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Bob Dylan 70th birthday countdown - No. 55, 'Bob Dylan and The Law'

Michael Perlin
Michael Perlin
Courtesy Michael Perlin

Welcome to the Bob Dylan 70th birthday countdown. Please say "Hello!" to Michael Perlin, who is celebrating a birthday today.

Perlin is a law professor at New York Law School. He is a participant at the Fordham Law School symposium on April 4-5, entitled "Bob Dylan and The Law". It is free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, I’ll be speaking to an audience at a Fordham Law School’s symposium on “Dylan and the Law.” My paper? Tangled Up in Law: The Jurisprudence of Bob Dylan. Writing it has been a true labor of love (and, since I am a law professor, there are – are you ready – 163 footnotes (!).)

The 45 r.p.m. story of my life as a Dylanista: Saw Bob for the first time at Gerde’s, May ’63 (see Nick Paumgarten, Ladder of the Law: Another Side of Bob Dylan, New Yorker (Nov. 18, 2002), and then next at the March on Washington three months later (see The Times They Are-A Changin’, in Encounters With Bob Dylan: If You See Him, Say Hello 29 (Tracy Johnson ed. 2000), and at other appearances, famous (Carnegie Hall, Oct 31, 1964, aka Live 1964, from the Bootleg Series) and still-unknown (a not-listed-in-the-canon concert at Rutgers University in February 1965 [on the same day that the famous Avedon pictures were taken in Central Park]). Abandoned him during the "Born-Again" era, and returned to the fold in the late 1980s (see Oh Mercy: Blood on the Cusp, 1 Montague Street 13 (2009)), mostly at the urging of my close friend and main Dylanista man, the late Michael J. Feuerstein. Starting in the mid 1990s, I began to use Bob lyrics as the before-the-colon portion of the title of the law review articles I write (mostly about mental disability law, criminal procedure and international human rights law [the first: "Dignity Was the First to Leave": Godinez v. Moran, Colin Ferguson, and the Trial of Mentally Disabled Criminal Defendants, 14 BEHAV. SCI. & L. 61 (1996); the most recent: “With Faces Hidden While The Walls Were Tightening”: Applying International Human Rights Standards To Forensic Psychology, 7 U.S.-CHINA LAW REVIEW 1 (2010))—in all, at least 50 articles begin with Bob’s words.

Saw Bob live for the first time in 20+ years at Roseland in 1994, most recently at Terminal 5 in November 2010, and dozens of times in between. In NJ, in NY, in PA, in RI, in Paris. I quoted Bob at my daughter’s bat-mitzvah, at my son’s bar-mitzvah and, at my mom’s funeral, I read a verse of "Every Grain of Sand". I turn 65 today, and I am thankful that Bob is still a part of my life – even more of my life – than he was when I was a 17 year old college freshman.

Perhaps the greatest single live performance I have seen since the 60s was this: At Irving Plaza, December 1997. I was standing – with my friend Michael and our friend John Fink – in the first row in front of the stage, and we heard (my only time ever), a stunning performance of "I and I".

Happy birthday, Bob… may you stay forever young…


Here are the first and last paragraphs of Perlin's paper:

If all you knew of Bob Dylan’s law-related work was Absolutely Sweet Marie (“to live outside the law/you must be honest”) or Ballad of a Thin Man (“With great lawyers/you have discussed lepers and crooks”), you might think that Dylan had little use for the law or the legal system. And you would be wrong. Putting aside Dylan’s robust career as a litigator (as a plaintiff [to stop the production of bootlegs], as a defendant [in the Hurricane-spawned Patti Valentine litigation and in copyright infringement cases]) or as a witness before Congressional committees examining copyright legislation, a careful examination of Dylan’s lyrics reveals a writer - OK, I’ll say it, a scholar -- with a well-developed jurisprudence, ranging over a broad array of topics that relate to civil and criminal law, public and private law. The canon is, truly, tangled up in law.

**** ****
Since I published Dignity..., I returned to Bob again and again and again. Of course, it’s been fun (and I guess I plead “no contest” to charges of seeking to consciously branding my work). But, it’s been much more than that. I believe that it is not – vide Tombstone Blues -- “useless and pointless knowledge.” Rather, I see it as a reflection of what I see as a near-total consonance between Bob’s jurisprudential and political values and the values I seek to assert in my writings…. . And, in Bob’s spirit and once more channeling Tombstone, ‘the tears [you see] on my cheek are from laughter.”

"Bob Dylan and The Law", Fordham Law School symposium.

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