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Courthouse rock

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  October 15, 2006 05:12 PM

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Which popular musician do lawyers and judges quote most? According to a report today on WNYC's "On the Media," it's Bob Dylan (whose lyrics, coincidentally, are the subject of today's "Word" column in Ideas).

The top 10 also include the Beatles and the Stones, Woody Guthrie and Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon, both solo and with Garfunkel. But author Alex B. Long doesn't just report the rankings. His analysis, online at the Berkeley Electronic Press, also covers the demographics of musical taste:

While it is unlikely that the volume of Tupac, 50 Cent, or Ludacris lyrics will ever rival those of Bob Dylan in legal scholarship . . . "rap music vernacular" will become more prevalent as the legal profession becomes more diverse.

And what makes a lyricist quotable:

[Chuck] Berry has been dubbed the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll, yet his lyrics are rarely used in legal writing. This may be because his poetry is often though of as the poetry of cars, girls, and being young and bored. Important themes all, but only infrequently do they find their way into the courtrooms.

And when – as in the case of an opinion that cited both the Beatles and Pink Floyd -- quoting lyrics may do more harm than good:

While the music of the Beatles . . . transcends any number of age or cultural barriers, the music of Pink Floyd is not nearly so universally loved. In order to be effective, a metaphor must not only be descriptive, but it must be easily accessible. . . . The "Another Brick in the Wall" reference is likely to be lost on a sizable portion of the readers and may, in fact, be off-putting.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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