Dear Dirty America


Plagiarism: Bob Dylan Talks Wussies & Pussies

September 17
22:03 2012
Los Angeles

Here’s your inspiration for the day. Create and don’t worry about what the shitheads say. Be an artist. Be a human being. Absorb your culture and fashion it in a new way, your own way. Communicate it to others.

Bob Dylan goes on a rip when a Rolling Stone interviewer confronts the old folk singer of improperly using other people’s work, such as Civil War poet Henry Timrod. Dylan erupts:

And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell. 

My friend and fellow writer Nicholas Zeman pointed me to this interview. He particularly liked the “wussies and pussies” part. We quibble and whine about stupid shit in this society. We think everything, every thought and particular phrase should be patented and we should deserve credit for it.

Life is about collage. The humanities are not works in a vacuum. They interact and inform and steal and reinvigorate society’s superconscious mind. I steal lines from Charles Manson more than you know. I get tremendous joy from inserting some of his phrases from time to time in my writing, because when some of the brilliant things Manson says are taken out of context (away from being attributed to Manson) they move people and strike them with a truth and wisdom from a man who is a true Outsider.

That doesn’t mean I support murder or conspiracy to murder or any of the charges for which the courts convicted Manson. That’s done and gone. He’s spent his life in prison and will die there. He is, for all purposes, dead. I simply take insight where I find it.

That’s the work of a poet. That’s one of the missions of a writer. William Burroughs also believed that creativity was not any one person’s work or thought or brilliance. We are all entangled. We suck thoughts out of the yawning, churning consciousness that’s all around us. Like water is all around a fish. Nobody owns it.

Zeman and I talked about what kind of plagiarism is destructive. When it’s lazy, perhaps, and when it’s violating the sanctity of journalistic standards, like when Fareed Zakariah does it. But an artist who is working with multiple levels of reality and fantasy and inspiration melds various streams of thought, that is not plagiarism.

It’s living in the world. It’s bringing to the forefront of public consciousness layers of information that the artist deems interesting enough, or valuable enough to be in interaction with society.

May your work be informed by other people’s work. May your work bleed into others’ artistic pursuits.


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