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Joni Mitchell on Bob Dylan: 'He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake'

This morning, The Times published an interview with Joni Mitchell in which she makes a few incendiary comments about some of her musical peers. Mitchell was interviewed by writer Matt Diehl in conjunction with a series of shows by John Kelly, the renowned, Obie Award-winning actor/performance artist, who performs Mitchell's work at Renberg Theatre on Friday and Sunday.

Writes Diehl in his introduction: "Blessed with an elastic voice and androgynous features, Kelly is famed for his chameleonic ability to morph into well-known historical figures of either gender, from famous painters to first ladies. His performance as Mitchell, however, proves Kelly’s most enduring metamorphosis. It's downright eerie how he channels her so completely."

You should read the whole thing, of course, but as incentive, here are a few choice gems from the piece.

Mitchell on her early work:

My first four albums covered the usual youth problems -- looking for love in all the wrong places -- while the next five are basically about being in your 30s. 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. In a way, I think I entered straight into my tragedian period, as my work is set against the stupid, destructive way we live on this planet. Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero: She marks the turning point.

On Bob Dylan:

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. As for my name, my parents wanted a boy, so they called me Robert John; when I came out a girl, they just added two letter “A's” to that. Then I married Chuck Mitchell; I wanted to keep my maiden name -- I had a bit of a following as Joni Anderson -- but he wouldn’t let me.

On her time with Jimi Hendrix:

Just before he died, Jimi Hendrix, his drummer [Mitch Mitchell] and I would sit up all night listening to tapes of our shows. Jimi was the sweetest guy: He made his reputation by setting his guitar on fire, but that eventually became repugnant to him. “I can’t stand to do that anymore,” he said, “but they’ve come to expect it. I’d like to just stand still like Miles.” Transitions aren’t easy. After I took a jazz band into the Grand Ole Opry, they never invited me back!

-- Randall Roberts

Comments () | Archives (45)

i'm a little disappointed to see this article is completely missing any argument or reasoning to back up the headline statement. i'm interested in hearing why she voiced this and her reasoning for doing so now.

Wow,Joni, you are a bitter put down artist. Your singing is painful to listen to, your lyrics are banal, strident and shrill trying to convince everyone you are a very special genius, you are not. You desperately would love the recognition that Bob Dylan has, but you'll never have it. Your work stinks to high heaven. You could not even approach his level, even with his plagarism and put ons.Your paintings are stictly academic and lack feeling and insight. You are a jealous, vainglorious bitter pill and have a big mouth. You repeat the same stupid stories and pat yourself on the back endlessly. You think you are the greatest artist that ever lived, but you are have turned a mediocre loudmouth with smokers breath.
If you don't think every word written here is true, you need a new mirror.

Correction: You have turned into a mediocre loudmouth with smokers breath..

bob dillon has more soul in his dicarded toe nails than you could ever dream of...this to me is a lame attempt at publicity.of wich it stink's the same as your music and your view's.

ronald fifield jr,

It's Bob Dylan (not "dillon"). And Joni was very popular in her day. She is indeed an artist with soul, even though you don't recognize it.

I love you joni and I stand by what you said 100%

Agree with @theMike. What's her reasoning. There have been rumors for years that Dylan doesn't write his own material any more. As for his name, everyone knows that.

Watch the ensemble version of "I Shall Be Released" on the The Last Waltz. She glares at Dylan enviously while singing next to a coked out Neil Young. Like why are they singing HIS song not mine. She's always wanted to be a femlae Dylan and failed miserably.

Wow Joni, I was a fan at one time but you have never been or every will be in the same league with Dylan. That sounds like a bitter statement by a folk singer with integrity. It’s because of Bob you had a career hello, you moron. You have maybe 2 & 3 classics and Bob has written hundreds. Who have you inspired??? John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garica credit Bob as there biggest influence and favorite musician. As for changing your name and creating an alter ego that’s show biz honey, I don’t think Zimmerman would have gone over as good. I use to have respect for you but not now you jealous hack. I think that fact you are a one hit wonder and a not legend eats at you.

Other than the fact that Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman and changed his last name, I don't know of any facts upon which Joni Mitchell could base such an opinion. I don't get the plagiarism charge.

Joni is the poet laureate.

Joni likes to actually speak what is on her mind. God, that's refreshing. If you hear what she says in context, it always has a point. In the case of Dylan, Joni's comments are a reflection of a lifetime thinking about concepts of authenticity and artifice, and how they are reflected in popular music. Dylan, in her mind, has created a "persona" through which he conveys his art. Joni does it too, in many songs, but goes to great pains to separate the various personae from that which is directly personal. As for the plagiarism, I can't speak to Dylan, but I do know that Mitchell makes the distinction, in her own work, between that which is and that which is not "borrowed."

This isn't about sides, it isn't about Team Jacob vs. Team Edward. It is a genius talking about another genius. If you can't defend Joni for speaking honestly, who can you defend? The only person who comes out looking bad here is the interviewer. I mean, what? No follow-up questions?

Joni is correct. Dylan's song catalogue is stolen from other folk and blues artists.

Geez Joni, why don't you take a "Big Yellow Taxi" back into obscurity? I remember attending the Amnesty International benefit concert in New Jersey back in 1986 and you were booed off the stage because you were so boring with your meandering and tuneless songs. Nobody cares about you.

There are numerous examples of plagiarism in Dylan's output, from his early "Little Buddy", nicked wholesale from Hank Snow, to slightly re-arranging the order of others' words then passing them off as his own in "Modern Times". Even his autobiography has many instances of stolen imagery. These and more well-documented examples confirm my belief that BD was/is a songwriter of pretty average ability who successfully turned himself into a personality-cult by persuading his Believers that this meaningless cut n' paste imagery floating an inch over their heads was somehow the work of "genius".

"I don't get the plagiarism charge."
google it, theres tons of examples.

Mitchell is fine artist, but way out of Bob Dylan's league.
Too big a mouth. Also Nero certainly wasn't the turning point to anything.

I do love Joni, but if she feels that things changed for the worse in 1980, then how can Madonna be Nero? M's first album came out in mid-1983 and her cultural impact was not actually felt until late-1984 with the release of Like A Virgin. Better go back to 1980 to find another Nero, Joni.

Please remember that in the same interview Joni attacked Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, and Madonna (I enjoyed that part). Poor Joni, it’s not all about you anymore. Now that you’ve gotten your last 10 minutes of fame slagging people, please focus on getting well before people start dragging the skeletons out of your closet.

Uh, excuse me, you fools. Let me lay the smack down for y'alls.

1) I believe that Joni was simply saying that Bob's name is not real, he chose to "borrow heavily" the singing and lyrical style of Woody Guthrie (read Bob's bio, in which he readily admits his admiration and fascination). No one really disputes Bob's greatness. But he did "invent" certain aspects of his persona.

2) Joni is, like Bob, a very talented person. Anyone who doesn't hear the greatness in so many of her albums is, quite frankly, a dolt and a tool. Ladies..., Blue, For The Roses, Court, Hissing, Hejira...every one an album for the ages.

3) For those wanting the whole interview, go here: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/music/la-et-jonimitchell-20100422,0,5684541.story?page=1

Peace out.

Joni isn't bitter. She's a genius. What she says is true. She's inspired countless artists. She was there and she is one of the few who truly were around today who can talk about it. If weren't there and don't like it you can't handle the truth.

here's the problem i'm having with the reaction to this..

its not about whether her comments are based in truth or on specific events that can be pointed out..
or is her rant envy-fueled or just plain sour grapes?

and thats the fault of the interviewer..
as soon as those words came out of her mouth..the follow- up question should have been, 'why?'
'what do you based those statements on?'

even if it was days later..typing up the story..why not call Joni up and ask her to clarify that pretty shocking statement..

nope..none of that

now it's 'Bob's a genius/poet of his generation'
or 'she only had one song'
..Therefore, she's bitter and her outburst means nothing..

hope someone will ask her to elaborate..and soon

Folk music has a lot of history with "plagarism" and "borrowing." Joni does it as well, although unlike Dylan she generally credits her sources. Woody Guthrie happily admitted to stealing from all sorts of artists. It's almost traditional among folkies! I do love Joni, but now she just sounds lonely and bitter.

joni mitchell is one of the best musicians in the world, unique and sophisticated. Her songs challenge and are complicated to sing, They are rich in variety, a huge rage of notes. Her voice changed with the years, from high to low, and each of them, - special and beautiful.

She also turnes out to be a curagous woman who says her opinion,openly,( without caring about agressive responsive as some of the primitive comments below...)

Joni, you have my respect !

If you had read other interviews with Joni you'd know that she has tremendous respect for Dylan - the point she is making is about authenticity, not about how "good" he is. Part of Dylan's genius is that he has played games with his audience for years, he deceives and tricks and plays with the truth, that's what (perceptive) people love about him. Joni's art has always been about searching for the truth, that's what she's saying the difference is between them. There's no need to get tribal about it!

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