News Article

Masked and Anonymous

Did Bob Dylan plagiarize a Japanese book? Lyrics throughout his 2001 album ''Love and Theft'' resemble passages from an obscure 1989 biography of a gangster

Bob Dylan | LOVE FOR 'THEFT'? Dylan (shown at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in April) may have borrowed passages
Image credit: Bob Dylan: David Rae Morris/REUTERS/NewsCom
LOVE FOR 'THEFT'? Dylan (shown at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in April) may have borrowed passages

Maybe Bob Dylan was being literal when he called his most recent album ''Love and Theft.'' On the 2001 release, the song ''Floater'' contains about eight lines that appear to have been lifted without attribution from ''Confessions of a Yakuza,'' an obscure 1989 biography by Japanese writer Junichi Saga, the Wall Street Journal reports. Other passages from the book are echoed in four other songs on the album. ''As far as I know, Mr. Dylan's work is original,'' the songwriter's manager told the Journal. But even if he did plagiarize his work, Saga told the Journal he was ''very flattered'' that the famous singer has apparently read and appreciated his book.

Saga, a 62-year-old physician, created the book out of an oral history spun by one of his patients, a retired gangster. The themes of the book are love and outlaw life, ''in other words, love and theft,'' Saga said. The book's English translation sold 25,000 copies when it was published in 1991, more than the Japanese version had. He estimated that the book had earned him a million yen, about $8,475.

The similarities were first discovered by Chris Johnson, a 29-year-old English teacher in Japan who, like Dylan, is a Minnesota native. He read Dr. Saga's book and found that lines like ''My old man would sit there like a feudal lord'' and ''I'm not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded'' reminded him of lyrics from ''Floater'' (''My old man, he's like some feudal lord,'' ''I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound''). In May, he posted a list of similarities on the website dylanchords.com.

Saga, however, is cool and forgiving. While he says he'd be honored if Dylan were to credit him in the liner notes of future editions of ''Love and Theft,'' he has no desire to sue the singer. ''Why would I sue? To take something that made people around the world happy and try to exploit it for money -- that's poverty,'' he told the Associated Press. However, Saga does stand to gain from the publicity. At press time, ''Confessions'' had shot up to No. 173 on Amazon. Stephen Shaw, editorial director of Saga's publisher, Kodansha, told the Journal he hoped Dylan would let them print his picture, or at least offer a blurb, for the dust jacket of the next edition.

Originally posted Jul 08, 2003
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