Joni Mitchell “Slanders” Bob Dylan


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Look out, Bob! Joni Mitchell is kind of pissed at you. In a recent and rare interview with the LA Times, Mitchell, who was taking time out to discuss the tribute show “Paved Paradise: The Art of Joni Mitchell,” had this to say about the world’s most celebrated songwriter:

“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.”

Strong words, but let’s break them down. Dylan got his start imitating Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, so perhaps he isn’t all that authentic. Dylan has borrowed several lines from the blues and certain Japanese poets, without accreditation, and he does have an assumed last name. He’s known for his mercurial nature — so much so that his biopic was named I’m Not There and featured six different Dylans, so perhaps saying everything about Bob is a deception isn’t too much of a stretch (he probably wouldn’t mind.) And Mitchell and Dylan are like night and day, in a male-female, yin yang kind of way.

We think Mitchell, who toured with Dylan in 1998, was probably more sore that the interviewer compared her to Dylan during their discussion than anything else, and lashed out accordingly.

Here’s some more Dylan-Mitchell fun, courtesy of

What do you think? Is Bob Dylan a plagiarist?






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  1. She’s probably still sore how the crowd responded to her set when she shared the bill with Bob and Van.

    Sorry, Joni…. you’ve got a few pleasant songs, but you’re just not in the same conversation.

  2. “We are like night and day, he and I.”
    She’s right.
    Dylan’s words and music will live forever. Who ever quotes a Joni lyric?
    She is monotonous and boring and hasn’t evolved at all in 40 years. Bob is constantly changing and has garnered some of his greats accolades in the past ten years.
    Dylan will go down along side, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost.
    99 out of a hundred people don’t even know who she is.
    Yep, day and night.

  3. Hey Joni, you are a vainglorious old sod.
    Your song are stilted, boring and torture to hear.
    Your paintings are strictly by the numbers and lack soul.
    You are a bitter, old and a narcissistic egomaniac.
    You only wish you were on Dylan’s level, but you’ll never get there. He dumped you hard and you still feel the burn. Put back your fangs, you viper

  4. Joni, you must be kidding. Dylan lets you on his Rolling Thunder tour in the mid 1970’s, and you share the bill with him in 1998 and you slam him? Bob is the first one to acknowledge the debt he owes to the many artists who came before him and who have influenced his art. ie see Chronicles, vol. 1.
    Bob is for the ages. You were the flower child chick who wrote “Woodstock”, and its been downhill from there. I think you need to get laid.-no offense of course.

  5. I think Joni Mitchell is very jealous of Bob Dylan’s success. She gained some fame but it is not anywhere near the Iconic success that Bob Dylan has become,and deserving so. She wrote some very good music in her day, but she didn’t write the awesomely inspiring body of work that Bob Dylan did. He was the one who fused rock and folk together,with songs like “All along the watchtower” “Rollingstone”.He experimented within his genre coming up with creative hybreds through his career. His is the living example of the phrase he coined ” he who is not being busy being born is busy dying”. He wrote original works, like sad eyed lady of the low lands ,Jack of hearts, Jazzy rockfusions such as dogs run free,inspiring poltical songs like Times they are a changing , and Masters of Wars, and of course his classic that will live through out history “Blowing in the Wind”. That is what bothers her. His songs will be immortal,he will be a lengend and she will not.
    Shes got a lotta nerve to say she is his friend.

  6. I have had to train myself not to read any more profiles of Joni Mitchell. Her all-consuming bitterness seems based on the fact that she’s not ‘popular’ anymore. She had an absolutely fabulous run of albums from 67 to about ’74. As her ability to compose complex-but-accessible tunes diminished and she didn’t tour, album sales, understandably, dropped off. Unlike, say, her jazzy partners in Steely Dan, she doesn’t understand that fancy chords and poetic lyrics don’t always mean “song.” She doesn’t write anything anymore you feel like humming. Coming from the world of art and poetry, she doesn’t get the simple concept that these need to be songs first and ‘works of art’ maybe later.

    Why does she do ‘rare’ interviews, only to diss, not just Bob, but everyone?

    Joni, you had a great run and should feel fortunate. But you are now the worst possible cliche: the bitter old lady.

  7. If you’ve yet to realize that Bob’s been having you on since about 1965, you’ve missed out on one of the key personalities of the 20th century. Joni Mitchell is far from bitter. She’s a legend in her own rite.


  9. Joni Mitchell is definitely an original, and she’s always been a tough interview; anybody who has paid attention through the years knows that. It has nothing to do with being “bitter” or “old”, she just tells it like she sees it! And, if I remember correctly, so does Dylan 🙂

  10. “Really, is there anything that she said that Mr. Zimmerman would disagree with?”

    I would imagine the bit about him being a plagiarist.

    I’m a little surprised Joni would make that comment — I’d always thought they were friends and had a lot of mutual respect for each other.

  11. That song she performed at The Last Waltz was potent and powerful, Coyote was a real highlight from an amazing coming together of some of the most talented people in music. i reckon she really loves Dylan, for Gods what’s there not to love, he is one of the most charismatic people ever. I’m listening to his Theme Time Radio right now which a departed relation downloaded and burnt on to cd for me. Joni is cool too, but at her age is probably having menopausal issues, where as Dylan is just getting mellower and graceful as ever with age. That’s just men and women, one day they love each other and the next want to kill each other. In fairness i don’t think Bob has many bad things to say about anybody. I think he still takes a few cues from Elvis, “If ya ain’t got nothing good to say about somebody, then say nothing at all”. Not publicly anyway. As for plagiarism, Dylan covered that one with a title called “LOVE AND THEFT’. How honest is that, i’d say very. I also reckon Woody Guthrie and all those other cats that Dylan digs would never have made it only for Dylan’s endorsement. Thanks Bob, you’ve led all of us who want to listen down a magical musical highway with many great detours and it seems like the road never ends.

  12. To Irene J-
    Those of us that disagree with Mitchell’s egomania are also
    “telling it like we see it’…
    She is most definitely bitter and extremely jealous and her chief skill seems to be the put down of others.
    Her mantra is ME ME ME ME ME ME ME and only ME, the one and only ME..

  13. John Lennon said almost the exact same thing about him.

    Negativity like that is not too classy, sure, but I see where Mitchell is coming from. Dylan was a product, packaged and sold by Columbia Records, and his earlier material was heavily borrowed.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The same could be said for every great artist I can think of. But while Dylan wasn’t original, he was definitely unique.

    Personally, I prefer his newer music.

  14. How dumb. People have been borrowing music and words from each other since the world began. I could name at least 500 other artists who have taken from other artists. Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, how about everyone in the blues genre. Tom Waits has done it, Neil Young has done it, Elvis, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Cash, Waylon, Willie, in fact the whole country genre is based around borrowing. I lost a lot of respect for old Joni from Saskatoon.

  15. “so what did she say was untrue?”

    To say Dylan is a plagiarist is at best disingenuous (and at worst a flat-out lie). Borrowing a scattered line here or there does not constitute plagiarism. He may or may not have gotten the opening line for “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, but how does that diminish the staggering richness and complexity of the composition as a whole? Theoretically, it’s not any different than Jean-Luc Godard borrowing a shot from Sam Fuller.

    Dylan’s reputation is absolutely towering — he’s arguably the most iconic and important still-living figure in American popular culture (certainly in American music). And that reputation was chiefly built upon his lyrical prowess. To suggest that prowess was essentially stolen is, frankly, ridiculous.

  16. I adore Joni- Over the years she has brought me a lot of joy, smiles- She interests me to a point-

    but Bob- for 45 years he has been a constant, always interesting- even if sometimes he is annoying it is in the way an old friend- or a long term partner is annoying- You’re not gonna leave him for his “flaws.”

    Joni is a Scorpio- so that says something about her dark side- one of the reasons I like her.

    Dylan, being a Gemini has his dark side- and his playful side- and his just having it on side.

    I remember when Newsweek just ripped him back in the day- spilled his secrets about his name, where he wqas from etc. He just didn’t understand it-
    When you think about it he was born in 41- back then and into the 50’s and 60’s even to a degree stars made up their bio’s as a matter of course-
    I alwways had the feeling he (just planning on being a song and dance man) thought nothing of it- that’s how it was done- you make up a character- after all it is SHOW business- its up to you what you decide to show.

    You can only bring out what is within you- so is it really “fake?”
    When asked about his name by Ed Bradley he answered this is America- you can call yourself anything you want.

    I might change my name to roberta dylan!

    gotta say, I am a bit disappointed in Joni.

  17. Let’s not go to a ridiculous extreme to defend Bob. Joni Mitchell is and was a great songwriter and artist- she seems to have a problem with jealousy and is becoming a bitter old woman. That doesn’t negate her contributions to music. Dylan has always overshadowed her, but that’s not his fault. he’s simply that good. I think Joni has resented this from Day One- and to me, looked mortified being reduced to being a backup singer on “I Shall Be Released” at the last Waltz concert. Sorry, Joni- you’re great- be grateful that so many love and worship you, and if you’re being compared to Dylan, it’s usually a compliment- the comparison is that after all these years, you too are a legend and your music will live on long after you quit smoking and are gone anyway.

    Phil Ochs had a love-hate relationship with Dylan- look what it did for him.

  18. Context, it’s a beautiful thing. Here’s the quote in context:

    “LAT: As well, you’ve had experience becoming a character outside yourself [Mitchell caused controversy when she appeared as an African American male on the cover of her 1977 album, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”].The folk scene you came out of had fun creating personas. You were born Roberta Joan Anderson, and someone named Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan.

    JM: 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.”

    So, for those able to read, it is clear that Joni is speaking of the creating and marketing of a “persona.” Does this help?

  19. I’ve always said that 200 years from now people will be listening to Bob Dylan songs just like we listen to Beethoven now. He’s a modern-day Beethoven, Mozart, and Shakespeare rolled together.

    BTW, Joni is waaay past menopause! Sounds like she’s a bitter old woman to me.

  20. There are a few people that it really irks that Dylan is at the absolute top of the Tower Of Song. Neil’s pretty humble and so is Bruce. But Van, Paul Simon, and Joni have an arrogance that they can think they belong at the pinnacle. But they know in their heart of heart that they are vastly inferior to Bob. And it stings something fierce. Quite funny actually.

  21. Joni speaks the truth. It’s just the facts. Dylan has always been about deception, playing the role of the joker and the thief. He’s brilliant but his art has always been “cut and paste”, a kind of post-modern hillbilly. As the layers get pealed away over time, and the rock star persona fades, that will be proven true. For a moment, focus on authenticity and put aside judgement about other criteria. Joni’s art by far is more authentic. It’s obvious.

    Bob Dylan is very much like a magician – he can put just about anybody under his spell. I was under it for many many years. But in many ways it does not add up to anything more than “what the broken glass reflects”.

  22. to david marin
    we get the context and we read between the lines and we understand the narcissistic egomania exhibited
    mitchell is no dylan, never has been, never will be…
    she can scream about her superior mind all she wants, no one is one is one cares
    get a grip, joni, you’re not all that..

  23. To Georgia,

    Seems like everyone want to take shots at Joni but nobody wants to face the truth about their hero. I am amazed at how the fans justify all of the numerous forms of plagarism that go back to the beginning of his career and continue to this day. Music and lyrics have been “borrowed” and reassembled with no acknowledgment of source. At least he’s smart enough to steal from people who are dead or who don’t have the power to sue him. Chronicles is loaded with lifts – it’s myth creation. I was so impressed by his eloqence and amazed at his facility in that type of prose only to learn that the most impressive parts were lifted. It’s the folk tradition…. right! Only Bob figured out how stamp his stage name on it and make millions.

    He’s still a brilliant man, and an intirguing artist, and certainly a shrewd businsess man. He’s being protected for now (perhaps the eye of Orisis looking out from that curtain in his shows), but in time the truth emerges. Joni’s gonna get skewered for telling it true before people are ready to hear it. But at this stage, I don’t think she cares. But there will be plenty more to come, it’s just a matter of time.

  24. Joni likes to actually speak what is on her mind. God, that’s refreshing. If you hear what she says in context, it always has a point. In the case of Dylan, Joni’s comments are a reflection of a lifetime thinking about concepts of authenticity and artifice, and how they are reflected in popular music. Dylan, in her mind, has created a “persona” through which he conveys his art. Joni does it too, in many songs, but goes to great pains to separate the various personae from that which is directly personal. As for the plagiarism, I can’t speak to Dylan, but I do know that Mitchell makes the distinction, in her own work, between that which is and that which is not “borrowed.”

    This isn’t about sides, it isn’t about Team Jacob vs. Team Edward. It is a genius talking about another genius. If you can’t defend Joni for speaking honestly, who can you defend? The only person who comes out looking bad here is the interviewer. I mean, what? No follow-up questions?

    To those who feel the need to compare the quality of the work of Mitchell vs. that of Dylan, or the relative iconic status of these masters, I say please don’t bother. It’s a losing game.

  25. To Jack:

    Way to go mate, you tell it like it is, it is often hilarious looking at some of the excuses the fanboys and fangirls are making, they’d follow Bob off the end of a cliff.

  26. Joni is an incredible artist and VERY authentic. Look, I’m a huge Dylan fan, but they way a lot of you are defending him is ridiculous; Joni is one of the greatest artists of our time, and certainly one of the greatest folk artists ever,. She’s, without a doubt, up there with Dylan in terms of talent and the quality of her creative output. Dylan has always been a great poet and made strides in the development of folk rock, he was indeed a pioneer. But that doesn’t mean Joni Mitchell’s music is not some of the best, even if she does have these views on Bob Dylan. She still is one of the most talented musicians ever, just like Dylan. You can’t deny that. And I mean, maybe you should think about the reasons she is saying this; I’m sure there’s a lot more beneath the surface since she’s known Dylan personally for decades. It seems to me it’s more than just envy, there just isn’t any justification for assuming that since Joni has to know how talented of a person she is after all these years. There must have been a falling out over something specific.

  27. Fair enough David and well said. But how about Joni slamming Neil Young, a few years back saying, “he doesn’t rock” because he’s not in the swingin’ groove school of Chuck Berry. She’s also knocked Jackson Browne (in part, it seems because he dumped her) and like too many folkies, thinks that only early black music rocks. I know a lot of jazz purists, too and they all think alike. They freakin hate the Rolling Stones, for having a white, English spin on roots music. Isn’t Joni the one who dressed up like a black man on an old album cover? Just plain screwy.

    And as for “coyote”? Nice song. But everyone at The Last Waltz, made the concession of playing an old, established tune, that fit the vibe of the evening (rootsy). Only Dame Joni came out and played a brand new song that nobody knew. As if to say. I’M the only artist here. Neil Young probably wrote three songs between the curtain and the stage and still he played “Helpless.”

    As a fan of her, to a point, I repeat, she’s bummed a lot of us out for the last time.

  28. I’m shocked by what so many are writing. I have never understood the reverence that some folks have for Bob Dylan, the man or his music. To compare him to Shakepeare, Mozart, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, or Beethoven is just ridiculous. I am a music lover and if you’ve never heard all of Joni Mitchell’s music, I would highly recommend doing so. She is a magical lyricist and her music stands up to any other musician out there and is far above many. If you’ve never seen or experienced her in concert, do yourself a favor and get a ticket. You will never be the same. Her music is transcendent and believe me, she is a master musician. A true poet who can set their words to music in an awe-inspiring way.

    I could never understand why people put Bob Dylan on such a pedestal. He doesn’t have a singing voice that would make it past Simon Cowell’s judgment, and his lyrics are nearly meaningless. Some of his songs I can stand to listen to, like “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Lay, Lady, Lay.”

    But I’ve always thought he was so vastly over-rated as a musician, in every way. Somehow, the aforementioned “charisma” didn’t come across to me. He was much more a symbol of a certain time in history that was so very unique and so freeing. And I think that he will always be a symbol of the times of the sixties and early seventies. But if you’re looking for musicians who will stand the test of time to become what they almost already have, then look no further than the Beatles. Go through their notebook of Lennon/McCartney music and there will be more songs destined for historic remembrance than any other musician(s) that I can think of.

    Their music is loved by so many and evolved so beautifully from the “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” days. They get my vote for future space in the history of music. Bob Dylan can’t hold a candle compared to truly beautiful and meaningful music such as so many of the Beatles’ songs.

  29. All I want to say is that I have always loved Joni Mitchell as a GREAT ARTIST! A few years ago, I passed up a free ticket to see Dylan at the Chicago Theatre, because I had something else to do that night. However, I would not have skipped Joni Mitchell!!!

    Sorry to break it to some folks here, but Joni Mitchell has had the greatest influence on female vocalists in the music industry for the past many years!

  30. Dear Jack,

    Also well said.

    Nevertheless, Mitchell is a nasty, chronic put down master and only elevates herself. Even with Dylan’s borrowing and stealing she could never approach his mastery.

    Saying someone is speaking honestly is not an excuse for bitter observation or cruel criticisms.

    I am also just speaking honestly, Joni is no genius and her work difficult to hear and hear voice is horrifying.
    Yes, she is a toxic bummer.

  31. Dylan invented folk rock, Mitchell didn’t ,she came afterwards by several years. Most artists owe him a special thanks for inventing his hybred of folk rock and they admit it. “Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and its subsequent commercial success initiated the folk rock explosion of the mid-1960s.[7][8] Dylan himself was also influential on the genre, particularly his recordings with an electric rock band on the Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde albums.[8] Dylan’s July 25, 1965 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric backing band is also considered a pivotal moment in the developement of folk rock”[9( Every artist is inspired by other artists and merges or incorporates some thing of those artists into their work. It is called being inspired. All artists do that… but not all artists invent a whole new genre of music. Dylan did, she didn’t

  32. This really should not be a debate over the relative merits of Joni’s and Bob’s works, but whether Joni’s comment about Bob Dylan’s plagarism have merit. She’s not the first to mention it but is probobly the most famous.

    There is a career long pattern that I find disturbing. For example, copping Dave Van Ronk’s guitar arragement for Baby Let Me Follow You Down on the first album, taking songwriting credit for a whole host of folk and blues songs on the Self Portait album. Not Dark Yet is a lyrical rip off of Keats (see Christopher Ricks analysis). There’s all the stories of records and guitars that were taken and never seen again (are these people lying – I don’t know – but it fits the pattern). Yet Dylan sues Hootie and the Blow Fish for taking his line from Idiot Wind, if indeed it was his. One of my favorties from Love and Theft was Sugar Baby. I was shocked when I heard Gene Austin’s Lonesome Road from 1927 – almost a note for note copy. I’ve heard people justify the lack of credit because he put theft in the album title. How ridiculous! Because I tell you I’m stealing it’s OK to get royalties and credit from someone elses work? Is that what we want to teach our kids? If that is our level of moral development, this world is in big trouble.

    Someday, someone is going to sift though his work, song by song, line by line, for both music and lyrics, and I’m sad to say, I don’t think it’s going to look good. It pains me to say it as I’ve been a devotee of his work for most of my life. My feeling is that the only thing we can ask of an artist is that they be truthful. However we judge artistic merit, I feel the artist owes us the truth. I feel like I’ve been conned by Bob Dylan. For me, there has been a breach of trust and it cuts deep because I cared so much about his work.

    For some reason, this pattern has not yet been studied in detail and has not recieved much main stream attention. I give Joni credit for having the guts to say the truth. She has to know that she will get grief for it, but hopefully it will call attention to something that deserves a detailed analysis.

  33. Hey Peter,

    Joni didn’t say Neil doesn’t “rock.” She said that he doesn’t rock and roll, for the reason you stated. Joni’s was simply making the point that the swing beat is the “roll” in “rock and roll.” She wasn’t really slamming Neil.

    IMO, Joni is simply the best and most accomplished singer-songwriter alive. That being said, I found the following (from the commentary on another site) to be illuminating:

    Warning: this is going to be rather meta, because I am a historical musicologist and therefore take Mitchell’s ideas as reflections on the “anxiety of influence” and the ever-present conundrum of artists over what is truly new and original vs. what takes from the past and reworks it for the person, place, and time.

    Leaving aside the names and name-calling, I think one of Joni’s main beefs is with the comparison of her and Dylan’s respective musical styles. They are indeed very different, and come from utterly divergent sources. Dylan’s modus operandi is the taking of past practices, influences, and trends, and refashioning them into something that speaks to him and reflects the world as he sees it. R. Schumann, Mahler, Bernstein, Cobain, all typically functioned this way. Great artists, all.

    Mitchell is one of the relatively fewer artists who is more, to use the word as I imagine she uses it, original. That is, her music flows less from a collection, digestion, and transformation of influences than from something purely within her and not tied to time, environment, circumstance, etc. This is very noteworthy when it occurs, and the musicologists I know who are interested in Mitchell all cite her as an example of this–others are Beethoven, Chopin, Sondheim, Thelonius Monk.

    Both approaches are equally valid if unequally distributed. I understand and appreciate Mitchell’s point and where she’s coming from, but I don’t think this detracts from Dylan’s genius in the least.

  34. Joni Mitchell’s creativity may have leaked in through a hole in the ozone layer, but that’s no grounds for her to put down Dylan’s amazing ability to collect and transform lingering ancestral truths into a new concoction that is uniquely his own.

    If Joni were a biologist, she might, by her current stance, accuse the bees of deception for having pilfered the works of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. As the philosopher Michel de Montagne (1533-1592) observed; “Truth and reason are common to all men, and belong no more to him who spake them first than to him that spake them afterwards. Such and such a saying is no more Plato’s than it is mine, since he and I understand in the same fashion. The bees pillage the flowers here, there, everywhere, but then they make honey from their takings, and the honey is all theirs; it is no longer thyme or marjoram. And thus it standeth with him who borroweth from other authors. He will fuse them and transform them, to make thereof a venture all his own.” — Michel de Montaigne

  35. Ted,

    “Lingering ancestral truths” are actually real flesh and blood people who created words and music for which Bob Dylan took credit and used for profit and fame. Now he has an army marketers to perpetuate the Bob Dylan myth and an army of lawyers to stand between him and justice for the agrieved. How would you like it if he took your work?

  36. what a wrinkled old prune boney joni is! her songs (and lyrics) are very linear and childish as opposed to dylans songs which journey and even when simple are light years ahead of her wrinkled crap! she was basically noticed as an ‘artist’ (i use the word very loosely) because she was a groupie for the then rock stars who passed her around like a cheap home roll cigarette they puffed on until it was a stub then they stomped on it and flicked it into the nearest crapper!
    heck…dyland farts are more musical / original than anything she ever produced (they even smell better).

  37. While I like a few of Joni ‘s songs, and think she’s a decent songwriter, nobody can hold a candle to Bob Dylan when it comes to genius lyrics. He’s a legend, and deservedly so. I still listen to his stuff from the 60s, and continue to buy his new stuff as well, which is somewhat different, but strictly his style. I think for an artist of any genre to last this long is remarkable, and attests to his great talent. My favorite Dylan song? Lay Lady Lay. Just never tire of it.

  38. Well, she might have exagerated a little bit, because despite the fact Dylan have copied Woodye Guthrie and others (this is a fact) it’s obvious that he is a amazing songwriter and extremely creative, a true genius.

    But, dear friends…. Joni Mitchell might be as genius as him, or maybe even more “artistically free” than dylan i suggest you guys to listen these albums by this lady:

    Song to a Seagull
    Court and Spark

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