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A short time after The New Yorker runs a critical appraisal of Bob Dylan that focuses on his sound rather than his lyrics, the new Dylan album provokes a mini-controversy over Dylan’s borrowing from an obscure 19th-century poet. And in due course, a minor celebrity excoriates Dylan for being a thief. Well, she sort of let’s him off the hook at the end — he’s a bad boy, but that’s what we love about him — but the coda is as trivializing as the rest of the piece.

Is there no end to the patronizing upbraiding of artists in the name of the misconceived enterprise to make sure that no cultural goods are ever “stolen” and any stolen goods are properly credited to their creator? If Dylan, who is at once both the most original and most appropriative musician of the last 40 years, is subjected to this kind of needless abuse, is anyone immune?

Francis Scott Key plagiarized the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner, and Abraham Lincoln didn’t write all of the Gettysburg Address. Can we stop now?

2 thoughts on “Dylan-esque”

  1. Well, I sometimes like this tendency, to the extent it discredits the aura of “romantic authorship” so convincingly critiqued by Boyle. But the genealogizing trend also suggests some Nietzschean cultural currents: debunkers all too eager to pour the acids of modernity on genuinely original talents.

  2. Mike, I didn’t read the Vega piece the same way you did. She accuses herself of plagiarism too! The whole piece seems to be driven by a concern that the line between originality and plagiarism is awfully fuzzy, and thus it’s either not clear that any artist is free from guilt, or that any artist has ever done anything wrong. (If only she were a copyright lawyer — then she could fall back on the idea/expression dichotomy!)

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