Jewish World Review August 8, 2003 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5763
Love that (other) Bob!
Bob Dylan's new movie, MASKED AND ANONYMOUS, is about to come out and
baffle a whole new generation of Bob watchers. Purely by coincidence,
earlier this summer, some web addict with too much time on his hands
discovered that many of the lyrics on Bob Dylan's 2001 album, LOVE AND
THEFT, were taken almost word for word from a Japanese oral history of a
Yakuza. This immediately became big news in the real world.
The story was dropped upon Americans hungry for scandalous fodder, with
the expectation (I guess) that we would be as outraged by Bob Dylan's
plagiarism as we were with Jayson Blair's.
Instead the response has been a shrug, especially from those familiar
with Mr. Dylan's work: "That's our Bob." He doesn't steal, you see, he
makes collages, he creates allusions. He incorporates, and appropriates.
He's a will o' the wisp. He does what he does. He's an orphan with a
gun. In the jingle jangle morning we come following him.
From those unfamiliar with Mr. Dylan's work, the response to his
borrowing has also been a shrug. "He did what? He's a Yakuza? Who cares?
Leave me alone!"
Unfortunately, for Dylan fans and non fans alike, the media will never
leave us alone. We will be bombarded with stories and non-stories alike
until the world runs out of paper and the World Wide Web goes the way of
But this particular non-story does expose one thing --- Bob Dylan's
invulnerability to criticism. Even when he totally, you know, sucks,
which is fairly often, people find something to admire in his work. Why?
Because he's Bob. He's mysterious - kind of like Verlaine or Van Gogh,
as Bob says. He's an enigma. He's a riddle.
And how did he get that rep? Through the very simple trick of keeping
his mouth shut.
He doesn't do interviews. He doesn't issue proclamations. Can you name
an opinion that Bob Dylan has on anything? No, you can't. He keeps his
On those rare occasions when he does open his mouth, he makes very sure
that you don't quite know what he's talking about. It's always something
about boys in Chinese suits with flutes, or jokers and thieves, or
negavity not pulling you through the failure of gravity.
Throughout his long career, he has always succeeded at failure to be
pinned down. And his fans love him for it, peculiar as that is. He made
incoherence hip. That's quite an accomplishment.
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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Ian Shoales