Thursday, May 27, 2010

Behan's Lawyers

When Bob Dylan's third album The Times They Are A-Changin' was released in 1964, the Irish folk singer Dominic Behan was incensed to find that Dylan was credited as the composer of With God On Our Side, the tune of which Behan claimed to have written himself some time before as The Patriot Game. Actually the tune is a traditional, but that didn't stop Behan chiding Dylan publicly. During one of Dylan's early British tours, Behan called the American star in his hotel suite. Upon hearing Behan's uncompromising tirade, Dylan gave him the stereotypical American answer My lawyers can speak with your lawyers. That did not placate the angry Irishman. His alleged reply was: I've got two lawyers, and they're on the end of my wrists!


  1. "Dylan was credited as the composer". Didn't he claim he was, as Behan did?

    "Actually the tune is a traditional". An Irish traditional?

    The question matters. Nulla poena sine lege is not the only principle which helps to decide whether someone is a gentleman or not. It makes a difference if an Irish traditionalist uses an Irish traditional for a song treating a theme concerning Irish people, or if someone coming from elsewhere, or rather from a place in continuous search of other people's traditions to use, uses the traditionalist's use of that traditional expanding the question from irishness to a universal level (Vietnam...). Conclusion: a genious doesn't need to be a gentleman?

    If I understood well, Behan went to trial for instance because of his song's structure becoming material for Dylan's structure. The little selfish Irland remained the little Irland, while Dylan launched the same song metamorphised to fit with the global context, the Goliath USA and the little selfish Vietnam.

    Dylan didn't write the song. He was only 23 years old then. This is a valid excuse, but it is the only one.

    Did he later give a more dignified view? If not, the story reminds the story of the refined Jacob and the coarse Esau. Just imagine Jacob speaking about his lawyers

  2. "To live outside the law you must be honest."

    Bob Dylan