Bob Dylan kicked up a minor controversy this week when he addressed the claims that he’s plagiarized by weaving lines from various books into his lyrics.
Now 71, Dylan has been a famous singer since he was about 20. He’s never held down a 9-5 job, which among other things has afforded him lots and lots of time. What he’s done with this half-century of time, in addition to making a mountain of great music, is apparently read his ass off.
Dylan has always been a prolific reader, singing about Rimbaud and T.S. Eliot on his earliest records when most kids his age were cramming for chemistry class. But the most recent claims of his line-lifting reveal an insanely obscure reading list:
On the 2006 record “Modern Times,” Dylan was accused of “borrowing from Henry Timrod, a 19th Century poet who died in 1867,” according to BBC. The 2001 record “Love and Theft” includes a line that seems to be pulled from “an obscure 1995 biography of a Japanese mobster,” writes Reuters.
If this is the stuff that Dylan is quoting from, imagine all the stuff on his reading list that doesn’t make enough of an impact to find its way in influencing his songs?
Dylan’s response to the plagiarism claim is vintage Dylan: “Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff,” he told Rolling Stone.
Dylan says songwriting is an elastic art, not an academic pursuit. If he wants to weave a line from an obscure bio about a Japanese mobster into his lyrics, who the hell cares?
“As far as Henry Timrod is concerned,” Dylan asked, “have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront?”
See? Dylan’s not plagiarizing—he’s just way, way better read than you are.