Bob Dylan is a great enough literary figure that we don't need to prop him up with puffery and papered-over hagiography. "Rock's Enigmatic Poet Opens a Long-Private Door," by Robert Hilburn (April 4), while contributing insight into Dylan's songwriting process, failed to mention a recent revelation about his award-winning album "Love and Theft." Many of its words and ideas were allegedly taken without attribution from a contemporary Japanese novel, "Confessions of a Yakuza," by Junichi Saga. Some have dismissed the borrowing by saying that songwriters have always taken material from other writers, especially in the folk idiom. Others say Dylan himself made open reference to the process in selecting the album's title. Both points are irrelevant.
The borrowing was more theft than love. Indeed, if one re-reads the article, it's clear the controversy remains on Dylan's mind, at least subconsciously, given his various quotes about "copying" and what kind is permissible. Not that any of this takes away from the magnitude of his literary accomplishment. Still, by overlooking the recent plagiarism and by making the preposterous claim that Dylan's last two albums, including "Love and Theft," were as important or meaningful as such bona fide classics as "Blonde on Blonde" and "Blood on the Tracks," Hilburn participates in the pervasive, fashionable lie that Dylan's current songwriting is as vigorous, interesting or just plain entertaining as it used to be. The truth is, Dylan's lyrical world is an increasingly fossilized, fetishistic view of a troubadour universe that he once managed to participate in, laugh at and mine for ideas, all at the same time.