Bob Dylan: People Claiming I Plagiarized Them Are Pussies
from the meow dept
I know two things about Bob Dylan. First, my father loves him and thinks he's the kind of lyrical mastermind that makes puppies weep or something. Second, man does that guy like to contradict himself. Mike recently wrote up a more general piece about how copyright law goes against how we as a people create and mentioned in passing how Bob Dylan is often cited as a gift bestowed upon the masses by copyright, despite his appropriation of others' work in his lyrics. Well guess what, Mike? Bob Dylan thinks you're a pussy!
Yes, reader redrum writes in about a wonderful story in which Bob Dylan flatly states that those who have accused him of plagiarism are “wussies and pussies.”
“Meow I would not feeeeel, so all alooooone!”
Image source: CC BY 2.0
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine for its Friday edition, the influential singer-songwriter made his first public comments on the accusations, saying that in folk and jazz music “quotation is a rich and enriching tradition.”
“Everyone else can do it but not me,” he complained. “There are different rules for me.”
It's a fair point by Dylan, I think. I mean, so what if he appropriated lyrics like “I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound” almost verbatim from the biography of a Japanese mobster? That seriously isn't a big deal. And, yes, perhaps it seemed kind of strange when Dylan offered the world a painting exhibit he said was from scenes of his travels, when they were actually scenes from other people's photographs. But big deal. That's often how culture works. No harm, no foul.
The problem, of course, is that there are some people who think this kind of appropriation isn't okay. That it takes away from culture, rather than adding to it. That words have the right to be owned and art should be protected. One such person, who would disagree with Bob Dylan in this case, is Bob Dylan. As we've previously discussed:
He didn't just filch songs from other people's repertoires; he stole their arrangements. (As late as 1992, he lifted Nic Jones's arrangement of Canadee-I-O, wholesale and without acknowledgment.) He did this on both sides of the Atlantic. The great Martin Carthy, who has also just turned 70, taught him Scarborough Fair, which Dylan then recycled as Girl from the North Country.
But he treated his own songs as private property: what's yours is mine and what's mine is my own. The assertion of his individualism involved in “going electric” was in part a way of defining Dylan entirely as an individual artist and therefore as the sole owner of his own songs.
And that's the Bob Dylan we disagree with. Of course appropriating words, or photographs, or whatever as pieces to a larger cultural output is the way folk music works. And art. And writing. And film. We all stand on the shoulders, to some degree, of those that came before us. It's a good thing. As much as Dylan is contradicting himself, he's correct to push back on those accusing him of plagiarism. But he might also have to revisit his own views on the way people use his work as well.