other discs on a shelf or stuffed away somewhere.”
“It’s gotta be the slowest production line in the world,” Burnett laughs. “Or the most deliberate, at any rate.”
Burnett is not promising that Ionic discs will ever ramp up to mass production, but he does see them becoming more widely available, if still as collectors’ items for extreme fans or ultimate audiophiles.
“We always have wanted to take it further than just one-of-ones,” says the producer. “We’ve been working this year to get our costs of production down so that we can actually do limited editions that we can bring the price down enough so that we would be able to do an edition of a hundred or an edition of a thousand. And eventually, I’d like to get to the point where we could work with the record companies to do limited editions of their classic albums, like ‘Kind of Blue’ or ‘Blue’ or ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.’ And Columbia is already our partner on the Dylan recording. So, I haven’t begun talking to the record companies yet, but I figure that’ll happen within the next year.”
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