Bob Dylan accused of plagiarising Nobel speech from Sparknotes

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Writer Andrea Pitzer uncove­rs simila­rities betwee­n musici­an’s words on ‘Moby Dick’ and the sites’s entry for novel

Dylan is known for writing evergreen tracks like All Along the Watch Tower, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and The Times They Are A-Changing. PHOTO: FILE

Dylan is known for writing evergreen tracks like All Along the Watch Tower, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and The Times They Are A-Changing. PHOTO: FILE

Hard as it may be to believe, Bob Dylan may have plagiarised portions of his Nobel Prize lecture from Sparknotes, reported Rolling Stone magazine. The similarities were unearthed by writer Andrea Pitzer, who thereby wrote about the uncanny coincidence as well.

According to Pitzer, Dylan – who spoke about Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick as part of his acceptance speech – even made up a quote from it. Moby Dick was one of the three books the Mr Tambourine Man hit-maker discussed in his lecture. “Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them,” songwriter said.

Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last October and delivered the lecture to the Swedish Academy in Los Angeles on June 4.  Along with Moby-Dick, he also discussed the influence of Homer’s Odyssey and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

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Ironically, the celebrated lyricist also invented a moment in Moby Dick when a “Quaker pacifist priest” tells Captain Ahab’s third mate Flask, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness.”

Pitzer apparently found about 20 sentences in Dylan’s lecture that resembled the SparkNotes entry on Moby Dick. In collecting these, Pitzer noted where certain key phrases that appeared on the site but not in the book. A handful of the glaring similarities she noticed are below.

Dylan: “Finally, Ahab spots Moby … Boats are lowered … Moby attacks Ahab’s boat and destroys it. Next day, he sights Moby again. Boats are lowered again. Moby attacks Ahab’s boat again.”

SparkNotes: “Ahab finally sights Moby Dick. The harpoon boats are launched, and Moby Dick attacks Ahab’s harpoon boat, destroying it. The next day, Moby Dick is sighted again, and the boats are lowered once more … Moby Dick again attacks Ahab’s boat.”

 Dylan: “Tashtego says that he died and was reborn. His extra days are a gift. He wasn’t saved by Christ though; he says he was saved by a fellow man and a non-Christian at that. He parodies the resurrection.”

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SparkNotes: “Tashtego has died and been reborn, and any extra days of his life are a gift. His rebirth also parodies religious images of resurrection. Tashtego is ‘delivered’ from death not by Christ but by a fellow man – a non-Christian at that.”

Dylan: Another ship’s captain – Captain Boomer –lost an arm to Moby. But he tolerates that, and he’s happy to have survived. He can’t accept Ahab’s lust for vengeance.

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SparkNotes: “…A whaling ship whose skipper, Captain Boomer, has lost an arm in an encounter with Moby Dick … Boomer, happy simply to have survived his encounter, cannot understand Ahab’s lust for vengeance.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Dylan has been accused of plagiarism. He’s long borrowed lyrics from other sources, with his 2001 album Love and Theft drawing criticism for lyrics seemingly culled from Junichi Saga’s book Confessions of a Yakuza and Henry Timrod’s Civil War poetry. Even his paintings from the 2011 exhibit The Asia Series bore resemblance to well-known photographs taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Léon Busy.

In a 2012 interview, Dylan responded to the accusations above. “I’m working within my art form,” he said. “It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.”

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