Bob Dylan turns 69 today. He could use a hug. He’s been a troubled troubadour of late, thanks in no small measure to his one-time tour mate, the sharp-tongued Joni Mitchell, who called Dylan “a plagiarist” and “a fake” in an April Los Angeles Times interview. Others swiftly piled on the beleaguered musician.
Historian and Princeton prof Sean Wilentz — who serves as “historian-in-residence” at Dylan’s Web site bobdylan.com — brushes back accusations of plagiarism and offers a deep look at Dylan’s creative use of multitudinous sources in “Bob Dylan in America,” due from Doubleday in September; galleys for the book are currently on SoundCheck’s nightstand.
Wilentz’s tome surveys various junctures in the singer-songwriter’s nearly 50-year career. In a chapter focusing on his 2001 album “Love and Theft,” the writer tallies up dozens of sources pillaged by Dylan on the record, ranging from Bing Crosby and Sonny Boy Williamson to Donizetti’s opera “Don Pasquale” and an obscure speech by Abraham Lincoln. He concludes, “[T]here isn’t an inch of American song that he cannot call his own. [Dylan] steals what he loves and loves what he steals.”
Happy birthday, Bob, and, as the ancient Romans used to say, illegitimati non carborundum.