Why Joni Mitchell Called Bob Dylan “Plagiarist”

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Over the past 50 years or more, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan have frequently crossed paths. Even though the two songwriters shared the stage with Bob Dylan on his renowned Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, if you believe what you read, the two have reportedly never been friends.

The two folkies never really got along despite being a member of the same scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Given that Bob Dylan and Mitchell both had a comparable fan base, which she ran the danger of losing by publicly criticizing the face of the folk movement, Mitchell may have refrained from doing so for the sake of her career. In contrast, Joni hasn’t been biting her tongue lately.

Mitchell’s widespread disdain for Dylan, frequently regarded as the greatest songwriter of all time, and all he stands for may have its roots in the time she spent writing the songs for her 1974 album Court and Spark. At this moment, David Geffen, the owner of a major record company and Mitchell’s former lover, had just signed Dylan to Elektra/Asylum. At one of Geffen’s parties, Mitchell gave the rambunctious Bob Dylan a sneak peek of the album, and Dylan was so engrossed by it that, well, he slept off.

While Mitchell still accompanied her contemporaries on his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, it’s reasonable to conclude that this was the beginning of her animosity against the iconic musician, as seen by a more recent interview. This attitude change is all the more puzzling given that Mitchell was all love for Cameron Crowe in an interview with him in 1979, long after the sleeping incident.

Despite the fact that she admitted to the reporter that she and Dylan had “a series of brief encounters” and “tests” throughout the years, Mitchell made it obvious in her own words that she “always had affection for him.”

On the other hand, when the two of them were compared during an interview with the LA Times in 2010, the article reported that Mitchell vehemently denied this similarity and stated, “We are like night and day, [Dylan] and I, Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

In 2013, Mitchell herself would subsequently deny making this remark in an interview with CBC, claiming that she had never said anything like it. When the host repeated Mitchell’s allegedly said words back to her, the singer refuted them, adding “that’s not a word I use.”

Mitchell then referred to the LA Times interviewer as “an a-hole” and “a moron” before seeking to change the subject from Dylan. However, before doing so, she insisted on having the last word. She wanted to be clear that she “liked a lot of his songs” but then she basically spells out why she doesn’t think he’s real without mentioning the term in the issue.

Then she expressed her honest viewpoint. “Musically, Dylan’s not very gifted; he’s borrowed his voice from old hillbillies. He’s got a lot of borrowed things. He’s not a great guitar player. He’s invented a character to deliver his songs … it’s a mask of sorts.

Why would Mitchell treat an icon with such stoicism? Probably because he failed to treat her with the dignity she deserved. Joni believed Dylan was artificial and lacked any originality in a culture where rockers competed with one another and thrived on creativity. The singer didn’t like being compared to Bob and refused to be put on the same level as him in terms of creativity since she didn’t think he had anything genuine.

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