Bob Dylan, $300 Million and the Fine Art of Slapping a Price Tag on a Song

I was disappointed last week when my hopes of buying Bob Dylan’s song catalog were dashed.

I was prepared to offer $750, which for around 600 songs works out to $1.25 apiece. While I admit some are worth more, remember the package also includes “Wiggle Wiggle.”

I just thought it would be cool to own Bob Dylan’s songs, like Michael Jackson once thought it would be cool to own the Beatles’ songs. Similar situation.

Then Universal Music bigfooted me. Universal offered about $300 million, according to the New York Times. So Dylan’s people chose Universal.

I thought about offering $300,000,750.00, but decided if it meant that much to them, I’d be a gracious loser. These days, someone has to be.

Also, I’m not completely shut out. I still own “Visions of Johanna” and “Don’t Think Twice” and “Brownsville Girl” on vinyl, CD and about 50 other formats.

So my lingering question is one that has crossed my mind before in other contexts.

What do you do with $300 million?

I’m serious. What do you do with that much money? Or, to make the question even more unanswerable, what could Bob Dylan do with $300 million?

I suppose he could spend it. He could buy his own island or 50 cases of 1945 Romanee-Conti, a red Burgundy from Cote de Nuits that in 2018 sold for $558,000 a bottle.

Okay, he’s more of a whiskey guy. But beyond that, I have no idea what he might spend money on. While he owns a nice house in California, I don’t see him appointing it with solid gold plumbing, or having all his meals flown in from a 3-star Michelin restaurant in France.

It also isn’t like Dylan is a street busker who won the lottery and suddenly got rich. From his records and 50-plus years of touring, let’s assume he’d already saved a few dollars. When the 1992 “Bobfest” in Madison Square Garden was being rolled out, it was asked if the proceeds were going to benefit something or somebody. The answer was, “Yes. Bob.”

That’s not a criticism. It was an extraordinary evening that provided value for all, a phrase that describes most of Dylan’s career.

But back to spending $300 million.

Dylan turns 80 next May and as he pointed out in “Mississippi,” “Your days are numbered / So are mine.”

Unless he plans to spend $300 million fast, he’s very likely going to have some left over.

Do you leave it to the kids, or family and friends? Do you found or leave it to a worthy cause? Do you fund something that perpetuates your legacy? Dylan’s archives have already been placed at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla. Does he send some cash there?

Familiar as those options sound, I’ve always wondered if there’s one more element in play. Does some part of the pleasure of being rich lie in simply knowing you are?

For someone like Dylan, a kid from post-World War II Middle America, is $300 million another piece of tangible confirmation that your work was revered and resonant at an extraordinary level?

Unlike Paul McCartney, Dylan apparently feels no urge to keep his songs under his wing. For whatever reason, at this point, he’d rather have the cash.

Cool. His call.

Now some fans might be concerned that Universal, to recoup some of that $300 million, could start licensing Dylan songs for all sorts of projects or commercials. That would be more of a concern if Dylan hadn’t been doing it already.

In a perfect world, I’d argue that we wouldn’t hear Dylan songs hawking IBM or Victoria’s Secret. In this world, we have. We live with it. “I Want You” selling Chobani yogurt doesn’t make Blonde On Blonde any less breathtaking.

In any case, we will probably never know how or if Bob Dylan will spend $300 million. It’s his business, which may relegate us to contemplating the corollary question of exactly how one puts a price on art.

How do you quantify the value of the Sistine chapel ceiling or the Temptations singing “My Girl”?

You don’t. My guess is that Universal paid $300 million for Dylan’s songs because Universal will make more than $300 million by owning them. Beyond that I only know this about their value: You can’t get them anywhere else.

I am, however, sticking with a buck and a quarter for “Wiggle Wiggle.”

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”