SECTION THIRTEEN
EMAIL PAGE
FOUR

sm
COLUMN NINETY-FOUR, JULY 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

DYLAN'S HEAVY LIFTING

Subject: Dylan's Heavy Lifting
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2003 13:13:32 EDT
From: NYSteve007@aol.com 
To: info@blacklistedjournalist.com 

Hi Al--

Dylan's "borrowing" tunes from traditional Irish ballads and the like is old news, but this is the first time I'm aware of that he's been caught lifting lyrics. Interesting. Maybe he's at a loss for words these days.

Hope all is well. 

--Steve

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dylan Lyrics Compared With Japanese Book
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 12:52 p.m. ET

TOKYO (AP) -- A Japanese writer said Tuesday he was flattered to learn that passages from one of his books apparently found their way into Bob Dylan's lyrics.

In the song ``Floater'' from his 2001 album, ``Love and Theft,'' Dylan croons: ``My old man, he's like some feudal lord, got more lives than a cat.'' He also sings, ``I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound'' and then, 
``Sometimes somebody wants you to give something up, And tears or not, it's too much to ask.''

On page 6 of Junichi Saga's book ``Confessions of a Yakuza,'' the protagonist recalls: ``My old man would sit there like a feudal lord.'' Later, he says: ``I'm not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded.''

On page 182, he says: ``Tears or not, though, that was too much to ask.''

It was unclear if Dylan intentionally lifted any material. Dylan's publicist in New York had no immediate comment Tuesday.

A month ago, Saga, a 62-year-old physician who has written 15 books, had no more than a vague idea of the legendary singer-songwriter.

``I had heard his name before, but I wasn't familiar with his music,'' Saga said in a telephone interview from his home in Tsuchiura. ``I'm ecstatic that such an influential singer was inspired by what I wrote.''

Saga, whose 1989 book ``Confessions of a Yakuza'' appeared in English in 1991, said he first heard about the similarities between his work and Dylan's about a month ago from a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story Tuesday.

The practitioner of Chinese medicine said the revelation was surprising.

``My book hasn't even sold that well, and it's out of print in Japan,'' said Saga. He estimates the book, which was also translated into German, French and Portuguese, earned him about 1 million yen, or $8,475.

``Confessions'' details the story of Eiji Ijichi, a former gangster whose life of crime, gambling and prostitution in pre-World War II Japan was also full of loneliness and hardship. Ijichi shared his memories with Saga before dying of cancer.

``It's about a different Japan than the one we see nowadays. This was a man who lived a hard life,'' Saga said.

In May, www.dylanchords.com, a Web site devoted to Dylan's chords and lyrics, posted a note from Chris Johnson, a resident of Kitakyushu, located on Japan's southernmost main island. Saga confirmed that the
alleged passages on the site come from his book.

Dylan, 62, has been known to sprinkle references to literature, art and other sources in his songs. His edgy and sarcastic protest songs captured the mood of America's disenfranchised youth during the early years of the Vietnam War and the civil-rights struggles.

Saga said he harbors no ill feelings toward Dylan.

He has told his publisher, Tokyo-based Kodansha International, that while he would prefer to be credited as a source for Dylan's songs, he has ``absolutely no plans to sue.'' There are no plans for a reprinted edition, either. 

``Why would I sue? To take something that made people around the world happy and try to exploit it for money -- that's poverty,'' Saga said.

Two weeks ago, Saga, who prefers classical music, bought his first Dylan CD, ``The Best of Bob Dylan.''

``I remembered that I had heard `Blowing in the Wind' in the 1960s on the radio,'' he said, adding that he has come to admire Dylan's deep, sobering lyrics.

``This shows that people in other countries can relate to the harsh realities of prewar Japan, which was a poor, struggling nation,'' he said. ``I'm just happy someone read my book and liked it.''   ##

* * *

A DEFENSE OF BOB

Subject: Dylan, Plagiarism and Jon Pareles of the NY Times
Date: Sat, 12 Jul 2003 17:15:52 EDT
From: Rlev18@aol.com
To: info@blacklistedjournalist.com

Hey,

I'm sure when you read or heard about the Wall Street Journal piece claiming Bob is a plagiarist you reacted as I did, "Wrong, and who cares." Since then, however, I've had to explain to so many people why the claim is absurd, and, to my joy, the gifted Jon Pareles of the NY Times devoted a column to that subject today, saying what I've been stumbling with oh so eloquently.

It's attached if you want to read it.

Stay safe,

Bob

ARTS & IDEAS: Plagiarism in Dylan, or a Cultural Collage?

By JON PARELES

An alert Bob Dylan fan was reading Dr. Junichi Saga's "Confessions of a Yakuza" (Kodansha America, 1991) when some familiar phrases jumped out at him. There were a dozen sentences similar to lines from songs on Mr. Dylan's 2001 album, " 'Love and Theft,' " particularly one called "Floater (Too Much to Ask)."

In the book a father is described as being "like a feudal lord," a phrase Mr. Dylan uses. A character in the book says, "I'm not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded"; Mr. Dylan sings, "I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound." Mr. Dylan has neither confirmed nor denied reading the book or drawing on it; he could not be reached for comment, a Columbia Records spokeswoman said.

The Wall Street Journal reported the probable borrowings on Tuesday as front-page news. After recent uproars over historians and journalists who used other researchers' material without attribution, could it be that the great songwriter was now exposed as one more plagiarist?

Not exactly. Mr. Dylan was not purporting to present original research on the culture of yakuza, the Japanese gangsters. Nor was he setting unbroken stretches of the book to music. The 16 verses of "Floater" include plenty of material that is not in "Confessions of a Yakuza," although the song's subtitle and its last line " "Tears or not, it's too much to ask" " do directly echo the book. Unlike Led Zeppelin, which thinly disguised Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" as "The Lemon Song" and took credit for writing it, Mr. Dylan wasn't singing anyone else's song as his own.

He was simply doing what he has always done: writing songs that are information collages. Allusions and memories, fragments of dialogue and nuggets of tradition have always been part of Mr. Dylan's songs, all stitched together like crazy quilts.

Sometimes Mr. Dylan cites his sources, as he did in "High Water (for Charley Patton)" from the " `Love and Theft' " album. But more often he does not. While die-hard fans happily footnote the songs, more casual listeners pick up the atmosphere, sensing that an archaic turn of phrase or a vaguely familiar line may well come from somewhere else. His lyrics are like magpies' nests, full of shiny fragments from parts unknown.

Mr. Dylan's music does the same thing, drawing on the blues, Appalachian songs, Tin Pan Alley, rockabilly, gospel, ragtime and more. "Blowin' in the Wind," his breakthrough song, took its melody from an antislavery spiritual, "No More Auction Block," just as Woody Guthrie had drawn on tunes recorded by the Carter Family. They thought of themselves as part of a folk process, dipping into a shared cultural heritage in ways that speak to the moment.

The hoopla over " `Love and Theft' " and "Confessions of a Yakuza" is a symptom of a growing misunderstanding about culture's ownership and evolution, a misunderstanding that has accelerated as humanity's oral tradition migrates to the Internet. Ideas aren't meant to be carved in stone and left inviolate; they're meant to stimulate the next idea and the next.

Because information is now copied and transferred more quickly than ever, a panicky reaction has set in among corporations and some artists who fear a time when they won't be able to make a profit selling their information (in the form of music, images, movies, computer software). As the Internet puts a huge shared cultural heritage within reach, they want to collect fees or block access. Amazingly enough, some musicians want to prevent people from casually listening to their music, much less building new tunes on it.

Companies with large copyright holdings are also hoping to whittle away the safe harbor in copyright law called fair use, which allows limited and ambiguously defined amounts of imitation for education, criticism, parody and other purposes. The companies also want to prevent copyrighted works from entering the public domain, where they can be freely copied and distributed. The Supreme Court recently ruled, in Eldred v. Ashcroft, that individual copyrights could extend for 70 years after the life of the creator, or in the case of a corporation, for 95 years. As a result, Mickey Mouse will be kept out of the public domain " that shared cultural heritage " until 2024.

The absolutely original artist is an extremely rare and possibly imaginary creature, living in some isolated habitat where no previous works or traditions have left any impression. Like virtually every artist, Mr. Dylan carries on a continuing conversation with the past. He's reacting to all that culture and history offer, not pretending they don't exist. Admiration and iconoclasm, argument and extension, emulation and mockery " that's how individual artists and the arts themselves evolve. It's a process that is neatly summed up in Mr. Dylan's album title " `Love and Theft,' " which itself is a quotation from a book on minstrelsy by Eric Lott.

Hip-hop, ever in the vanguard, ran into problems in the mid-1980's when the technique of sampling " copying and adapting a riff, a beat and sometimes a hook or a whole chorus to build a new track " was challenged by copyright holders demanding payment even for snippets. Although sampling was just a technological extension of the age-old process of learning through imitation, producers who use samples now pay up instead of trying to set precedents for fair use.

That might be a good idea; a song that recycles a whole melody (like Puff Daddy's productions) calls for different treatment than a song that borrows a few notes from a horn section, and courts are not the best place for aesthetic distinctions. But in practice, it means fewer samples per track, and it can make complex assemblages prohibitively expensive. Mixes heard only in clubs and bootleg recordings are now the outlets for untrammeled sampling experiments. Yet, samples have extended and revived careers for many musicians when listeners went looking for the sources.

Mr. Dylan has apparently sampled "Confessions of a Yakuza," remixing lines from the book into his own fractured tales of romance and mortality on " `Love and Theft.' " The result, as in many collages and sampled tracks, is a new work that in no way affects the integrity of the existing one and that only draws attention to it.

Dr. Saga has no need to keep his book isolated. He told The Associated Press that he was ecstatic to have inspired such a well-known songwriter. And as news of the Dylan connection surfaced, sales of "Confessions of a Yakuza" jumped. Yesterday it was No. 117 among the best-selling books at Amazon.com, and No. 8 among biographies and memoirs.

Of course, Dr. Saga can't be too possessive about the writing. The book is an oral history, told to him by the yakuza gangster of the title. It's another story that has drifted into humanity's oral tradition. Mr. Dylan's complete lyrics are freely available at www.bobdylan.com . As for the song, if someone asks Mr. Dylan for sampling rights, it would be only fair to grant them.  ##

* * *

CLICK HERE TO GET TO INDEX OF COLUMN NINETY-FIVE


CLICK HERE TO GET TO INDEX OF COLUMNS

The Blacklisted Journalist can be contacted at P.O.Box 964, Elizabeth, NJ 07208-0964
The Blacklisted Journalist's E-Mail Address:
info@blacklistedjournalist.com
 
 

THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST IS A SERVICE MARK OF AL ARONOWITZ