Help me, I think I’m falling…Joni Mitchell dishes Bob Dylan
Well, the seasons have gone round and round, and the painted pony in Joni Mitchell’s brain is going up and down on Bob Dylan.
In a pretty darned freewheelin’ interview in the LA Times last week, Joni minced no words about old Bobby:
Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.
Now everybody must get stoned now and again, and I cast one Dylan’s way last fall in honor of his misbegotten Christmas album.
But I kind of wished that Joni had gone into a bit more detail here on Dylan-as-plagiarist.
Although I am not a follower of latter-day Dylan, I was a reasonably attentive fan in high school and college – to the degree that if I get cued on the first note of any of his albums of that era (the 1960’s), I can probably sing the whole darned thing. (The same is true of Joni Mitchell albums of the same period, by the way.) Not that I’ve done a textual or guitar chord exegesis of any of his songs, but the only thing that comes to mind as obviously derivative is the tune in “God’s On Our Side”, which is taken from the Irish song “Patriot’s Game”, and god knows where the tune sprung from before that. This is in the long tradition of folk songs borrowing from and embroidering on lyrics, tunes, riffs – much of which, of course, happened in a kinder, gentler pre-copyright, pre-litigious era.
Any one who’s listened to more than one folk-ish album can probably come up with plenty of examples. One man’s “Streets of Laredo” is another’s “Bard of Armagh.” And “Red Is the Rose” is an Irish tune that sounds surprisingly like – nay, I would say identical to - “Banks of Loch Lomond.”
So, you can take the high road, or you can take the low road here, but if Joni’s got the goods on Dylan in terms of specifics, I wish she’d spilled.
For all I know, he is a plagiarist, but you’d think that more about this would have come out over the course of a 50 year career, wouldn’t you?
As for Dylan’s name and voice being a fake, well, it’s not exactly a secret that Bob Dylan entered this vale of tears as Robert Zimmerman. (Joni, by the way, came in the front door as “Roberta Joan Anderson”.)
The voice? Shocked, I’m shocked to hear – especially after listening to Dylan’s Christmas album – that his voice is schtick. Is it possible that behind the raspy twang lurks a velvet smooth Nat King Cole? Wouldn’t that be a hoot(enanny)?
As with many performers, what you see on the stage and what you hear on the record is a persona that’s been crafted over time.
Is it fake? Kinda/sorta. But it’s real fake.
And just because you’ve crafted up a persona for yourself, doesn’t exactly put you on the same page as The Monkees.
So the Kingston Trio, with their khakis and “Calypso”-striped shirts weren’t exactly Woody Guthrie. They did manage to introduce a generation to “roots” music, even though they were polished and commercial. Were they authentic? Sure. They were authentically the Kingston Trio.
Of course none of us (especially when we’re kids) want to discover that our scruffy, f-the-man, man of the people hero is, say, a sell-out who’s riding not the rails but a stretch limo to his gig singing for the Goldman Sachs billion dollar traders winners circle, or the Dubai Tourist Bureau’s big event for corporate travel departments. But, somehow, most of us manage to get over it.
Entertainment = entertainment. If we like the art and the message, so what if the artiste/messenger likes nothing better than to don a tux and dine out on caviar?
Sure, it’s better that Pete Seeger’s authentic. Really. It is.
But it’s not all that terrible – other than if they’re using TARP money – if AIG decides to pay Bob Dylan $100K to sing “Masters of War” to them. (I’m making this up, but for all I know it has happened.)
Joni, Joni, Joni.
I have no problem believing that you and Mr. Dylan (nee Zimmerman) are as different as night and day.
You are not exactly paving over paradise with this revelation.
But perhaps you’ve reached the point in life where you feel the truth must out – and you must out it. As you said,
Things start losing their profundity; in middle-late age, you enter a tragedian period, realizing that the human animal isn't changing for the better.
Perhaps Dylan is an exemplar to you of how “the human animal isn’t changing for the better”?
I do partially agree with one thing you said:
Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point.
True that, about the stupid and shallow. It’s just that we may have had those tendencies before 1980, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that Madonna marks the turning point. There were other things that happened that year…
In any case, all this hoopla has placed Joni front and center in a way she probably hasn’t been since the release of Blue – at least among “aging children come, aging children I am one”, who care about Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and things like authenticity. (By the way, it is possible to be authentically terrible.)
Meanwhile, the weird undercurrent to the Joni Mitchell interview – if calling out Bob Dylan, and pinning the fall of the west on Madonna isn’t weird enough for you – is the revelation that she suffers from something called Morgellons Syndrome, a condition that I had never heard of.
I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space.. Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer — a terrorist disease: it will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year. ..In America, the Morgellons is always diagnosed as "delusion of parasites," and they send you to a psychiatrist. I'm actually trying to get out of the music business to battle for Morgellons sufferers to receive the credibility that's owed to them.
Well, whether it’s in your head or your body, Morgellons certainly sounds terrible. So far, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific evidence to back up the assertion that Morgellons is anything other than psychiatric. Which is not to say that some day it won’t be proven to be a real disease. We’ve certainly added enough crap to the environment to give rise to any number of weird, incurables diseases that have as yet come to plague us.
For now, though, it’s in the realm of the psychiatric. Which doesn’t make it any less authentic than those who are experiencing it.
But I’m just another one of those stupid and shallow Americans who spends two minutes googling and thinks she’s an expert.
And a big shout out to my brother-in-law Rick for his pointing this story out to me. He has been an incredible source of bloggy inspiration over time, never more so than of late. Thanks, Rick.