Bob Dylan Hits Back at Plagiarism Accusers
Bob Dylan has angrily responded to charges he plagiarized some of his lyrics, calling critics “wussies and pussies” and saying musical appropriation is “part of the folk tradition.”
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.”
Rolling Stone released excerpts of the interview on Wednesday and Reuters obtained a complete transcript.
In 2003, the Wall Street Journal reported that lyrics from Dylan’s 2001 record “Love and Theft” were remarkably similar to phrases in an obscure 1995 biography of a Japanese mobster.
A line from the biography, “I’m not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded” was compared to Dylan’s “I’m not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound.” Twelve such similar phrasings have been identified. In 2006, the New York Times made similar claims about a Civil War era poet’s phrasings and Dylan’s 2006 record “Modern Times.”
“I’m working within my art form,” the 71-year-old singer told Rolling Stone. “It’s that simple. … It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.”
“These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me,” Dylan added, referring to bitter 1960s folk fans who decried his move into electric guitar blues and compared the singer to the Biblical apostle who betrayed Jesus.
“Judas — the most hated name in human history!” he exclaimed. “If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil … can rot in hell,” he said.
Musical appropriation — using familiar cultural references or language in a new context — is different from non-fiction writing or journalism, said Sean Wilentz, a Princeton University professor of American history who has written extensively about Dylan.
“Of course it’s legitimate,” Wilentz said of Dylan’s use of others’ material.