Bob Dylan and the Law

Who knew the nation had a "leading authority on the citation of popular music in judicial opinions"? The authority turns out to be Alex Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee. Prof. Long tells us that Chief Justice Roberts' dissent in Sprint Communications v. APCC (a case Adam Liptak accurately describes as "an achingly boring dispute between pay phone companies and long distance carriers") is "a landmark opinion." Not because of the legal analysis, mind you, but because it "was almost certainly the first use of a rock lyric to buttress a legal proposition in a Supreme Court decision."

“The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “ ‘When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.’ Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).”

Prof. Long reports that Dylan is a favorite of lower court judges, having been quoted 26 times, most often for "You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" (from "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). The professor notes that the Chief Justice (or his law clerk) got the lyric wrong, both as a quotation and as to its meaning. [more...]

What Mr. Dylan actually sings, of course, is, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” ...

The larger objection is that the citation is not true to the original point Mr. Dylan was making, which was about the freedom that having nothing conveys and not about who may sue a phone company. (See, e.g., “Me and Bobby McGee.”)

By Prof. Long's count, Paul Simon (with or without Garfunkel) is the second most quoted lyricist, followed by Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and Joni Mitchell.

If you look to the bottom of the column to your right, you'll find the official Dylan lyric of TalkLeft.

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  • Display: Sort:
    How does it feel (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by ruffian on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:01:35 PM EST
    "You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal."

    Maybe that's where Roberts was going with that, regarding listening to my phone calls.

    "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothing to lose" - Prof. Long has the wrong song.  That line is from 'Like a Rolling stone", not Me and Bobby McGee.

    God, I just can't stand this anymore.

    Sorry, I see I missed a line in his post (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by ruffian on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:03:48 PM EST
    Still, I can't stand it.

    No, he's right. (none / 0) (#16)
    by Avedon on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 08:07:10 PM EST
    He's citing "Me and Bobby McGee" ("Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose") as support for Dylan's meaning in "Like a Rolling Stone".

    Amazing. I've been looking for a way (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:13:54 PM EST
    to use my interest in classical music in my profession as a lawyer.  Must learn to think outside the box.

    Ah, but there are no lyrics (none / 0) (#4)
    by ruffian on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:22:37 PM EST
    to mis-use to your purpose.  How do you feel about show tunes?

    Tepid, unless Rodgers and (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:29:45 PM EST
    Hammerstein, but, that's clearly a generational thing.  

    R & H is all you need (none / 0) (#7)
    by ruffian on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:38:32 PM EST
    Plenty there to work into your arguments and opinions. Too bad you won't be able to pretend to be hip though.

    THere is absolutely no chance anyone (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 03:38:36 PM EST
    would buy my pretending to be hip.

    Au contraire ... (none / 0) (#6)
    by badger on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:37:49 PM EST
    I can think of a lot of legal applications for "Confutatis maledictus ..." (from Mozart's Requiem). Ode to Joy not so much, legally.

    Ha! I stand corrected! (none / 0) (#8)
    by ruffian on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 02:39:26 PM EST
    But isn't that from Harry Potter?

    I'm listening to a CD of Jim Norton (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 03:40:57 PM EST
    reading Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  In one portion, the Joyce character listens to a rousing sermon by a priest to the school boys about sin, final judgment, and especially hell.  Quite graphic and the sermon greatly impacts the narrator, who has been having sex with prostitutes.  The music?  Dies Irae.  

    Sonata Form: ABA (none / 0) (#9)
    by squeaky on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 03:14:37 PM EST
    Classical music is rife with examples of conflict and resolution, dueling themes, variations, fugues, etc. There are tons of possible metaphors that would be apt in a legal argument. But all in all Classical music is far to arcane to draw from while arguing a case. Quoting relevant episodes in specific pieces would fall on deaf ears because most Americans are musically illiterate.

    So true. Not to mention, it seems the (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 03:42:09 PM EST
    judges are getting younger and younger!

    Maybe Joan Baez' counter point is apt. (none / 0) (#13)
    by wurman on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 05:18:37 PM EST
    from "Diamonds and Rust" (link):
    . . .
    And here I sit
    Hand on the telephone
    Hearing a voice I'd known
    A couple of light years ago
    Heading straight for a fall

    As I remember your eyes
    Were bluer than robin's eggs
    My poetry was lousy you said
    Where are you calling from?
    A booth in the midwest

    . . .

    At least there's a telephone in use from an actual phone booth.  Are there any booths left in the USA, outside museums?  I was in a small city of about 20,000 people a few days ago & there are no pay phones anywhere in the village.

    So When is a Judge Going to Give Us (none / 0) (#14)
    by kaleidescope on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 05:51:47 PM EST
    It can't help but make you feel ashamed
    To live in a land
    Where justice is a game.

    Look out Kid, y'gonna get did (none / 0) (#15)
    by RonK Seattle on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 06:29:41 PM EST

    Oh, I expected something else (none / 0) (#17)
    by Avedon on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 08:10:51 PM EST
    Like Dylan as a (not very accurate) reporter of legal cases, such as in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll":

    "And he spoke from his cloak, most deep and distinguished
    And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
    To William Zanzinger, a six-month sentence."

    Bob Cat for life (none / 0) (#18)
    by karen for Clinton on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 08:15:55 PM EST
    and this is an old story to me.

    Surrounded by Bob pics, screen savers and memories of 55 or so live shows.

    The endorsement after the presumed nomination (first in his life - notwithstanding the Clinton Blue Jeans bash playing) by him of "you know who" and then his playing "Handy Dandy" last night is his typical Gemini (for lack of better description) personality.  An enigma wrapped in a conundrum of mysterious forces - our Bob.

    That he did that song last night for the first time EVER live says a hell of a lot to me.  Now who could that be whom he was talking about?  If every bone in his body was broken he wouldn't admit it and he is carrying a stick... hmmmmm?

    Oh, BIG TIME Bob head here... but he did endorse Escalade too and Victoria's secrets.

    Sigh.  Hibbing produced the Bus I now sit under.

    All circular reasoning, eh?

    The Dylan lyric I find myself using (none / 0) (#19)
    by Peter G on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 08:54:11 PM EST
    most often -- sometimes, but carefully, with clients even -- is this:  "To live outside the law, you must be honest; I know you always said that you agree.  So where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?"  Where, indeed.