The forthcoming issue of Rolling Stone will have an interview with Bob Dylan, from which we already have seen excerpts, and there’s a new excerpt published today, where Dylan is asked what he thinks of critics who allege that he doesn’t cite his sources properly when he makes use of words from the works of others. Read it all (although be warned that it contains a rare bad word from Bob’s mouth—beyond the one related to cats—sometimes abbreviated as “mofos”).
But the gist of his response is this:
And as far as Henry Timrod [civil war-era poet —Ed] 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.
And he goes on:
These 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.
Well, it’s good that Mikal Gilmore asked Bob Dylan plainly about this, and got a plain answer. Anyone who thought Dylan wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t bugged by the criticism he’s received from various quarters on this subject now knows different.
As far as this whole issue goes, I think I’ve come to the conclusion one can either be interested in where the words in Dylan’s songs came from, or where they’ve arrived (and where they’re going). I’m more in the latter camp. Of-course, it can be interesting and enlightening to identify a reference. But when it becomes an end in itself I wonder if much of the joy of listening has been lost. I tend to pick up some of the biblical references; of-course that’s public domain, and a fundamental part of our culture, and Dylan has every reason to expect people to pick up those references (unlike Timrod et al). I think the most gratifying way of hearing an echo or reference is when it just comes to you as you’re listening to a song and there’s that spark of recognition: “Oh yeah! I know what he’s thinking of there: I know where that came from.” Breaking things down and running them through databases has never been my style. But to each his own. There’s no question but that people enjoy Dylan’s music in a wide variety of ways.