Did Bob Dylan Steal Your Tune?

there are many versions, all of which consist of the basic question/answer structure Dylan employed.

“Oh, where ha’ you been, Lord Randal my son? And where ha’ you been, my handsome young man?” “I ha’ been at the greenwood…

‘Lord Randal’

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? And where have you been, my darling young one?

‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’

That said, the words of the ‘blue eyed son’ are Dylan’s – though most probably with derivation from the volumes of poetry he was devouring at the time.

And the list goes on and on.

Now you might think that after his first few albums, Dylan stopped stealing.

Not so.

Another one of my favourites, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ from his 1979 album Slow Train Coming borrowed heavily from Woody Guthrie’s ‘Little Black Train’.

And there are countless more examples.

So what does this mean? Should I start plagiarizing tunes as Woody Guthrie advised and, well, like Dylan, steal words as well?

Traditional folk music, they say, was all about taking established tunes and doing your own thing with them (which kinda suggests that it’s only the capitalization of music, along with lawsuits and the like, that demands complete originality).

Now, to further confuse me, one of the sources from which I got this info had to go and quote William Blake as saying the following:

“The difference between a bad artist and a good one is the bad artist seems to copy a great deal. The good one really does copy a great deal.”

I’m actually a little mixed up and confused by all this.

Any advice would be welcome.

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photo by: ky_olsen

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