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CMU Beef Of The Week #127: Bob Dylan v wussies and pussies

By | Published on Friday 14 September 2012

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, as I’m sure you’re aware, has been around for a while. And you don’t get to be in the music industry long enough to record 35 albums without causing a bit of controversy. In 1965, of course, he had fans up in arms when he played a different sort of guitar, but more recently he’s had a bit of stick for ‘borrowing’ other people’s words in his songs.

First the Wall Street Journal accused Dylan of taking lines from Junichi Saga’s book ‘Confessions Of A Yakuza for his 2001 album ‘Love And Theft’, while in 2006 The New York Times noted similarities between Dylan’s lyrics on his ‘Modern Times’ album and poetry written by Henry Timrod during the American Civil War.

Dylan cares not for these criticisms though, calling those who level them at him “wussies and pussies”. Borrowing from elsewhere, he says in a new interview with Rolling Stone, is a folk music tradition. And anyway, who’d even heard of Henry Timrod before Bob started pinching his words?

Asked how he felt about accusations that he’d taken or adapted lyrics without proper credit, Dylan said: “In folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. [Except apparently] it’s true for everybody, but me. There are [supposedly] different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back”.

How far back? I hear you ask. Way back to the time of Jesus, so basically ages. Bob continued: “These [critics] are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. 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 motherfuckers can rot in hell”.

That’s right, Bob Dylan’s name is now synonymous with that of Judas Iscariot (apparently), and it’s just not fair. All he was doing was staying true to tradition.

“I’m working within my art form”, he complained. “It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. 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”.

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