Matrices of “Love and Theft”: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Gendered and Racial Capital


The ideas for this paper emerged from two scenes. First, a scene from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Dont Look Back that depicts Bob Dylan’s UK tour in 1965. Specifically, the moment when tour promoter Tito Burns and manager Albert Grossman barter with the BBC and Granada Studios over a Dylan exclusive. Secondly, I am interested in a scene from Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home where Joan Baez impersonates Dylan; she mimics perfectly his voice, laugh, and mannerisms.

I suggest that these two scenes can be read as sites of exchange. In the first, Dylan-as-commodity is up for auction. In the second, Dylan’s voice is the thing that is exchanged; it uncannily emanates from Baez’s body and in turn illuminates how Dylan’s value-as-commodity derives from his own abilities as an imitator. Indeed, Baez’s imitation is matryoshka-like for the way it nests Dylan in Baez, and Dylan is known for his imitation of other singers, including Odetta, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, and Dave Van Ronk.

Through a reading of these two scenes, I suggest that Baez’s imitation of the imitator (Dylan) elucidates slippages in property, persona, and identity that are redolent of, though certainly not identical to, Eric Lott’s analyses of blackface minstrelsy insofar as they engage a complex discourse of “love and theft.” But while Lott’s analysis centres on white-male homoerotic desire and dispossession, this paper explores the exchange of different kinds of gendered and racial capital that underscore the commodity that Burns and Grossman auction for the highest price.

100-word bio

Mimi Haddon is Lecturer in Music at the University of Sussex where she teaches modules on music history and popular music. Her work has appeared in the journals Popular MusicWomen & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television. She has a forthcoming chapter on Nico in a book about the Velvet UndergroundHer book What is Post-Punk?: Genre and Identity in Avant-Garde Popular Music, 1977-1982 is available here from the University of Michigan Press.

YouTube links

Baez imitates Dylan in No Direction Home

Baez performs “Mary Hamilton” in the style of Dylan

Dylan sings Hank Williams songs in Dont Look Back

Baez sings “Virgin Mary” in No Direction Home

Baez performing “Honest Lullaby” on the Muppet Show

Baez imitating Marlon Brando on the Muppet Show

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