Dylan's teenage poem revealed as first cover

'Early work' listed for sale found to be a revised version of another artist's song

It was a proud Christie's auction house that revealed this week that an upcoming sale of Bob Dylan memorabilia would include a poem written at summer camp when he was only 16 years old.

Here, they suggested, was a first fragment of Dylan lyrics written in his own hand. As it turns out, it is actually the first ever Dylan "cover".

As we know, musical artists don't plagiarise, ever: rather, they "cover" one another. And so it was, apparently, in 1957, when a young kid named Bob Zimmerman scribbled out a poignant little poem on two sides of a single sheet of paper in blue ink – and signed it – for submission to his Jewish summer camp newspaper in Wisconsin.

The paper, called the Herzl Herald, did not to think to its question the provenance of the poem. Nor did its editor and fellow camper, Lisa Heilicher. And when Zimmerman became Dylan and became famous, she placed the poem in clear plastic for safe-keeping. Called "Little Buddy" and describing the sadness of a little boy witnessing a drunkard murdering his pet dog, the verses seemed dolefully Dylan.

But when Ms Heilicher decided finally to give up the poem for sale to help raise funds for the same summer camp in Wisconsin – the cabins are in need of refurbishment – you might have thought that the folks at Christie's would have been more vigilant in determining its origin.

They were not, however, and on Tuesday they were waving it before reporters in New York as a genuine article and setting a guide price estimate of $15,000.

Some red faces were surely in order by mid-morning yesterday, however, when Dylan scholars who happened to read about the 23 June Dylan sale and saw extracts from the poignant poem in their newspapers or on their computer screens noticed something that no one at Christie's headquarters had. This particular Dylan lot, they said in unison, should go under the tagline: "It Ain't Me, Babe". Because it ain't.

"It's a very early example of his brilliance," Simeon Lipman, a pop culture specialist at Christie's, had declared. "It comes from the mind of a teenager [with] some very interesting thoughts kind of percolating in his brain."

One segment of the poem, described by Christies as "dark and mournful", runs: "I'll meet my precious buddy up in the sky/ By a tiny narrow grave/ Where the willows sadly wave."

But far from offering us a first glimpse of Dylan's undoubted prowess as a writer of lyrics, it shows only that at that tender age he knew a good song when he heard one.

His "Little Buddy" was sadly the same almost word for word, with only a couple of small variations, as the "Little Buddy" that had already been written and performed by the late Canadian country singer Hank Snow.

But wait. Is it possible that Snow, who also called himself "The Yodelling Ranger", borrowed from Dylan? It doesn't seem so. Initial research suggests that the song was released as an 78 RPM record on the RCA Invicta label in 1948. Young Zimmerman would have been a mere seven years old at the time.

Never mind all this, however. Christie's is apparently unabashed, and content to continue to offer the poem for sale next month.

"Additional information has come to our attention about the handwritten poem submitted by Bob Dylan to his camp newspaper, written when he was 16, entitled "Little Buddy'," the auction house announced sheepishly last night.

"The words are in fact a revised version of lyrics of a Hank Snow song. This still remains among the earliest known handwritten lyrics of Bob Dylan and Christie's is pleased to offer them in our Pop Culture auction."

Whether they fetch the kind of money that they (and the dilapidated summer camp) had been hoping for is, of course, quite another question.

Little Buddy: The lyrics

"Your too late sir my doggy's dead

And no one can save him now

But I'll meet my precious buddy up in the sky

By a tiny narrow grave

Where the willows sadly wave"

Words from "Little Buddy", apparently by Bob Dylan, actually by Hank Snow, which Christie's called "a very early example of [Dylan's] brilliance".

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before