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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 think Bob Dylan was the first to tell people exactly what Joni ranted about in her interview -- about himself (and did so constantly); though, her's was nasty -- his was just the truth...

Maybe, she just forgot this and/or read it somewhere again recently; and accidentally tried to make it her "own" insight! Oh... plagerism!!

I completely agree with Joni. I am around her age and remember well when Dylan and his voice appeared on the scene via many coffee houses around the country, then on his first record in '62 was it? It was a strikingly contrived, phony and thus irritating voice, but many young men took any criticism of Dylan as a rejection of his 'naturalness' and denounced the critics as wimps, pointing out that many of these wimps were women and should be ignored anyway.

I didn't think the criticism was wimpy or showed a lack of appreciation for the 'natural,' but instead thought it was bold and honest, and showed a disgust for the fake side of Dylan, whose general musical talent and sense of lyrical cadence remained unquestioned. Thank you Joni for at least opening up an actual conversation about stuff like this - long overdue.

Joni is a genus who's always been way ahead of her time. She's a different species - a mutation - her vision and conciseness live on a higher plain than
most people are able to relate to. She lives her life in constant pain,
tormented by the reality of the present with an understanding how insane
the path of destruction we are headed down really is. So unnecessary ....
She is bitter - bitter that humanity consistently takes the wrong path and
is heading for extinction.

"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."

Aside from the jealousy and sour grape comments directed towards Bob Dylan, Ms. Mitchell might well do better to shut up and sing her tired old songs from another era instead of opining on the inner workings of Americans' psyches.

Maybe it's time to delete her songs from my Walkman, the last playback device available when her work was still relevant.

Re: Dylan's godawful plagiarism. Google the article in the Weekly Standard, from pre-Christmas issue November to December 2009--thorough detailing of how BD claimed the MUSIC copyright for popular material written in the 19th century and now DEMANDS ROYALTIES from others when they use 'his' so-called work. Same article--Dylan's use of others's words as well, claimed for his own. Lazy and Sloppy are one thing, theft and rip-off are quite another! Joni's a professional and knows what she's talking of. Re: Joni's voice--Check out how people from other countries and languages,like Asian Indians, for instance, find her voice the most beautiful rendition of song that their ears can hear! We Americans tend to take her magical voice for granted, I'm afraid.

I'm suprised to see such a well known artist as Joni Mitchell acting so unprofessionally, Pete Seeger once said that all songs are new versions of old songs.

I don't really understand how one's voice and name is "fake". When an interviewer on 60 Minutes asked why Bob Dylan changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan he simply replied "This is land of the free, you call yourself what you wanna call yourself". Does anyone care to disagree with that? I doubt it.

As for Bob's singing, I find it oddly ironic that she's praise Jimi Hendrix who began singing when he first heard Bob Dylan sing. Jimi didn't consider himself a good singer, but when he heard Bob Dylan who "couldn't" sing either, he realized that you just need the right feeling in your voice to sound good, there are no rules on how to sing. Do keep in mind that Jimi Hendrix also covered quite a few of Bob Dylan's songs.

Again, I'm very suprised to see an artist be so arrogant.

With her logic using a saxophone or piano is a scam.. it's tone a lie and since it's been done, it's plagiarism.

I must admit to wondering whether she's hinting at an unfounded suspicion I've had, as a person constantly surprised at how impressed I am with Dylan in all his phases: Could Dylan have been recruited as part of a CIA/Cold War program to support U.S. dominance / Modernism as was the case with their support of Modern (flat) painting according to books by Frances Stonor Saunders and others? See Operation Mockingbird and others for windows into such perception management programs.

Sorry: The theory seems to fall completely apart when one sees how, in his lyrics, he rails against American values of war, hate, stupidity, greed, etc. all promoted by the military industrial media complex.

Has everyone heard about http://www.dylanradio.com ? it's awesome. I'm not aware of a 24 hour Joni Mitchell station, but it may exist in Hell!

Sounds like those fengui are pressing on her petuitary gland... Did anyone think to ask her who killed Kennedy?

Of course Bob Dylan invented a personna! When did THAT one dawn on her? He's a musician, not a monk. (Just as she is a singer, not a music critic.)
As for plagiarism, would that she would plagiarize another artist, preferably one better than her. (They are not hard to find.) Perhaps absorbing other influences is the one thing she needs to revitalize whatever it is she thinks she does ...artisticly?

Ho-hum -
predictably, all the eunuch gatekeepers of the temple of Dylan come crawling out of their bedrooms to assail the evil witch for casting aspersions on their god...

Mitchell's ouevre is arguably more varied than Dylan's, and certainly reached out for higher hanging fruit, musically speaking - Hejira, Hissing of Summer Lawns, and Mingus are but 3 examples: Her use of open tunings and jazz influenced voicings work on a more sophisticated musical level than Dylan - who has always stayed close to the tried and true, harmonically and melodically.

Mitchell's a better painter too.

Dylan is on record as wanting to be a pop star from the get-go, and saw the burgeoning folk fad as his vehicle to that stardom: He was a constructed entertainer from the start.

He owes much to Dave Van Ronk, who taught him how to perform in front of an audience, and who mentored him in the NYC years in Greeenwich Village.

His stream of consciousness writing style was already developed by writers and poets as far back as Rimbaud: Dylan just hopped it up with bennies and electric guitars.

It's all on the record.

Joni wouldn't be the first musical artist who passed their expiration date and is in denial about it. Witness Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey (who I love dearly) flailing their way through sub-bar-band versions of the Who's greatest hits during the Super Bowl. Time to retire, boys. Maybe the same goes for you, Joni, if you can't contribute anything to right now.

On the other hand I saw Patti Smith a couple of weeks ago - still every bit as much the fiery visionary as she always has been. Patti's just three years younger than Joni, but she can still sing all her old material in the original keys - something you can't say about Mitchell - and she radiates a spirit of optimism and power, instead of curling in on herself and grumping like a bear about how these damn kids ought to get off her lawn and how things aren't like the old days any more. Complaining about Madonna? Hilarious. Madonna herself has been a has-been for almost twenty years now.

If it hadn't been for Dylan opening the door and setting the pace - and Joan Baez, by the way, deserves a mention here - Joni Mitchell wouldn't have made much of a stir. When she says they're like night and day, and have nothing in common, yes, very true. Very true indeed. One is a pioneer, and the other one came after.

I've been lucky enough to see both Dylan and Joni perform solo acoustic, and both are excellent performers and songwriters. It's way too soon to know if either is a "genius." The last likely musical genius, imo, was Louis Armstrong, who highly evolved jazz trumpet playing and invented the genre of jazz singing almost a century ago. I saw him "live," too, and he was flat-out wonderful. Where Dylan and Joni could compete, however, is for Most Terrible Interview. Dylan's are mostly fiction and Joni's mostly friction -- not their metier, mon ami!


sad that the brilliant Joni has become a bitter old lady....

Whoever decides to attack her is really delusional. You might not think Madonna sucks, but musically speaking she has no substance or talent, whether or not you like it, get real. And about Bob, I like some of his songs lyrically, I respect his lyricism but she's a insider so I think she's know more about him personal than any of you or me. Joni isn't bitter by saying this, assuming she's bitter just proves you can't handle a reality other than the one you think you know.

Joni had no problem taking money from Dylan a few years back,when she opened for him on tour.I remember saying,"Let's make sure we get there early to see Joni".What a painfully boring and unpleasant set she delivered that night.Bob,however,was awesome.Great band,in fine voice,great songs and he looked like he was having a good time.Must be hell to get old and bitter.R.I.P. Joni!

Miaow! "Better to burn out than fade away"? Who was Neil Young thinking of when he wrote Zuma's Stupid Girl?

Hacks copy. Artists steal. Dylan's always openly acknowledged that he works within the tradition of folk and blues music that heavily borrowed from earlier works.

Dylan and Paul Simon both borrowed from the same traditional song for Girl From The North Country and Scarborough Fair respectively.

Dylan's also never made a secret of the fact that "Bob Dylan" is a persona and not necessarily the same as the person born as Robert Zimmerman. Well into his career in 1986 Dylan responded to a question with "I'm only Bod Dylan when I have to be."

The nature of that persona has changed with the years, Dylan's songs and the events in his personal life.

I'm told that in real life he's a loving grandfather.

So Joni's not really telling us anything new. She's written some great songs herself but hasn't had nearly the impact on music that Bob's had. Playing Real Good For Free is a a beautiful song, nice lyrics and a lilting, haunting melody, but if I had to pick between that and It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, Joni would lose out.

She lost me when she decided she was a serious jazz musician whose job it was to educate rather than entertain.

What are they drinking in LA that makes them think that this dip in a wig in any way is channeling Joni? All he is is some guy with a horrible voice. Why is he even doing it? The give Obie's for that? I don't get it. Being forced to watch "Independence Day" 10 times in a row would be less horrible.

I thought this Saskaloonietoon witch was going to find a river to skate away on.
Shows you what happens when artists switch from automatic pilot to "social critic." She'd have had no career without Dylan, (or maybe a Kingston Trio type career.) All that detritus of her picked over collapsed romances, clever tedium then, almost unlistenable now. Dylan explores worlds, not the pummeling that egos took in last night's motel room. Depressing Proustian harridan. Gimme Gaga. She's sharp, she's fun and i only hope that as the history of popular music unfolds, her contribution will be deemed far more sunstantial than this sour-grapes neo-con crone from the north country . (No, she wouldn't be THAT girl from the north country.)

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