I am not much of a Dylan fan but I was intrigued that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. As it happens, I had been thinking of him the day before announcement because I had been listening to some Irish folk music on YouTube. I had been looking up songs by Dominic Behan and went from “Liverpool Lou” (a beautiful, sad song on the unpromising theme of a man in love with a prostitute) to “McAlpine’s Fusiliers” (a semi-comical song about the harsh lives of the Irish labourers who “built” Britain) to his classic “The Patriot Game” (sung from the point of view of a young Irish rebel as he is dying). I thought for the first time that “Patriot Game” sounded a bit like Dylan’s masterpiece “With God on Our Side”. Sure enough, it turned out that there was a controversy about it and Behan accused Dylan of plagiarism.
I am not wading in on the debate, I just mention it because it then reminded me of an interesting incident in 2003 when it was suggested that Dylan lifted words from the English version of a book by a Japanese author Junichi Saga and used them as lyrics. (The book, Confessions of a Yakuza, is well-regarded by foreigners with an interest in Japan.) I had the good fortune to interview Dr Saga by phone around that time and, if I remember correctly, he said he was flattered if his words were used by Dylan and he thought it was a good thing that they would appear in a new medium where they would reach more people. His was a very charming response and I hope it brought more readers to Dr Saga’s work (I strongly recommend his Memories of Silk and Straw). After all, he is a man who inspired a Nobel Prize winner.