Like a Rolling Stone…

♫ If not for you, winter would have no spring
I couldn’t hear the robins sing
I just wouldn’t have a clue
Anyway it wouldn’t ring true if not for you
If not for you, if not for you….♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by Bob Dylan.

If not for You cover

If Not for You Cover

NPR (National Public Radio) posted an interview of Alex Long, University of Tennessee law professor done by Robert Siegel. It seems that Bob Dylan’s song lyrics are quoted more than any other song writer in American court opinions and briefs.

Having felt the pull on one or two occasions to quote from song lyrics, this interview caught my eye. It seems that old Bob D has been quoted 186 times, at least according to a study done by Professor Long. The most quoted song of Dylan? It isn’t what you probably expect. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” wins the top prize.

Now that it would be a blues song is not totally surprising – the blues having being born in suffering and hardship. The particular lyrics that were most quoted, however, may be surprising:

Keep a clean nose. Watch the plain clothes. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Why these lines, over all others? Long explains:

California court of appeals cites that line quite a bit in their opinions, to the point now that it’s almost boilerplate. It comes up when in the course of a trial, you need to introduce evidence. Sometimes, that evidence is complicated. Scientific evidence can be difficult for the jury to understand, and sometimes, you need the expert testimony who can explain it to the jurors. But sometimes, you don’t need the expert testimony, and so the California court has said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Unfortunately his study ended in 2007. It would be great to build this into an online database and expand it to include Canadian decisions as well. Maybe there is a book here! After all, Professor Long said:

..I still get emails and such from lawyers and judges who tell me from time to time how they’ve worked in songs into their opinions or into the briefs that they’ve filed. I had a lawyer from San Francisco tell me that he always tries to work in The Grateful Dead whenever he files something with the court. I had another judge somewhere give me a copy of an opinion that he had written in which the entire opinion was written around Beatles lyrics. Every sentence in there included some line from a Beatles song. It was pretty funny.

I guess writing that Beatles opinion was a hard day’s night…

(If not for you, Sheila Schierbeck, Membership Director of the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, I wouldn’t have known about this article. Thanks!).


  1. The Law Page of the Globe and Mail carried this story today. I guess the Globe reporter did a little original research, as the story (unattributed) concludes “A quick search of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) database of judgments suggests that Canadian judges, who tend to have a drier, more no-nonsense style, are not likely to quote Mr. Dylan.”

  2. Master Short of ONSC quoted Lewis Carrol in Brand Name Marketing v. Rogers, 2010 ONSC 2892.

  3. The following paragraph is taken from the Wikipedia article on “The Weather Underground”:

    The Weathermen grew out of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) faction of SDS. It took its name from the lyric “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, from the Bob Dylan song “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows was the title of a position paper they distributed at an SDS convention in Chicago on June 18, 1969. This founding document called for a “white fighting force” to be allied with the “Black Liberation Movement” and other radical movements[5] to achieve “the destruction of US imperialism and achieve a classless world: world communism.”[6]

    Interesting that a revolutionary movement and the Califnoria Court take their inspiration from the same text.