The flap over ex-New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer and his Bob Dylan quotes has got me scratching my head. Of all the public figures to whom one could attribute fake quotes: Dylan should be the last one you’d ever consider.
How could you expect such inventions to escape the scrutiny of the world’s Dylanologists? This is, to put it mildly, an obsessive and thorough lot. So thorough, in fact, that it does not spare the Man himself from its scrutinizing gaze.
Since 2001’s Love and Theft album, Dylan has been popped a couple of times for lifting phrases from some obscure sources. Dylan apparently borrowed rather liberally from the English translation of Japanese novelist Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza. And, on the 2006 album Modern Times, the tracks “When the Deal Goes Down” and “Workingman Blues No. 2” contained phrases (“frailer than the flowers,” sleep as “temporary death”) that were lifted from the Confederate poet Henry Timrod.
I’ve more or less defended the practice of artful appropriation (see this piece I contributed to TAC a couple years ago, for example). It’s not my intent to do so again here. What I’m marveling at is Lehrer and his faux-Dylan quotes. Clown move, bro. You may be able to fool the readers of even a high-toned magazine like the New Yorker. But you cannot hope to fool the Dylanologists!