♫ 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.
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!).