When Joni Mitchell Called Bob Dylan ‘a Plagiarist’ and ‘Not Authentic at All’
In the mid-1970s, Joni Mitchell had something of a commercial and creative peak. Court and Spark, the ’74 album that brought on more of the undying admiration of Led Zeppelin and reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, stayed on the charts for over a year.
Miles of Aisles (1975) nearly matched that success on the charts, and Hissing of Summer Lawns (1976) was yet another top-five hit for the Canadian-born songwriter and performer. And 1977’s Hejira featured “Coyote,” the brilliant track Mitchell played with The Band in The Last Waltz.
During this same period, Mitchell’s path kept crossing that of Bob Dylan. While making Court and Spark, Mitchell was living at the house of David Geffen, who’d recently signed Dylan to Elektra/Asylum. And Dylan actually fell asleep while Mitchell played her new record at one of Geffen’s parties.
Considering she joined Dylan on-stage for his Rolling Thunder Revue in the following years, Mitchell didn’t take it too personally. However, in the past decade, she casually unloaded on Dylan in the middle of an unrelated interview.
Mitchell ripped into Dylan in 2010, saying his ‘name and voice are fake’
From the late ’60s on, Mitchell and Dylan had a lot of associates in common. She was a major part of the Southern California scene where The Byrds (then with David Crosby) had played Dylan’s songs as folk-rock. And, as one of the great songwriters of the era, Mitchell often got compared to Dylan.
However, you’d never quite call the two friends. In a 1979 interview, she told Cameron Crowe they’d had “a series of brief encounters” and “tests” over the years. While Mitchell said she “always had affection for him,” she clearly wasn’t amused by his sleeping through her album.
“I think Bob was just being cute,” she told Crowe. Sometime in the new century, Mitchell stopped finding Dylan amusing. In a 2010 Los Angeles Times interview (file it among the most noteworthy of the decade), Mitchell positively savaged Dylan.
When the interviewer compared the two of them (citing their name changes), Mitchell reached her limit. “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.”
Mitchell denied some of the comments but repeated others
When fans of Dylan’s howled over Mitchell’s comments, she didn’t seem to sweat it. In 2013, when a CBC interviewer read Mitchell’s words in the Times back to her, she denied she said Dylan wasn’t authentic at all. “That’s not a word I use,” she said.
After ripping apart the Times interviewer (calling him “an a–hole” and “a moron”), Mitchell said it was time to get off the subject of Dylan. Before she did, however, she wanted to point out that she “liked a lot of his songs.” Then she went back to burning him.
“Musically, Dylan’s not very gifted,” she said. “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.”