9 thoughts on “Dylan dazzles, but . . .

  1. i read on wikipedia (hardly the most reliable) source that dylan or his management or somebody sued hootie and the blowfish for lifting five lines of “idiot wind” in “only wanna be with you” (quite poorly done too, if you ask me). is this true?

    on an unrelated note, i also read dylan covered “this old man” in ’91 for a disney charity album. is that true?

    thanks,
    chris

  2. I think you’re making more of this than it merits, Eyolf. We’ve seen Dylan hash up writing credits before (GAIBTY), and frankly, we’re all smart enough to know that he doesn’t print the album covers by hand.

    I think if the whole truth came out, we’d find that Dylan is simply sloppy with writing credits, rather than dishonest.

  3. I hold no grudge against Dylan – I’m sure you’re right that he’s just sloppy – in fact, he’s not even that, since he has talked freely about his working methods on many occasions. I’m sure HE is not out there to fool and deceive us. I don’t either use this case as an example that he’s washed out or running dry – it’s just what he’s always done (with a certain twist lately, admitted).
    But the quote above was not from Dylan, but from his publicist, and then we’re into a whole different ball park. IF the brief snippet is a reliable witness to what was said and the further interpretation is correct: that Dylan (i.e. in this case: his publishers) HAVE taken credits for the writing, in a way which goes beyond just putting a label on the CD, but actually cash in royalties for it, and IF they do this in the knowledge that Dylan hasn’t written the tune, and with the clean conscience that only a lawyer or a money-monger can have, in the knowledge that it’s not illegal, since the song is public domain, then it’s dishonest. Not, again, in the legal sense, but at least it violates MY standards for righteousness and good conduct. What it tells me, is that money rules, even over the law; that there is a discrepancy between “legal” and “right”. I knew that already, of course.

  4. Thank you for your posts on these matters. Your discussion of the lifted/transformed Timrod lines is by far the most sensible thing that I have run across regarding the ethics of Dylan’s various allusions, appropriations, and thefts on Modern Times. Your comment about how difficult it would be to weave a bit of Proust into one’s “autobiography” is also very helpful. I do tend to think that Dylan is being quite deliberately “postmodern” on both Love and Theft and Modern Times, and, for me, this makes the albums that much more fascinating. I’m not sure that any popular recording artist other than Dylan has even attempted so dense a ball of allusion.

    I also agree with you that the comments of the publicist regarding “Rollin’ and Tumblin” are a bit disappointing. As for the larger question of whether Dylan’s specifically musical thefts are problematic on the whole, I think that what you are saying is that these thefts are troubling in a way that the lyrical liftings are not because Dylan takes the tunes and arrangements wholesale and without significant alteration from the ‘originals.’ Had he merely quoted passages from the songs, or used them as a basis for improvisation, we could treat the musical borrowings as another instance of creative appropriation. As it stands, Dylan is misrepresenting himself as the composer of melodies and arrangements written by others.

    I think that you have a point here, but isn’t it interesting that at least some of these thefts, much like the celebrated purloined letter in Poe, are in plain view? “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” is, after all, named “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”. Most Dylan fans have probably long been familiar with several versions of the song, and many will instantly recognize the borrowed (or stolen) music. Similarly, “Workingman’s Blues #2”, which quotes (in the lyrics and music) Haggard’s “Workingman’s Blues”, highlights in no uncertain terms Dylan’s debt to, and love of, Merle Haggard. It would indeed be fascinating to see what would happen if I were to write a song called “Like a Rolling Stone” using the same method employed by Dylan for his “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”. I could take Dylan’s tune (or was that La Bamba?), preserve the “how does it feel” refrain, and write some lyrics of my own (making sure to incorporate some lines from Rilke, Sun Ra, and Laurence Dunbar). I’m sure I wouldn’t get away with it, but it strikes me that maybe I should. My “Like a Rolling Stone”, even if it ended up being musically identical to Dylan’s, wouldn’t be the same song as the one that appeared on the Bob Dylan record Highway 61 Revisited. Further, putting my LARS together would surely be a creative act of some kind. Nor would I be trying to deceive anyone about who wrote “Like a Rolling Stone” # 1, which would be obviously absurd in any case. Finally, by calling my song “Like a Rolling Stone” I would be paying homage to Dylan while at the same time saying something interesting about our expectations regarding authorship and artistic originality. I think Bob Dylan is trying to do something like this on Modern Times.

  5. Without understanding too much of the discussion, I think: The whole thing may be problematic on an intellectual level, but not in a commercial sense. Could you imagine any kind of credit the album notes could have given that had prevented a relevant number of the customers of the record? I can’t.

  6. Fair enough, but then, what did you expect from a record company? :)

    You might be interested in the entry on Nottamun Town at McGuinn’s Folk Den, in which we learn that Dylan is paying royalties, presumably for Masters of War, to the copyright holder of a public-domain folk song.

    The song was collected in 1917 but subsequently copyrighted in the 60s. Despite the copyright holder’s assertion that her family version was unique, it’s clear that it had been around for years and should be in the public domain. I have a problem with that. The problem isn’t the claim of authorship, but the claim of copyright ownership on a song that had already been passed down for generations.

    Back to “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” I’d share your concern if I saw an indication that Dylan or his publishers intended to collect royalties on future recordings/performances of the song. But I note also that my copy of “Muddy Waters: The Real Folk Blues” credits the song to one McKinley Morganfield, rather than a guy named “trad.”

    Claims of authorship don’t concern me too greatly. Claims of copyright control do. Based on the publicist’s remark that the song is in the public domain, I don’t see any assertion of copyright (except of course on the specific recording and lyrics). So are we talking about the legal issue of copyright, or the moral and academic issue of authorship?

  7. Well, we all know that Bob has been ‘stealing’ melodies and lyrics from day one – contrary to trying hide this it is something that he has always celebrated and acknowledged. What has he been doing very specifically these last 10+ years but acknowledging, exploring and paying tribute to the diverse roots of modern American music not just in his own music but very potently in the Theme Time Radio series that has introduced a whole generation/s to a cutural legacy that many didn’t know existed.

    Bob’s always been a joker/troubadour/jester, Lord love him for that.

    I have the greatest respect for Eyolf Østrem and his understanding and sharing of Dylan’s work over the years but really Eyolf surely you more than most can not believe that Bob needs to “stand on anyone’s shoulders to appear taller”.

    Is Bob still producing CD’s and playing concerts because he needs the money? Whatever happened here maybe sloppy but is surely not a commecial agenda on Dylan’s part.

  8. Thank you Rohan, Jerome, and for so many years of incisive
    love, Eyolf! Thoughtful posts. I have been playing “Workingman’s Blues” this afternoon. Dylan bares hearts.

  9. “In No Direction Home”, Paul (forget last name) describes how Bob burglarized his home to steal rare records. Bob doesn’t deny it, saying those records were as rare as “hen’s teeth”. In “Simple Twist of Fate”, a book about the making (and remaking) of Blood on the Tracks, the musicians talk about receiving neither royalties nor EVEN credits. Now he has a #1 record full of stuff he deserves no credit for.
    Truth is, Bob is really selfish. It sounds funny to call one ofr the most powerful entertainers ever “selfish”, but…
    It seems like all he cares about is the art. He’s a weird dude. Was it Bob who said “I don’t care what they say; just so they say it”. He’s always been provocative and conniving. But the music is great but not Modern Times. That’s a yawn in I ever heard one.

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