Bob Dylan Being Bob Dylan

If you want an interesting and entertaining read, then I suggest you pick up the latest issue of Rolling Stone featuring Bob Dylan on the cover. The interview between the American folk/blues troubadour and reporter Mikal Gilmore raises a lot of interesting points about the history of race in America, using other writers in one’s work, and Dylan’s own career. The full interview is not available online, but you can find one of the most riveting sections online here.

The interview has caused some buzz because Dylan addresses plagiarism issues that have dogged him for years, dating back to when he was accused of copying the words for “Blowin’ in the Wind” from a college student and the music from an old gospel hymn. This time, Dylan holds nothing back and says “F*uck ’em” to his critics, adding, “He’ll see them in their graves.” He does acknowledge that he has quoted other writers in his work before, including Civil War-era poet Henry Timrod, but he says that quoting other work is a long tradition in folk music.

The criticism and Dylan’s reaction to it raise a good point when pondering any art form. When is it okay to quote the work of others, and when is it plagiarism? I would argue that if you are using a line or two in your own work, but reworking it and doing something new with it, it’s not plagiarism, and that seems to be Dylan’s argument. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to give a citation in an album’s notes.

Dylan covers a lot of other issues in the interview, including the 1960s, and his desire to move as far away from that era as possible, as well as his new album, Tempest, and how he felt after President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Interestingly enough, after discussing the history of slavery and racisim in this country, Dylan refuses to state whether or not he thinks this country has changed and is any closer to a post-racial era, due to the election of its first black president.

The interivew offers a lot of insight regarding Dylan’s new album, his view on history, and the way he’s been treated by the press and his fans, including the Judas label he was given in the mid-1960s for going electric. Some of Dylan’s answers are befuddling, but that’s how he’s always been. Check it out if you’re a fan of his, or you just want a good read.

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