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Bob Dylan “poem” not his last artistic borrowing

May 23, 2009

  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.bob-dylan1

 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 “Hootbob-dylan11ie & 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.


Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson did a tune back when called “Don’t Cuss the Fiddle”, telling other “artists” not to condemn this fictitious artist for stealing somebody else’s tune.

At the end, they speed up the tune and sing that they think they just stole somebody’s song…and the music is revealed to be new lyrics to the tune of “Good Hearted Woman”.

Unless Hank Snow’s estate raises objections to a teenager scribbling on a piece of paper, it’s not an issue.

Everybody has more ideas based on experience than brand new ones. The only issue here is not if (in his youth) he scribbled lyrics on a paper from an existing song. The real issue is how a world renowned auction house didn’t bother with due diligence on the item, so it could be properly priced as a sample of handwriting only.

Posted by Brian Foulkrod | Report as abusive

Few artists can lay claim to the
controversy that has surrounded
the career of songwriter James
Damiano. Twenty-two years ago
James Damiano began an odyssey
that led him into a legal maelstrom
with Bob Dylan that, to this day,
fascinates the greatest of
intellectual minds.

As the curtain rises on the stage of
deceit we learn that CBS used
songs and lyrics for international
recording artist, Bob Dylan. Bob
Dylan’s name is credited to the
songs. One of those songs is
nominated for a Grammy as best
rock song of the year. Ironically
the title of that song is Dignity.

Since auditioning for the
legendary CBS Record producer
John Hammond, Sr., who
influenced the careers of music
industry icons Billy Holiday, Bob
Dylan, Pete Seger, Bruce
Springsteen and Stevie Ray
Vaughan, James has engaged in a
multimillion dollar copyright
infringement law suit with Bob


I don’t see a problem with it either, I don’t think Dylan made any money with that “poem” or anything like that. But if Christie’s or whoever the poem belongs to is going to make $10 000 on it, I hope they give some of it to Hank Snow’s foundation for abused children. That’s the LEAST they can do.

Posted by Eve | Report as abusive

Bob dylan has written over 600, i repeat 600 songs, in his extraordinary career. So, all these jealous pricks want to investigate him and come up with 5 or 6 borrowed lines within his huge discography to discredit an american legend. screw that. who did he borrow from when he wrote its alright ma im only bleeding, mr. tambourine man, lily, rosemary and the jack of hearts, like a rolling stone etc etc etc. all his. all pure poetry.

Posted by john | Report as abusive

I think if you do some research you\’ll find out that probably 80 % of Bob Dylan\’s songs were taken from other songwriters.

Knock Knock Knockin on Heavens Door is the same melody line as Neil Young’s Helpless helpless helpless

Shelter from the Storm same song as John Fogerty’s Down around The Corner

A good start if you’re really interested is


FOLK LIES: Joni Mitchell Outs Bob Dylan
by Jonny Whiteside

“Bob [Dylan] is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.” — Joni Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2010

Caterwauling Canuck “folk singer” Joni Mitchell got just about everybody riled up with that sweet morsel of self-serving insight, but the real shock is not that Mitchell is absolutely correct but that someone finally came out and said it. After decades of carefully manicured deification by Columbia Records, brain-dead rock critics and the slimy elite institution that elevated such barely able snake-oil salesmen as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to celestial heights, it’s high time to flout indoctrination and examine Dylan’s track record as a Grade-A phony.


Most Dylan fans would be stunned to realize that his vocal style (for lack of a better term) was high-jacked, in its entirety, from long-dead bluegrass-country singer Carter Stanley. We’re not talking about an influence, like Lefty Frizzell for Merle Haggard, but a total appropriation of Stanley’s highly idiosyncratic approach. A counterfeit from the get-go, once Dylan realized what an advantage his audience’s innate ignorance was, he’s exploited it ever since.

Just type “Bob Dylan plagiarism” into your friendly search engine, and a plethora of questionable circumstances pop up, enrobing the singer almost as completely as his years of reflexive media fawning have. Documented from his teenage start, when he submitted a hand written, thinly revised version of country star Hank Snow’s “Little Buddy” for publication as an original poem, to his 1963 pilferage of Irish poet Dominic Behan’s “Patriot Game”’s melody for the similarly slanted Dylan tune “With God on Our Side” to songwriter James Damiano’s ongoing multimillion dollar copyright infringement suit (alleging Dylan’s Grammy-nominated “Dignity” is nothing but an altered version of Damiano’s “Steel Guitars”) to the naked “Red Sails in the Sunset” melody heist for the song “Beyond The Horizon” on his Modern Times album, up through the recent Confessions of a Yakuza-Love & Theft plagiarism charges (Love & Theft? Calling Dr. Freud!), the Timrod controversy, even the numerous passages of Proust and Jack London that (re) appear in the text of Dylan’s autobiography, it’s a deep, dark thicket of thoroughly damning and apparently chronic bootlegging. Naturally, Dylan has said nothing publicly about any of these, but he already spent over three million dollars defending himself against one-time affiliate Damiano–the classic delay-to-destroy court room technique.

Defenders and apologist have an extraordinary array of excuses on Zim’s behalf, from use of “literary allusion” to his building a “cultural collage,” or that his “borrowing” is “homage,” to the more deliciously desperate “he obviously doesn’t NEED to do it” (strangely, though, he always has). This instamatic, Clinton-ian excuse making serves only to further polish up the shine on Dylan’s teflon hubris and to underscore the blind, Pavlovian worship which he has long enjoyed. Let’s face it: as a lyricist, Dylan is crap, inarguably unworthy beside, say, Hank Cochran, Chuck Berry, Mickey Newbury or Jimi Hendrix (”All Along the Watchtower” plays as a lead balloon even for Hendrix, nearly deflating his Electric Ladyland masterpiece).

While we’re endlessly told that “The pump don’t work / cause the vandals took the handle” is vintage Dylan worthy of class room study, in truth it’s little more than the wordy spew of a peripatetic rhyming dictionary who’ll hang any phrase together as long as it fits. Metaphor is convenience, not expression for Dylan. His songs have also treated women quite badly: the entire attitude of “It Ain‘t Me, Babe“ is ugly; “Just Like a Woman” is nothing short of misogynistic, but, worst of all, Dylan’s sheer verbosity has ineradicably stained American pop music, and we’ve all had to suffer through the post-Dylan legacy of long-winded nonsense (“American Pie,” anyone?). side/2010/04/28/folk-lies-joni-mitchell- outs-bob-dylan/

Posted by TruthReporter | Report as abusive

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