July 31, 2012


"New Yorker" Writer Made Up Dylan Quotes: Can You Spot the Fakes?

John Cohen
John Cohen

Who doesn't love a good plagiarism story?

Now-former New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer admitted he fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his recently published book "Imagine: How Creativity Works," which devoted an entire (half-true) chapter to discussing the process behind Bobbo's classic "Like a Rolling Stone" and how that song exemplifies the creative process.

Why take that risk in such a public fashion, you ask? Did this guy take some time out of his mind? Maybe Lehrer was hoping since Dylan has said so many crazy things ("chaos, watermelon, clocks!") over the years, a few mash-up quotes and outright fabrications would pass unnoticed. But Lehrer didn't account for the legions of Dylan apostles—including journalist Michael C. Moynihan, who uncovered the ruse—who love Zimmerman and can smell falsity a mile away on Highway 61. (The incident has even inspired a Fake Bob Dylan Twitter.) But can YOU spot the fakes? 

Below are 10 quotes. Seven of them are from Dylan, and three are them are from "Dylan" in Lehrer's book. Find all three fakes and you get a free harmonica! (Not really). Click on the highlighted portions of the sentences below to see the original source, be it true or false. For the explanations behind the faked quotes, scroll down below the video of Dylan singing "It Must Be Santa," just because that video is never not funny. 

(Friendly tip: Don't look at the links before clicking unless you're a dirty cheater who likes to win at everything no matter the ethical cost.)

1. "I’m glad I’m not that."

2. "A new world of art was opening up my mind."

3. "Give the anarchist a cigarette."

4. "I just write them. There’s no great message. Stop asking me to explain."

5. "I’m trying to break free."

6. "Performers are people who perform for other people. Unlike actors, I know what I'm saying."

7. "I never would have written a song if I didn't play all them old folk songs first. I never would have thought to write a song, you know?"

8. "The more you act the further you get away from the truth."

9. "It’s a hard thing to describe. It’s just this sense that you got something to say."

10. "I do whatever comes naturally." 

And the fake Dylan quotes are....

1. "I’m glad I’m not that."

This is actually a fake quote based on a real one. In the 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back, the fame-weary singer says, "God, I’m glad I’m not me," while reading about himself in a newspaper. According to Moynihan, "There is no verifiable reference to Dylan ever saying this." And since it's unsourced in the book, this fall squarely into the "fake" category. 

4. "I just write them. There’s no great message. Stop asking me to explain." 

Before Lehrer admitted to his ruse, Moynihan said he attempted to explain the above sentence "was a hybrid quote, with the first two sentences appearing in Don't Look Back and the admonition to 'stop asking me to explain' from a 1995 radio interview." But after further research, Moynihan said it became clear that the "stop asking me to explain" portion of that sentence was a very liberal add-on (i.e., lie) from Lehrer. 

9. "It’s a hard thing to describe. It’s just this sense that you got something to say." 

This isn't Dylan talking about songwriting. This isn't Dylan talking about anything. This is just a published author talking out of his ass and putting words into the mouth of one of the 20th century's greatest songwriters. 

Did you catch all the fakes? Did any of the real ones surprise you?