"Controversy surrounds him," Bob Dylan sang in the 1990 song, "Handy Dandy." Indeed, controversy does often surround Mr. Dylan: Currently, he is being sued for incitement to racial hatred by the Croatian community organization CRICCF (The Representative Council of the Croatian Community and Institutions in France). Surprising, it may seem, given that Dylan was one of the figure-heads of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and has frequently spoken out against racism in his songs. Well, the CRICCF is suing Mr. Dylan after he made a comparison between Croatians and Nazis in an interview published in Rolling Stone
"If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that," Dylan told Rolling Stone
. "That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."
While it is unfair to compare Croatians as a people to Nazis, Croatian ultra-nationalists did collaborate with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The Croatian fascist party Ustasa was responsible for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, and Roma in concentration camps during the war. In the 1990s, Croat and Serb forces fought each other during the Yugoslav wars. If Mr. Dylan is convicted, he faces six months in jail and a fine of 22,000 Euros for racial insult and one year in jail and a fine of 45,000 Euros for incitement to racial hatred.
This is of course not the first time Bob Dylan stirred a shitstorm. We don't even have to take it all the way to the 1960s, when Dylan pissed off folk nerds by playing the electric guitar, or the 1980s, when Dylan converted to Christianity and for a while played only religious songs. In the last 10 years, his unpredictable antics have frequently made headlines:
Bob Dylan disappointed his fans by appearing in a Victoria's Secret ad. Being a symbol of counter-culture, admirers expected Dylan to be anti-commercial. They should have remembered his prosaic remark in a 1965 press conference, that if he was ever going to sell out to commercialism, it would be for "women's garments."
Dylan played in China for the first time. In a New York Times Op-Ed
, Maureen Dowd condemned Dylan for not taking a stand against the Chinese government and for allegedly letting them vet his set-list before the shows. This prompted a rare open letter
from Dylan, in which he claimed the set-list was never censored. He ended it with the following, ever-so-dry lines: "Everybody knows by now that there's a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I'm encouraging anybody who's ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them."
Later in 2011,
Bob Dylan held his very first exhibition of his paintings in New York. "Bob Dylan: The Asia Series" was a series of paintings inspired by Dylan's travels in South East Asia -- at least according to the press release. When some obsessive fans on the web forum Expecting Rain
located several photos, which the artist seemed to have simply copied without giving due credit, the shit once again hit the fan. Dylan's representative defended him, saying "the paintings' vibrance and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels."
Plagiarism is a common accusation
in the music world, despite the fact that the original artists of blues, folk songs, and rock 'n' roll, on whose work much of modern Western music is founded, were notoriously careless about copying earlier works of music and texts. Several of Dylan's recent albums have been under scrutiny: Love and Theft
, from 2001, was said to contain lyrics borrowed from Confessions of a Yakuza
, a novel by the Japanese author Junichi Saga . Modern Times,
from 2006, featured lyrics that closely resembled the 19th century poet Henry Timrod. To this Dylan replied, in the same Rolling Stone
article in which he made the remark about Croatians and Serbs, "Oh, yeah, in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It's true for everybody, but me. I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It's an old thing -- it's part of the tradition. It goes way back."