September-October 2010

Who Wrote Dylan?

By Ross Altman, Ph.D.

Dylan.jpgJoni Mitchell's charge in a recent interview with the LA Times that Bob Dylan is "a fake and a plagiarist" casts a long shadow over his claim to have written many of the greatest songs of our generation. Principle among them is Joni's reminder that Bob Dylan is not really Bob Dylan; he was born "Robert Zimmerman" to a middle-class Jewish family in Duluth, Minnesota and raised in the small town of Hibbing on the northern iron range, far from the finer schools in New York, Boston and Chicago, where someone might have reasonably acquired the kind of education implied by such masterpieces as Blowing In the Wind, The Times They Are-A-Changing and Like A Rolling Stone.

We now know that Dylan's later work, written under the full glare of world-wide fame, and thus indisputably his own, bears no resemblance to the early songs which seem to have sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus himself.

Compare, for example, the following lines:

If dogs run free

then why not we?

with the opening lines of It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child's balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There's no sense in trying.

It is utterly implausible to suppose that the same man wrote both, and yet that is what we are asked to believe to accept the authorship of Bob Dylan to songs that defined the generation of the 1960s.

It is not only external sources and documents that cast profound doubt over the authorship question of "America's greatest living songwriter," but vast swaths of internal evidence from the songs themselves.Take for example, the following, from Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again:

WelPrince_Charles.jpgl, Shakespeare, he's in the alley,

with his pointed shoes and his bells

Speaking to some French girl

Who says she knows me well.

Whoever wrote that apparently, but deceptively surrealist verse, had to have been well acquainted with Shakespeare. Where, I ask you,would a young kid in Hibbing, Minnesota, be expected to find sufficient access to the plays to come up with such references? He barely passed the Hebrew exams for his Bar Mitzvah!

And consider the following, from Desolation Row:

Ophelia, she's ‘neath the window

For her I feel so afraid

On her twenty-second birthday

She already is an old maid.

It is clear from even this much that the true author of Dylan's early songs was intimately familiar with the works of England's greatest poet, and not only Shakespeare.

Recall the following, from the same song:

Ezra Pound and T.S.Eliot

Are fighting in the captain's tower

While calypso singers laugh at them

And fishermen throw flowers.

There seems to be no question that whoever wrote those lines, it was not some uneducated bumpkin from the Minnesota iron range, a college dropout after one semester, but a highly educated student of both classic and modern poetry.

The question lingers in the air like the rich aftertaste of a fine cigar: if Dylan didn't write those songs, then who did? Fortunately, we are now able to determine that a descendant of British royalty is the mostl ikely candidate, one plausibly raised on the great poets of his own country,as well as the American exiles who came there during the 1920s, such Eliot and Pound.

I refer, of course, to Prince Charles of Wales. Where wouldt he American Dylan have encountered British royalty, such that an arrangement could have been made to finalize all contractual obligations from the hidden authorship of his songs?

Why, in England, of course, during his British tour of 1966,when he met the Beatles. That is where Mr. Dylan spent much of his time fencing with the hapless British interviewers vainly trying to get to the bottom of his songs so-called hidden meanings.

It is no accident he was incapable of giving serious answers to their prying questions, like, "Do you consider yourself a folk singer?" and "Have you stopped writing protest songs?" Poor Mr. Dylan hadn't a clue what af olk singer was, or a protest song, he was simply there to forge a deal with the Prince so that he could continue to get paid for putting his name on PrinceCharles's works of genius.

Why would the Prince need to find a front to take credit for his amazing artistic creations? Why, of course it would have been unseemly fora member of the British Royal Family to be found out as a common songwriter.

Oh, I can hear the carpers already- those who would claim some kind of class prejudice is at work here-t hat only the rich and well educated may be supposed capable of artistic genius; but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

Dylan himself, never entirely comfortable with the arrangement, dropped hints along the way, by adding tags to many of these songs before they were recorded, little time bombs waiting to go off in some distant future, when the culture would have been dumbed down to the point that people known as "tea baggers" would be able to command a seat in the national conversation. That time is now, when minds are demonstrably open to every kindof shibboleth, and even Supreme Court Justices are willing to cast doubt on settled traditions by selecting presidents, treating multi-national corporations as individuals, giving every gun-toting nut case the right to shoot his mouth off in Starbucks, and using their bully pulpit to revise thehistory of English literature by claiming that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, the Earl of Oxford did.

In the last verse of Desolation Row Dylan rewrote Prince Charles' song by cryptically adding,

Yes I received your letter yesterday

About the time the doorknob broke

When you asked me how I was doing

Was that some kind of joke?

All the people that you mentioned

Yes I know them they're quite lame

I had to rearrange their faces

And give them all another name...

It has been mistakenly assumed all these years that this was some kind of love song with a bad end; it is now clear that Dylan was in fact communicating incognito with his ghostwriter, and that the letter he received was from Prince Charles himself. Dylan thus ends the song with a message to the prince:

Right now, I can't read too good

Don't send me no more letters no

Not unless you mail them

from Desolation Row.

That was Dylan's way of thus terminating their relationship,with the disastrous consequences to the quality of songs soon to appear under his name. After Blonde on Blonde,which songs had already been sent to Dylan by the Prince, and were thus the last to bear the marks of his supernal genius, Dylan obviously needed some time off to regroup. How fortuitous that just at this time he concocted the story of a motorcycle accident and broken neck, to take off some of the pressure to perform and produce.

Four years later he came out with songs like:

John Wesley Harding was a friend to the poor

light years away from this line:

The ghost of‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.

(Visions of Johanna)

Yes, it was now painfully clear that Dylan was on his own,and Prince Charles had moved on; with no decoy able to protect him from the prying eyes of the British Royal Family, he stopped writing songs and decided  to concentrate on his personal life and creating an heir to the throne. In 1981he married Lady Diana. The second most fruitful literary arrangement in historyhad thus come to an end.

And to somehow get back at the wayward restless spirit of his American nom de plume, Prince Charles quickly lent his name to local efforts to discredit Shakespeare himself, and to support his antecedent, the Earl of Oxford, in his descendants claim that he had in fact written Shakespeare's plays. Not being able to attack Dylan directly, what better way to cast doubt on the authenticity of his songs than by showing that a similar country bumpkin could not have written Hamlet either?

It's a fine argument, as far as it goes; the only problem with it is that a contemporary of Shakespeare, the poet Ben Jonson, none of whose works are in dispute, said of the bard, whom he called "Sweet swan ofAvon," that though he had "small Latin, and less Greek,"

"He was not of an age, but for all time!" The poem from which these lines are taken, To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare- AND WHAT HE HATH LEFT US- is prefixed to the first folio of Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623, while Jonson was still alive.

More to the point, it is further evident that Prince Charlesof Wales is himself the source for Dylan's new name. When asked recently if he had heard of Dylan, the Prince replied, "Why, of course; every Welsh schoolchild reveres the name of our greatest poet, Dylan Thomas." It was thus only natural that he would have prevailed on the young American to assume the nameof Dylan, so that the Prince might at least have the pleasure of thinking that his own songs had been written by a Welshman.

But the most damning piece of evidence against "Bob Dylan"as the author of the songs of Bob Dylan, comes not from the prince, but from Bob Dylan himself. His recent movie, Maskeda nd Anonymous, in part a satire on his own celebrity, is clearly the sourceof the upcoming movie, entitled Anonymous, proposing that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If so, then what did Shakespeare write?

It follows as the night the day: Shakespeare wrote Dylan.

Ross Altman has a Ph.D. in English. Before becoming a full-timef olk singer he taught college English and Speech. He now sings around California for libraries, unions, schools, political groups and folk festivals.You can reach Ross at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


All Columns by Ross Altman