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Credit: Martin Scorsese


Why Joni Mitchell once labelled Bob Dylan "a plagiarist"


Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan’s paths have crossed on countless occasions over the last fifty or so years. With the two stars of songwriting even sharing the stage on Dylan’s famous Rolling Thunder Revue Tour but, if you believe what you read, the pair have seemingly never been friends.

The two folkies were part of the same scene throughout the late 1960s and early ’70s and never really got on. Mitchell may have held back from publically speaking about her initial dislike of Dylan for the benefit of her career as they both shared a similar fanbase who, by bringing down the poster boy of the folk scene, she risked alienating. However, in recent years Joni has done anything but bite her tongue.

One potential reason for why Mitchell is filled with such wholesale contempt for Dylan, often regarded as the greatest songwriter of all time, and everything he represents dates back all the way to when she was working on her 1974 album, Court and Spark.

Mitchell was living at record label mogul and sometime boyfriend David Geffen’s house at this point, and Geffen had also recently signed Dylan to Elektra/Asylum. When Mitchell played the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan a preview of the record at one of Geffen’s parties, he was so enthralled by the album that he, erm, fell asleep.

This didn’t stop Mitchell from joining her contemporary for his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, but it perhaps was the start of her turning against the legendary artist who, it’s safe to say, she is no fan of, as a more recent interview proves. What makes this change in attitude even odder is that in 1979 well after the sleeping incident, during an interview with Cameron Crowe, Mitchell was full of praise for him.

She revealed to the interviewer that she and Dylan had “a series of brief encounters” as well as “tests” over the years but Mitchell made it clear in her own words that she “always had affection for him”.

Contrarily, during an interview with the LA Times in 2010, the interviewer compared the two of them, which the report claimed that Mitchell fiercely refuted this comparison and stated: “We are like night and day, [Dylan] and I,” she said. “Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

This comment would later be dismissed by Mitchell herself in 2013 when in conversation with CBC when she claimed to have never said such a thing. The presenter read Mitchell’s alleged words back to her and the singer denied saying he wasn’t authentic, stating “that’s not a word I use”.

Mitchell then called the LA Times interviewer both “an a-hole” and “a moron” before then attempting to steer the subject away from Dylan, but before she did, she wanted to have her final say on the topic. She wanted to make it clear that she “liked a lot of his songs” but then basically lays out why she doesn’t think he’s authentic without using the word in question.

She then unloaded her unfiltered opinion: “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 be so gruff with an icon? Likely because he didn’t show her the respect she deserved.

Enjoy a clip of the two during simpler times below before all the anomysity kicked in.