Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’ over plagiarism claims

Bob Dylan has blasted critics who have charged that he has lifted words from other writers
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They’ve got a lotta nerve, to say he stole some words.

That’s essentially Bob Dylan’s response to criticism that has sprouted up periodically throughout his half-century (and counting) career that he has quoted or outright plagiarized other writers’ words in some of his songs.

Talking to Rolling Stone contributor Mikal Gilmore in the Sept. 27 issue of the magazine—which hits newsstands Friday--Dylan blasts such critics with harsh words.

The exchange with Gilmore, who cited specific instances over which Dylan has been slammed for lifting thoughts and phrases from Japanese author Junichi Saga and Civil War poet Henry Timrod, begins politely, with Dylan shifting into musicologist mode:


“In folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition,” Dylan said. “That certainly is true.”

Then he quickly ups the ante.

“It’s true for everybody, but me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get.

“Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff,” Dylan said. “It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! 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 [an unprintable word for ‘people’] can rot in hell.”

Dylan added: “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. 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.”

Above quotes unapologetically quoted from Rolling Stone.

Best reader responses so far to Dylan’s sentiments:

--“I have loved Bob & his artistry since ’65 - all of it. But I have a feeling the interview ends with: ". . . AND GET THE HELLL OFF MY LAAWWNN!” –elziesboy


-- “Ah, Bob -- same old drama queen as ever. One guy shouted out ‘Judas’ at a concert in 1966 -- a foolish corny taunt although plainly you didn’t like being criticised. But there was no ‘they,’ no mob hounding you. As for Judas being ‘the most hated name in human history,’ only to Christians. Millions of people on the planet follow other religions in which he doesn’t figure. Millions of other people don’t hate Judas because they don’t believe in religion. Get some perspective on these things.” --Tom

--“You are boring. You know what he meant, and your criticism bores me, Tom. I wish I could unread your post.” –Sam

Followed immediately by:

--“Great line- ‘unread your post.’ I’ve gotta steal that.”—Mitchell Sternbach


--“Dear Mr. Dylan: There is a difference between paying homage to someone else’s work and stealing the work like you’re Bernie Madoff on a crack-fueled date with Lindsay Lohan shoplifting necklaces from Tiffany’s and then whining about how it’s all the critics’ faults when you get caught. Oh, and Tom Waits called. He wants his voice back.” –TangledUpInWho Cares

--“I wish they would’ve put up a recording of this interview. I’d kill to hear Bob Dylan grumble in that raspy voice of his ‘wussies and pussies’ and ‘All those evil [so-and-so’s] can rot in hell.’ Classic.” –Josh H.


‘Tempest’ and Bob Dylan’s voice for the ages


Album review: Bob Dylan rides this ‘Tempest’

Critic’s Notebook: The Titanic in Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’


PHOTOS: Iconic rock guitars and their owners

PHOTOS: The Rolling Stones at 50

John Cage, radical composer for the 20th century