Mimi Haddon (University of Sussex, UK)
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
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.