Legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has been hearing charges of plagiarism long enough, and finally lashed out at his accusers.
Reuters reports that Dylan said in a new interview with Rolling Stone that musical appropriation is “part of the folk tradition.” Dylan adds in the interview: “People who complain about that stuff are wussies and pussies.”
Accusations of plagiarism by Dylan go back decades, but he has been under fire in particular in the past 10 years.
“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,” Reuters reports. “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.”
The report adds: “In 2006, The New York Times made similar claims about a Civil War era poet’s phrasings and Dylan’s 2006 record ‘Modern Times.’"
Said Dylan, 71: "I’m working within my art form. 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."
The singer, whose new album, "Tempest," was released this week, adds, "These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me," referring to accusations in the 1960s that Dylan had betrayed the folk community by “going electric.” In a famous 1966 concert incident in England, an audience member was caught on tape yelling out “Judas” at Dylan.
In the new interview, Dylan says: "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 … can rot in hell.”
Dylan has his defenders on the plagiarism issue. Reuters notes: “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.”
Commenting on Dylan’s use of other people’s material, Wilentz told Reuters: "Of course it’s legitimate. Dylan’s frame of reference is so much larger than most songwriters’ — more literary, historical and philosophical."
“Wilentz said crediting bits and pieces of another’s work is scholarly tradition, not an artistic tradition,” the report notes.
Wilentz adds: "Creating art is different, and always has been, especially the kind Dylan creates.”