A November, 1963 Newsweek
article fueled rumors that Dylan stole this song from a New Jersey high school student. In 1962, Dylan let a folk magazine called Sing Out!
publish the lyrics. The student, Lorre Wyatt from Millburn, New Jersey, got the magazine and played it for the band he was in, claiming he wrote it. They performed it for their school a few months before Dylan released the song, which led everyone in the school to believe Dylan had stolen the song from Wyatt.
The rumor became a bigger kerfuffle thanks to some circumstantial evidence linking Dylan to the student:
1) Dylan visited an ailing Woody Guthrie at Greystone Hospital in New Jersey at the same time that Wyatt was a volunteer there, known for singing songs to the patients.
2) Dylan and Wyatt were both known to hang out in Greenwich Village around 1962.
3) Dylan didn't publish the song until July 30, 1962, which was three weeks after he recorded it. This was unusual in that musicians like to publish their works first to keep them from getting stolen, and it set up a scenario where Dylan heard the song, recorded it, found out it wasn't published and then published it himself. The truth was that Dylan didn't always tend to the legal details at a time when he was cranking out song after song.
4) When Mike Royko of the Chicago Daily News
contacted Wyatt in 1974 and asked if he wrote the song, Wyatt didn't deny it and refused comment, which supported his claim that he had sold the song for $1,000 and was forbidden from talking about it as part of the terms. Later that year, Wyatt came clean, but in the New Times
, which had a much smaller circulation than the Chicago Daily News
. Wyatt explained how things got out of control, as by trying to downplay his role in the song, it fueled the rumors and led his classmates and teachers to believe they had the inside scoop. Said Wyatt: "I'd begun to make Pinocchio look like he had a pug nose." For a fictional portrayal of a similar story, check out the movie The Squid And The Whale
, where a high school student passes off "Hey You
" as his own.