Rock on a roll: Generating huge prices at auction, collections of pop memorabilia are hot alternative assets

At a June preview of the Freddie Mercury collection that will shortly be sold by Sotheby’s, the media forms a semicircle around a young woman holding aloft the left shoe of a pair of white high-top sneakers. “These are the shoes Freddie may have performed in at the Live Aid Concert in 1985,” says Gabriel Heaton, a Specialist in the Books and Manuscripts department of the auction house, before clarifying: “However, as there are other pairs which are similar, careful checking indicates that we cannot be certain these are ones used in the Live Aid Concert.”

The fact that these Adidas shoes were worn by the flamboyant Queen frontman during the band’s mid-80s tours is enough, though, to set the room abuzz with excitement. Of all the items on display during the media tour, it is a simple pair of shoes within touching distance that generates the most interest.

As the ritual of media photo-taking gets underway, there is an almost spiritual, slightly unworldly moment in time, when Freddie himself seems close, like he is being reincarnated in a ghostly apparition. He wore these shoes as he held the audience in the palm of his hand during his mid-80s pomp when he knew his time was short, and every time he stepped onto the stage he was determined to put on the show of his life. Mercury loved the freedom of movement and comfort the high-tops brought him as he strutted, preened and sang like an angel. These sports shoes seem to represent the physical embodiment of a force of nature and everyone in the room wants a part of it.

Mercury Rising

The Adidas footwear was among 20 highlights from the collection of the flamboyant rock idol showcased in Hong Kong before a series of dedicated auctions to be held at Sotheby’s London from 4 August (online) and during 6-8 September 2023 (live). A portion of the six ‘Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own’ sales will be donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust – an Aids charity founded by the band after the singer’s death in 1991 – and the Elton John Aids Foundation.

Part of the fascination with Freddie Mercury is that he was a complex man with multiple personalities. Heaton talks of how reserved he was, but of how he also loved to hold lavish parties. He points to Mercury’s iconic stage crown thought to be loosely modelled on the coronation crown of St Edward; a life-size picture of the maestro wearing it in his full regal attire forms a striking backdrop. The crown is estimated to sell for £30,000-£40,000 (about HK$300,000-$400,000), and as Heaton notes, Mercury donned it for the final rendition of God Save The Queen at the end of his last performance, at Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire, UK, on 9 August 1986, in front of a crowd of more than 120,000.

Rhapsody Revelations

The collection previewed in Hong Kong included handwritten working drafts of lyrics to some of his most famous songs. An early draft for Bohemian Rhapsody, the third best-selling UK single of all time, is written in black and blue ballpoint pen and pencil on stationery from the now defunct British Midlands Airways.

This is the song that changed everything for Queen, when the “volcano erupted”, as Mercury put it, and these lyrics are estimated at £800,000-£1.2 million. The page on display (from 15 in total) indicates that he originally planned to call it ‘Mongolian Rhapsody’ – ‘Mongolian’ is crossed out and replaced with the word ‘Bohemian’ – rhythmically similar but with a different resonance, as Heaton points out. The sheets reveal detailed notes on harmonies and the painstaking drafting and redrafting by a man who was modest about his composition process.

“In these pages we see Freddie Mercury wrestling in grand operatic terms with profound themes – sin, damnation, stoic acceptance – and witness the great efforts he goes to pinpointing precisely the right words to embody these emotions, and to create the most extraordinary narrative,” says Heaton.

Songs Going for a High

According to the expert, this type of memorabilia often generates huge interest. “The highest prices tend to be for original handwritten lyrics and also musical instruments when they have a significant playing history with a great musician,” he says.

Referring to the Rhapsody lyrics, he continues, “Early drafts such as these are easily lost or discarded, so the rare survival of these manuscripts provides us with fascinating insights into how his songs were developed and put together, as well as reminding us of their musical complexity and sophistication.”

Heaton adds: “There are, of course, other valuable items: rare records, stage-worn costumes and other evocative items – I sold a pair of John Lennon’s sunglasses for £137,000 a few years ago.” An ivory-hued satin catsuit inspired by the mythic god, Mercury, which was used in Bohemian Rhapsody’s groundbreaking promotional video is estimated at £50,000–£70,000.

“In general people pay high prices for music memorabilia for the same reason that they pay high prices for art or ceramics or rare books – because they are passionate about them.” The majority of collectors will have a love for the music they buy into. “Sometimes these are people who collect in other areas, other times they are not – it is the passion for the music that unites them,” notes Heaton.

Music to Collectors’ Ears

According to Darren Julien, Founder and President of Julien’s Auctions, iconic pieces worn during a stage performance, video or red-carpet event often sell for higher amounts since that appearance is recorded by photographs or on film. There is an element of nostalgia involved. “These items represent a time or a memory in one’s life that drives the bidder at an auction in the hopes of winning and keeping that memory alive,” he says.

An 18-carat white-gold and diamond Omega wristwatch worn by the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, and seen in photographs during his extraordinary career, sold at a 2018 Phillips auction for US$1.8 million (HK$14.09 million) after frenzied bidding, smashing the world record for an Omega.

Julien’s Auctions famously sold the Beatles’ handwritten Hey Jude lyrics in 2020 for US$910,000, nine times its original estimate. The acoustic-electric guitar used by Kurt Cobain at a 1993 MTV Unplugged performance went for US$6 million in 2020, a world record for guitars sold at auction. The US auction house has also sold items from the Rolling Stones and other major stars. “The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, U2, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Cher and Barbara Streisand are all highly collectible and have a huge global audience. But contemporary artists such as BTS are also highly collectible, along with Taylor Swift, Coldplay and even Rosario,” says Julien.

Sound Investment Vehicles Pop Rock memorabilia is now regarded as an asset class. “People buy these items not only for the cool factor but also as investment vehicles. Museums also buy iconic pieces and fans are always hoping to win something representing their idols’ life and career.”

The resale value of iconic pieces is also tremendous, notes Julien: “We sold Kurt Cobain’s green cardigan from MTV Unplugged for US$120,000 in 2015 and resold it in 2019 for $340,000. In 2006 we sold an Elvis Presley belt from the Aloha tour gifted to his friend Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O for approximately $65,000 and we resold it in 2018 for over $354,000.”

“Collectibles continue to be highly sought after by a global audience and prices continue to rise with the help of improved technology and social-media awareness. We also see NFTs as a new class of investing in all things celebrity,” adds Julien.

Ahead of Sotheby’s Freddie Mercury auction, Heaton notes that the star’s attraction remains undiminished to this day. “Queen’s songs are woven into the fabric of our culture and have an incredibly wide appeal, and Freddie himself is widely acknowledged as amongst the most powerful vocalists in rock history,” he says. In Heaton’s view, the popularity and value of pop memorabilia will not diminish in the foreseeable future. “It is now more than 60 years since the Beatles began recording, and 50 years for Queen. If people still love the music now, I am sure they will do so in another generation.”

BandLab – The One-Stop Creative Social Platform For Every Musician

Much like an author who jots down their story ideas on a notepad, or an artist who paints their thoughts on a sketchbook, musicians are also constantly hit with a wave of ideas that they want to record and have saved before possibly forgetting them. Truthfully, inspiration can strike anytime and anywhere – maybe even at two or three in the morning – so it is only convenient to have something readily-available to record the tunes. Such a tool is the BandLab.

For those who are not familiar with BandLab, it is a creative platform that has everything an aspiring musician needs to create and share their music. It has a line of virtual musical instruments, including different types of pianos, guitars, and drums, using which people can play and save the tunes in their minds.


Vocalists, on the other hand, can use the audio-recording button to record their vocals and write down the lyrics in the lyrics tab which can be found in the app’s inbuilt studio.

In addition to directly composing the music on the platform, music makers can also upload their pre-recorded tunes and edit the notes as they deem perfect. It comes with an option to adjust the pitch and remaster the notes.

Once the song is ready to be shared, songwriters can post it on their accounts for other people to listen to, or even get better exposure by sending their sound recordings to contests on BandLab.


Moreover, BandLab allows people to collaborate with fellow musicians whom you can find based on their geographical location or their talents. For instance, a vocalist looking for a guitarist for their project may go to the Creator Connect tab and explore the profiles of all the guitarists in the app.

In other words, BandLab is a perfect platform to connect with people in the music community, and also grow one’s music career as some recording labels also recruit talents using the platform.


Besides, the social music platform also provides its users with music rights for the sound recordings created by them thus letting them claim ownership and royalties.

Though BandLab is predominantly used by musicians, music enthusiasts – especially the ones who love discovering really good songs by underrated indie musicians – will absolutely love the app.

Also Read: Music Therapy: What is music therapy and who exactly does it benefit?

International Women’s Day: 8 influential Hong Kong women breaking the bias

Managing teams at work, orchestrating change, leading the way, breaking the glass ceiling in a very male-dominated world, making key decisions, inspiring young women along the way – empowered women, empower women – truly, no better time to reflect on those words than today, on International Women’s Day. With the theme #breakthebias, Gafencu shines the spotlight on eight influential, powerful women who are truly working to make their fields more open, inclusive and accessible to all…

Yolanda Choy

Co-founder of EcoDrive

Celebrating 8 of Hong Kong's game-changing females for International Women's Day yolanda choy ecodrive sustainable education

On a crusade to fight the burgeoning rise of single-use plastics, Yolanda Choy has made it her mission to to educate the public on the environmental damage of single-use plastics and hopes to create a greener, more  sustainable future. With roots in fashion and Marketing and PR, she connects with corporates to provide solutions for sustainability and encourages lifestyle change on both the individual and community level through campaigns that promote sustainability initiatives. She also co-founded Central Weddings, a luxury bridal salon.

“Education plays a big part, because, by and large, many people might be throwing away things that contaminate the entire collection bin unrecyclable and sent to a landfill instead…We educate people different ideas on how they can make a difference to create a better, more sustainable world for future generations.”

Yenn Wong

Founder and CEO of JIA Group

Hong Kong game-changing females International Women's Day gafencu people F&B dining restauranteur yenn wong JIA Group

For the thousands of foodies and discerning diners in Hong Kong, there is high chance you have dined in one of Yenn Wong’s  many establishments that embrace an array of culinary concepts. As the owner of multinational F&B company, JIA Group, the continuously growing vibrant and diverse gourmet flavours have Yenn Wong to thank for. Especially, during strict social distancing rules, JIA Group has spearheaded bringing fine-dining and Michelin-star menus to the comfort of patrons’ homes through its digital platform JIA Everywhere. 

“We pride ourselves on providing a range of gourmet experience, ranging from casual to fine dining, all of which place equal emphasis on the quality of the cuisine and the dining environment. Our outlets not only aim to satiate a customer’s appetite, but also deliver a visual feast. It’s a formula that resonates with our guests and one I take a great deal of pride in.”

Mei Mei Song

Brand and Product Transformation Director of Plaza Premium Group

It’s no secret that aviation has been the hardest hit global industry in the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, but Mei Mei Song exemplifies what rising from adversity looks like. She took the tumultuous Covid period to revamp, regroup and reinvent the brand, making travel better with initiatives such as opening their first pay-per-use lounge in Africa, introducing pet-friendly services, valet, baggage-wrapping, buggy and a plethora of other convenient amenities at key international airports, and tapping into new markets such as train lounges in China and launching their first zero carbon footprint lounge in Helsinki. Song is creating a new benchmark of sustainable, convenient, premium hospitality in the travel sector – her team aims to increase their current 230-plus global lounges to be at 550 by the year 2025.

“Founding a successful business is not enough. How you conduct that business and the strength of your vision and values are key.”

Betty Ng

Architect and Founder of Collective Studio

Hong Kong game-changing females International Women's Day gafencu people betty ng collective architecture

With a degree from Cornell University and a masters from Harvard University and stints in prestigious global design firms like Herzog & de Meuron and OMA, Betty Ng is Hong Kong’s leading architect and has already amassed an impressive body of work and founded her own Hong Kong-based firm, COLLECTIVE Studio, all before her late 30s.  A diverse amount of local and international work  can be credited to her name including the “Things, Spaces, Interactions” exhibition space in the new M+ museum, all four Kapok lifestyle stores, and is currently working New World Development on their twin tower and commercial podium project in Cheung Sha Wan. Having only started COLLECTIVE Studio six years ago, they have already been awarded a MIPIM Asia ‘Best Futura Project’ Award in 2021, for the King Lam Street commercial development. Betty strongly believes in giving back and inspiring the next generation of architects through her work, she teaches at the prestigious Chinese University of Hong Kong, and hopes that more young women will follow in the future. 

“Personally, I don’t think too much about whether I am female or male – I am an architect. I focus on the designs I create. In return, fortunately, I am surrounded by people who see me for what I bring to the table rather than my gender. I hope to inspire the younger generation and remind them that in 2022, disrupting the state of play is certainly possible.”

Also Read: 2021 Power List 300: Hong Kong’s most powerful and influential minds of our time

Helen Ma

Socialite, Entrepreneur, Mom

Celebrating 8 of Hong Kong's game-changing females for International Women's Day Helen Ma OnePlusOne Fashion

For a girl discouraged by her father to work, Helen Ma blazed a trail in fashion, beauty and catering. After a slew of successful businesses which range from launching a magazine, Helen Ma Loves Muse, running a successful F&B venture and introducing the French-influenced Japanese luxury skincare brand Evidens de Beauté to Hong Kong – the style guru and beauty goddess has done it all. But no venture comes close to the gratification of being a mum to 9-year-old, Shymie. Currently running her lifestyle e-commerce platform, One Plus One, Ma is eyeing yet another successful, quality lifestyle venture with the idea of creating healthy food, sustainable trends, home styling and engaging experiences. Her advice to the modern-day career woman juggling family and home:

Balancing a thriving career and a blissful family will take too much of your strength and resilience. Try to live guilt-free [and] happy.”

Ariel Yang

Executive Director of DS Regenerative Medicine

Hong Kong game-changing females International Women's Day gafencu people Arial Yang DS Regenerative Medicine beauty

Having started her career teaching from Zhejiang University’s Faculty of Science, followed by a stint in its School of Management, before pursuing other passions such as designing Chinese jewellery, and following her lifelong passion for beauty and skincare by leading the DS Regenerative Medicine business in the field of regenerative beauty and medicine. Recently, she has gone back to her teaching roots and started a new youth education venture to raise awareness of artificial intelligence for young minds. Her company, DS Regenerative Medicine was listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2017.

“Our company currently helps more than 200 primary and secondary schools across Hong Kong, training them to develop requisite skills within this sphere. We also host activities to increase awareness and encourage development, be it annual competitions or even international conferences. I believe it’s something that fills an unmet need, and that’s very meaningful to me.”

Veronica Lam

Executive Director of Big Honor Entertainment

Hong Kong game-changing females International Women's Day gafencu people Veronica Lam Big Bonour Entertainment Harbit Music VS Visual photography music

Daughter of Lam Kin-ming and successor of Big Honor Entertainment, Veronica Lam is an innovative promoter of musical talent, even co-founding  Hardbit Music with her brother, to put a new light on alternative music and DJ events in the city. Despite the hard hit that the entertainment industry took throughout the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, her response has been confident and resilient. She launched B.Live app to bring the experience of live music and theatrical shows to audiences in the safety of their won home; allowing people to enjoy music while interacting in chat rooms. All the while pursuing her own passion in photography work through VL Visuals. 

“At a time when in-person musical events are all but non-existent, we have to keep creating new spaces for musical acts within the entertainment industry. B.Live is a streaming app that offers viewers multiple angles during broadcasted events, so they can decide how they take in their favourite acts.”

Christal Leung

Celebrating 8 of Hong Kong's game-changing females for International Women's Day Christal Leung Skin Need Beauty Skincare

Skin Formulator, Founder of Skin Need

A major in biochemistry at the University of California, Christal Leung had a natural inclination towards the science of beauty. Growing up, her mum ran a beauty centre where she spent her weekends. Seeing her mum’s approach to skincare – customising products with fresh fruits and vegetables – and watching the way she brought joy and confidence to her customers, sparked a keen interest in beauty. Skin Need, her hugely successful line of skincare with an exceptionally attractive, minimalist packaging was launched with the same childhood passion of simplifying beauty, customising products according to the need of the skin and bringing joy from within. A firm believer in sustainability, clean products and bespoke products, Christal credits her accomplishments to a loving family, a brilliant team and the loyal customers.

“Our philosophy evolved from the experiences and skincare problems that my mother encountered over her career, and how she felt beauty products should actually be addressing those needs.”

Also Read: In Conversation with Ryan Cheung, CEO & Founder, PressLogic: Asia’s new-media wizard

Hans Zimmer Live On Tour review: A musical masterpiece nonpareil

With legendary music composer Hans Zimmer bringing his wide repertoire of original scores to Hong Kong, courtesy of the The Hans Zimmer Live On Tour, what unfolded recently at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre was indeed a night to remember for the thousands who had gathered for his performance.

Hans Zimmer Live On Tour

Recognised as Hollywood’s most prolific composer, Zimmer needs no introduction. Spanning a career of several decades, the music maven has scored more than 150 projects across all mediums, which, combined, have grossed more than 28 billion US dollars at the worldwide box office. It is with the choicest scores from this wide selection of musical bonanza that Zimmer chose to serenade Hong Kong’s music-minded folks.

Hans Zimmer Live On Tour

So the Hans Zimmer Live On Tour – accompanied ably by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra – took concert-goers on an immersive audiovisual journey as Zimmer and his team played one iconic score after another from Crimson Tide, The Lion King, Gladiator, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Interstellar. But while he played a musical medley from different films, nowhere did it seem incoherent, instead, blending together to form a narrative that is as mesmerising as it is unique. In what was surely a goosebumps-inducing moment for those gathered, singer Lebo M, who had sung the original African vocals in The Lion King sound score, joined Zimmer on stage and held the audience captive with his soul-stirring voice.

Hans Zimmer Live On Tour

And therein lies the true success of Zimmer’s concert. While the energetic 62-year-old held sway over the audience at all times, never did it feel as if his accompanying musicians are overshadowed by him. Indeed, each performer, be it Chinese-American cellist Tina Guo or British guitarist Guthrie Govan, shines on brilliantly by the sheer virtue of their own talents, bolstered even further by the accompanying artists, who together create a musical experience like no other.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay

Introducing: Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses 2-in-1 headphone/sunglasses

Blending summer chic with a seamless on-the-go audio experience, the new Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses are the perfect accessories for the summer season. Boasting an innovative two-in-one design, its sleek sunglass frames feature an in-built miniature speaker system that sits comfortably above your ears, enabling you to enjoy your audio experience while still being able to hear ambient noises around you.

Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses 1

Boasting an easy-to-use design, the mini speakers of the Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses are controlled with just one button. Whether you want to turn the sound on or off, accept or reject calls or play or pause your music, all that’s required is a single click. What’s more, the spectacles are even Siri- or Google Assistant-enabled, allowing users even greater control over their mobile devices.

Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses 2

The frames, meanwhile, are equally intelligently designed. Not only are the rims scratch-resistant, the lenses are also shatter-proof and coated with UV protection to preserve the health of your eyes under even the strongest rays. So whether you’re relaxing by the pool or undertaking a strenuous hike in the mountains, the US$199.95 Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses will ensure you’re suitably musically entertained and protected from the sun.

Bose Frames Rondo Audio Sunglasses 3

To purchase your own pair of Bose sunglasses, visit the Bose website today.

A night of musical harmony, courtesy of Raaga & Rhythm

Hong Kong’s musical-minded society witnessed an evening on melodious harmony when the Raaga & Rhythm – Music Without Borders concert was hosted by the philanthropic Chellaram Foundation at Hong Kong Polytechnic University recently.

Raaga & Rhythm

A unique concert that brings together the East and the West, as well as ancient musical traditions of China and India on the same stage for a noble cause, the musical extravaganza was organised in collaboration with SENsational Consultancy as part of their efforts to raising awareness of people who are ‘differently-abled’ in Hong Kong.

Raaga & Rhythm

The evening saw riveting performances by some 45 stellar musicians like HK’s very own jazz guitarist Eugene Pao, Taiwanese Erhu performer Jessie Hou and Indian classical musician Ronkini Gupta. However, it was child prodigy Rahul Vellal, an 11-year vocalist from India who won the audience’s hearts with his soulful performance of Indian classical tunes, known as raagas

According to Jayang Jhaveri, the chairman of In Harmony Arts Culture, one of the organisers of the concert: “Through music, the artists convey a message of inclusiveness and integration within our society and community.”

Beyonce: From pop princess to media mogul, we chart the rise of Queen Bey

From the moment Beyonce burst onto the music scene in 2003 with her first solo single, Crazy in Love, her stunning looks, sassy energy and killer voice ensured it was a hit. Throw in a soaring R&B horn section and a vocal contribution from acclaimed rapper (and eventual hubby) Jay-Z and the success of the track was assured. As was her own inevitable ascendancy to the all-time pantheon of pop greats.

Since launching her solo career in 2003, Beyonce has never looked back

Fast forward 15 years and she is the most-nominated woman in Grammy history and, as of 2014, she is the second-most-awarded recording artist of all time (behind only Michael Jackson, who she cites as her greatest musical influence).

Beyond accolades, it’s also fair to say that she’s not short of a few bobs. In 2016-17 alone, she earned US$60 million, making her one of the world’s highest-paid performers. The vast majority of that income came from her Formation World Tour, which grossed a quarter of a billion US dollars. Currently, Beyonce and Jay-Z (who she wed in 2008) are midway through their On The Run II Tour, which is expected to earn a staggering US$5 million per night.

Beyonce is the second-most-awarded recording artist of all time (2)

Despite her fame, she is forever at pains to emphasise just how grounded and normal she remains, citing her faith as one of the things that keeps her real. Tackling the difference between her performer persona and her off-duty character, she says: “How I am on stage is very different to how I am in real life. I don’t think having a sexy image onstage conflicts with your ability to love God. No one knows what I’m really like just from seeing me from afar. I like to walk around with bare feet and I don’t like to comb my hair.

“How I feel about God and what He does for me, though, is something deeply personal. That’s very much about where I came from, my family and how I was brought up,” she adds. Whatever her religious allegiance, some deity certainly seems to be smiling on the girl born Beyonce Giselle Knowles in Houston on 4 September 1981. Before her solo success, she had already won widespread acclaim as a member of Destiny’s Child, the Texas-based all-girl trio that sold 60 million records worldwide before splitting up in 2006.

Before going solo, Beyonce found fame the all-girl group Destiny's Child

In 2002, while Destiny’s Child was taking an extended hiatus, she made her big screen debut in Goldmember, the third installment in the Austin Powers spoof spy movie trilogy. While a number of other cinematic outings followed, it wasn’t until 2008, when she took on the starring role of blues singer Etta James in biopic Cadillac Records, that her onscreen acting talent was finally widely acknowledged.

Despite being a multimedia entity – singer, songwriter, actress – she takes issue with being dubbed ‘Brand Beyonce’. She says: “I really don’t think of myself as a brand. I’m a singer, a songwriter, a musician, a performer and an actress, as well as all the other things that I do. When you add that all together, some might call it a brand, but that’s not my focus at all.”

While Destiny's Child found success, Beyonce struggled with her personal life

She has , however, happily capitalised on the power of that perceived brand in order to shine a spotlight on a number of issues that are clearly close to her heart. In particular, as befits the times, her primary focus is now on empowering women.

Addressing this particular priority, Beyonce says: “Power means happiness, power means hard work and sacrifice. I truly believe that women should be financially independent from men. Let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They even define what’s sexy and what’s feminine – and that’s clearly ridiculous.”

Beyonce uses her fame to champion causes close to her heart

Despite – or, arguably, on account of – her crusade, her music is now seen as more relevant than ever. Her 2016 album Lemonade was one of her most acclaimed works to date, featuring in many reviewers’ best of the year recommendations.

Understandably, though, she is now at a point of rejecting at least part of her public persona, saying: “I’m so over being a pop star and I don’t wanna be seen as just a hot girl anymore. Now, I wanna be iconic. I’ve accomplished a lot and I’m highly respected, which is more important than any award or any amount of record sales.” As a summation of the life and times of Beyonce Knowles, it’s really rather hard to take issue.

Text: Robert Blain
Photos: AFP

All About Bob: 5 fascinating Bob Dylan facts that you probably never knew

It’s no secret that Bob Dylan has dominated the music industry for nigh on half a century, influencing an entire generation of music lovers and musician wannabes. And yet, he remains an elusive figure whose life choices and musical leanings have incited as many detractors as fans. To honour our Celebrity of the Month, here are five fascination Bob Dylan facts you’ve probably never even heard of.

Bob Dylan is our celebrity of the month

A week’s silence

When Elvis Presley passed away on 16 August 1977, his death affected Bob Dylan so greatly that he went dumb for an entire week. In his own words, he says: “I went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood. I didn’t talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.”

Bob Dylan facts - His 1970 Self Portrait album is fronted by his own artwork
Bob Dylan’s 1970 album, Self Portrait, is actually fronted by his own artwork

Artistic endeavours

In addition to being one of the best-selling musicians of all time­ – he’s sold well over 100 million records worldwide – Dylan is published six books of paintings and drawings, and has had his artwork exhibited in several major art galleries. The cover of his 1970 album Self-Portrait actually features his own painting.

Bob Dylan facts - He's a film director
Dylan co-wrote, directed and starred in the 1978 movie Renaldo and Clara

Lights, camera, action

As if music and art weren’t enough to occupy him, Bob Dylan tried his hand at film making. His directorial debut was 1978’s Renaldo and Clara, a lengthy 235-minute movie featuring a blend of fiction, documentary-style video and concert footage.

 Bob Dylan facts - he got The Beatles hooked on pot

Beatles’ high

According to Bob Spitz, a biographer for The Beatles, it was actually Bob Dylan who first got the British band hooked marijuana when he offered them a joint upon being introduced to them in 28 August, 1964.

 Bob Dylan facts - He was a frat boy in college before pursuing a career in music

Frat brother

Before making it big as a musician in New York City, Dylan first attempted a college education at University of Minnesota. While he dropped out after only one year, he still found the time to pledge the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.


Folk singer, turned rock star, turned living legend, there’s only one Bob Dylan

After a  seemingly never-ending seven-year layoff, Bob Dylan – the US singer-songwriter who easily out-legends all other legends, save possibly a lingering Beatle or two – brought his optimistically-monikered Never Ending Tour back to Hong Kong for one memorable night last month.

Bob Dylan returned to Hong Kong last month, thrilling his legion of fans
Bob Dylan returned to Hong Kong earlier this month, thrilling his legion of fans

Given that most other 77-year-olds are banned from using the TV remote and tucked up in bed by 8pm most nights, the Minnesota-born songsmith’s facility for churning through a 20-song set remains nothing short of remarkable.

This Hong Kong stopover was something like the 2,900th date of the Never Ending Tour – a continent-hopping odyssey that kicked off back in July 1988. It’s a gruelling schedule, especially for a man who has spent over 50 years as the living embodiment of the rock-filled ’60s, when teens turned troubadours and the times, they were a’changed forever.

From folk singer to rock god, Bob Dylan's success transcends musical genres
From folk singer to rock god, Bob Dylan’s success transcends musical genres

Recently, Bob Dylan was in the news for all the wrong reasons when he was famously too busy to collect his 2016 Noble Prize for Literature, despite being the first musical act to ever be awarded that particular honour. This almost cavalier refusal to conform is entirely in keeping with his career-long commitment to snubbing his nose at the expectations of others and following his own path.

In his early days, he outraged much of conservative America, championing civil rights at a time when the country remained virtually an apartheid nation. Later, in 1966, he wilfully alienated his folky followers by plugging in his guitar during an acoustic gig in Manchester in the northwest of England and going irrevocably electric.

Bob Dylan first started as a folk singer before going electric in 1966
Bob Dylan first started as a folk singer before infamously going electric in 1966

It was all a far cry from his beginnings. Few would have predicted back on 24 May 1941, that the firstborn child (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) of a young Jewish couple in a close-knit Midwest community would go on to become so iconic, so influential and so transformative. There were, however, one or two clues.

Music was an early passion of the young Bob-to-be and, while still in his teens, he discovered the works of Woody Guthrie, beginning a love affair with the socially-aware oeuvre of this early 20th century folk singer that abides to this day. After a brief dalliance with college, the young Zimmerman promptly dropped out and headed to New York, where he was soon to be ‘discovered’ playing in the smoky backrooms of Greenwich Village cafes.

Bob Dylan's first album was a flop, selling only 5,000 copies
Bob Dylan’s first album was a flop, selling only 5,000 copies

A record deal followed, but Bob Dylan’s first album, a 13-track long-player released in 1962, almost totally failed to make an impression, selling just 5,000 copies. Its follow-up – 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – featured 11 (out of 13) Dylan originals and fared far better, selling a million copies in the US alone and introducing the world to Blowin’ In The Wind, Highway 61 Revisited and several other songs that remain in the great man’s touring repertoire to this day.

The love-hate relationship between Dylan and his devotees / detractors that began in his early career has never entirely dwindled. When not needling his fanbase with one of his passing phases – Christianity, Vegas showman, reclusive rock star – it is his on-stage persona and his very demeanour that has sometimes had even the most ardent of Dylanaphiles weeping into their souvenir baseball caps.

Bob Dylan is renowned for being a belligerent performer
Bob Dylan is renowned for being a belligerent performer

Bob Dylan is also renowned for his somewhat belligerent stage presence, which famously sees him mumble through his best-known lyrics, wantonly rearrange old favourites and sometimes wholly fail to acknowledge the presence of his audience with so much as a raised eyebrow.

And yet, his undisputed status as Difficult Dylan has done little to diminish his worldwide popularity. It certainly hasn’t put a brake on the accolades he accumulates – a Nobel Prize, the Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian award in the US), 12 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, several honorary doctorates and more.

Bob Dylan's countless accolades include a Medal of Freedom and a Nobel Prize in Literature
Bob Dylan’s countless accolades include a Medal of Freedom and a Nobel Prize in Literature

With the superstars of the ’60s on their collective last gasp – we’re down to two Beatles, two founding members of The Who, and a fairly-poorly Joni Mitchell – Bob Dylan is one of a clearly dying breed. Whatever his peccadilloes, he’s one of the greatest exponents of rock’s greatest ever decades and has remained reassuringly relevant throughout his career. For that alone, he should be granted unlimited licence to skulk and otherwise misbehave. Even living legends don’t last forever and this one should surely be savoured while we still can.

Text: Tenzing Thondup
Images: AFP

Vinyl Record-breaking: Top 3 most expensive vinyl records ever sold

With vinyl resurgence now well and truly a thing (see our coverage of this burgeoning social phenomenon here), this once-antiquated music medium has spawned legions of die-hard fanatics who proclaim that something gets lost in translation in the analogue-to-digital transition. But just how far are they willing to go, how much are they willing to pay to own these prized collectibles? Here’s our list of the top 3 most expensive vinyl records ever sold.

The world's most expensive vinyl records

3. The Quarrymen, That’ll Be The Day/In Spite of Anger – US$250,000

Before the birth of worldwide musical sensation, The Beatles, Paul McCartney and John Lennon first cut their singing teeth in a now-little known band called The Quarrymen. So rare are the records created by this group that this particular album is one of a kind. Valued at US$250,000 by Record Collector magazine in 2015, this unique collectible now resides in the private collection of McCartney himself.

This album from pre-Beatles band, The Quarrymen, starts our list of most expensive vinyl records

2. Elvis Presley, My Happiness – US$300,000

As Elvis Presley’s legion of fans will probably be aware, My Happiness was the first song that The King ever recorded. No wonder, then, that this early ‘50s album makes our list of the world’s most expensive vinyl records here. In January 2015, an acetate pressing of the song was bought by The White Stripes rocker, Jack White. The final sale price? US$300,000.

Elvis Presley's My Happiness also makes the cut

1. The Beatles, The Beatles (White Album, No. 0000001) – US$790,000

When The Beatles’ self-titled album was first released, a small number of serial numbered ‘White Album’ versions were distributed to those involved in its production. While already something of a collector’s item, this particular item, with the serial number 0000001 – was actually owned by Ringo Starr himself. When he put it up for auction a few years ago, it sold for an astounding US$790,000, making it the top entry in our list of world’s most expensive vinyl records ever sold.

A copy of The Beatles' self-titled White Album is the world's most expensive vinyl record