05:09:47 am on
Friday 05 Mar 2021

Bob Dylan Sells Out
David Simmonds

Bob Dylan has sold ownership rights, to Universal Music, of his entire catalog, which includes some six hundred songs; the price tag is reported as $300 million, although some say it is closer to $400 million.  Whichever the amount, Dylan will not have to resort to eating Kraft Dinner to make ends meet. Nor will his great-grand children.

Six hundred songs.

Dylan has a remarkable inventory.  Most songwriters are lucky if they are remembered for one song. The exceptional ones, such as Willie Nelson and Paul McCartney, hit a ceiling of maybe couple of dozen. 

Someone recently claimed that Irving Berlin wrote a thousand memorable songs. I don’t believe it, although Steve Allen ostensibly wrote four thousand songs. Although Dylan would probably admit there may be a few less-than-stellar songs in his collection, the list of his memorable songs is a long one.

A few years ago, Rolling Stone magazine published a list of the one hundred best Dylan songs. My personal favourite, “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” didn’t even make the list. In polls of the best songs of all time, “Like a Rolling Stones” usually falls among the top five.

Three hundred million dollars.  Was this a good deal for Universal?  It seems, it is, a hefty sum. By way of comparison Stevie Nicks, of Fleetwood Mac fame, sold her songs a few years ago for a reported $100 million.

With all due respect to Stephanie, the Dylan intellectual property seems a bargain, for Universal Music, at three times the amount she was paid.  Bob Dylan has a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize on his resume. Thus, there is a certain cachet to being the custodian of his work. It will also be highly profitable, probably into the next century.

When you look at the sale from the standpoint of return on investment, Dylan was already earning royalties of some $15 million a year from others performing his work. Universal has bought itself an all but guaranteed five per cent return. That return could be pushed higher if Universal created more marketing opportunities for the songs. 

Who wouldn’t want to have their anti-aging cream hawked to the strains of “Forever Young”? What self deprecating VIA rail marketing executive would not be delighted to market its Toronto to Montreal service to the sound of “Slow Train Coming”? Remember, there are six hundred songs to choose from; the marketing possibilities are vast. 

Let’s not lose any sleep worrying for Bob Dylan.  Most song writers, I included, would be happy to take, in exchange for their entire inventories, one three-hundredth of what Dylan received for his. It’s likely, though, that the purchase price is spread out over several years.

What to do with found money?

What is Dylan going to do with all his new-found money?  At 79, he is going to have a hard time spending it all. He does have a pile of children and grand children to house and feed.

Maybe he doesn’t have a plan for it. Maybe he saw the sale as a banal piece of estate planning. It’s a sort of safe housekeeping measure to spigot all his music into one place and spare his heirs from the messy job of dealing with his intellectual property.  

That doesn’t sound like the Dylan I know. The young iconoclast who shook up the folk music world in the early 1960s making a wise estate-planning decision. Methinks he has something bigger up his sleeve; some application of those heaps of millions that will have an effect.

Here is where matters start to get interesting.  We have heard rumours that Bob Dylan is to open a theme park. Walt Disney had Disneyland. Dolly Parton had her Dollywood.  So why shouldn't Dylan build his “Bobbywood”? 

Just as the life-size Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters found at Disneyland, characters from his songs could wander the park and have their pictures taken with visitors.  There are plenty of Dylanesque characters to choose. For example, the Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, the Girl from the North Country, Absolutely Sweet Marie, Queen Jane Approximately and Rainy. Day Women #12 and 35. 

There could be thrill rides, such as the All Along the Watchtower Plunge and the It’s All Right Ma I’m Only Bleeding Roller Coaster. A beer garden, with waitstaff in lederhosen, could serve massive overflowing flagons of suds while everyone joined singing such party favourites as “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Oxford Town.

A concert stage could host re-creation of memorable events such as the night he went electric, in Newport, and got Pete Seeger hopping mad. Souvenirs, such as Leopard Skin Pill Box hats and Blowing in the Wind bubbles could be sold to adults and children alike.

Where will Bobbywood be located?  Hibbing, Minnesota is where Dylan hails from.  He has never shown an interest in going back there. Perhaps the park could locate in Greenwich Village, but there’s not enough space and what space is available is oh-so expensive.

Woodstock, New York is another possibility? Its fame already lies with its eponymous 1969 festival. Perhaps residents remember the hell that was Woodstock 1969 and will rebel against that location for BobbyWood.

Perhaps Dylan will own conduct himself like Amazon and invite cash incentive bids from around the world.  If so, Wellington County, Ontario, should seriously consider putting in a bid. Dylan could hunker down in Wellington on the Lake and emerge briefly to give one of the Lions Club Tuesday night concerts with free hot dogs and pop.

Dylan will go his own way, as usual.

This would certainly give the post-Covid world in the County a shot in the arm. It’s just a thought.  Most likely he’ll go his way and we’ll go ours.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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