Entertainment behind the scenes
Bob Dylan “poem” not his last artistic borrowing
Christie’s auction house acknowledged this week that a handwritten “poem” singer Bob Dylan wrote when he was 16 was actually a song by country icon Hank Snow.
It’s not the first time that commentators have said that Dylan (shown at right seeming to eat a document) drew on other sources during his musical career.
Exhibit A is Dylan’s use of an obscure Japanese book called “Confessions of a Yakuza,” several lines of which made it onto different songs on Dylan’s 2001 album “Love and Theft,” without acknowledgment in the liner notes. They include the words “My old man, he’s like some feudal lord” in the song “Floater.”
David Hajdu, author of a book about Dylan and other folkies called “Positively 4th Street,” a title which itself borrows from a Dylan song, said that he sees nothing wrong with the singer’s use of other material.
”We have this idealized image of the creative process that is essentially fallacious, this idea that what the artist does is commune with the muses and to bring forth expression that’s never existed before,” Hajdu said.
A representative for Dylan has not been available to comment this week.
As director Martin Scorsese showed in his 2005 documentary “No Direction Home,” Dylan borrowed from the singer John Jacob Niles for his 1964 song “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Niles sings “Go away from my window,” and that is the first line in Dylan’s song.
Borrowing from another singer is common in folk music, the tradition that Dylan comes from. But Dylan went a little further afield for some of his other lyrics. On his 1985 album “Empire Burlesque,” he used actor Humphrey Bogart’s line , ”I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble” from the 1941 movie classic “The Maltese Falcon”, in his song “Seeing the Real You at Last.”
In 2006, when Dylan released the album “Modern Times”, some commentators spotted lines from the 19th century Confederate poet Henry Timrod, without a credit on the liner notes for the album. Dylan sings on the song “When the Deal Goes Down” the words “More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours” one of several lines borrowed or changed slightly from Timrod’s poems.
Dylan’s team is not so generous when it comes to the “Bard of Minnesota’s” own lyrics. When the band “Hootie & the Blowfish” included several lines from decades old Dylan songs on their 1994 hit “I Only Want to Be With You,” they were slapped with a lawsuit, which was settled out-of-court, despite the fact that the song mentions Dylan by name.
Hajdu, who teaches at Columbia University, said that Dylan is not alone in borrowing material.
”Does it splash over into the realm of pilfery or theft? Maybe, but there’s a long tradition of that, it has always been the case, it’s been the case for many great artists,” he said.