Friday, September 15, 2006

Well this week is another Dylan week, no question. Gordon Thomas - the man who not only played keyboards at my wedding but also took the photos as well -- pulled our coat to a New York Times story that uncovers the half suspected story of grafting done on Modern Times. We went through this with the Yazuka book and Love and Theft too..

Gordon Writes ... On Modern Times, Dylan sings:

More frailer than flowers, these precious hours/That keep us so tightly bound
On hearing these lines, I thought, well, that’s like something from an old poem, isn’t it, and, now, this just in from the NYTimes (9/14/06): Dylan’s lines are from an old poem. More precisely from Henry Timrod’s Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night:

A round of precious hours/Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked/And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers

No big surprise, not after hearing of the borrowings, on Love & Theft, from an obscure, but recent and copyrighted, Japanese book on the Yakuza culture. Timrod died in 1867, and Dylan uses at least five more of his lines in When the Deal Goes Down without any need to sweat plagiarism charges.

But what manner of plagiarism is Dylan’s, anyway? It’s all cut and paste. In Timrod’s poem, it’s the poet’s logic that’s frailer than the flowers, not the hours. The lines from the Yakuza book were hammered into the song Floater, the persona of which appears to be a disaffected tobacco farmer down South, a concoction fairly distant from a Japanese gangster. Dylan has no designs on the actual expressive content of his sources. When he wants the feel of archaic, flowery poeticism, he rips lines from an archaic, flowery poem, but the song itself is all late-in-the-day Bob Dylan, sad and kooky.

Should Bob be doing this? Is Dylan still a genius? I don’t know. Whether Bob wrote ‘em or not, my favorite lines from the album are these:
I’m as pale as a ghost/Holding a blossom on a stem/You ever seen a ghost? No/But you have heard of them
Now, that’s as funny as when, back in the day, the post office was stolen.

This all just doesnt bother me. I think it is pretty cool. A variation on the bluesman's method. Ofcourse, if he'd 'done this on a resarch paper' he'd be in big trouble. If you have seen the features on the Gods and Generals DVD [the best part], you see this as ever so possible.

Of interst is the fact that the uncovering was done via Google search [Moloch].

The fact that "mODeRN TIMes" includes the letters that spell TIMROD? Well that is up there with the Beatles in the Trees on John Wesley Harding no question.

All this has caused me to repost the press relase Gordon and I did a few years ago when the Yazuka scandle hit.... under the gnome du plume of Norman Clature...

Musician rocked by scandal

- Dylan, under pressure, drops post; ‘Poor Boy’ at issue -

By Norman Clature

[Laguna Seca, Calif./Sept. 2, 2003] - Singer songwriter Bob Dylan today gave up his formal position as ‘Spokesman for a Generation’ as investigations continued into the original sources of his poetic inspiration. Mr. Dylan has been under pressure to resign this post since the Wall Street Journal last month disclosed that much of the imagery in a recent CD was apparently taken from the work of an obscure Japanese novelist named Toshuro “Doc” Yakamora.

In the wake of today’s announcement, Woodstock performing artist Melanie took over interim duties as Spokesman for a Generation. The pope was described by a Vatican official as being "deeply saddened" by the whole affair, The Associated Press reported. But all eyes were on Dylan.

Following the Journal’s disclosures of questionable poetic practices, Dylan had been increasingly trailed by representatives of bluesmen whose work he had assumed, in parts, as his own, over a number of years. Lawyers for the estates of Mr. Sonny Boy Williamson, Mr. Elmore James, Mr. Jack “Champion” Dupree, and Mr. Eustis “Blind Boy” Fuller were some among those calling on the Spokesman for a Generation to provide extended depositions.

In a similar vein, an unexpected class action suit was filed just this week in connection with Mr. Dylan's Love and Theft. The plaintiffs, calling themselves The Descendants of Robert Johnson, claim the phrase "dust my broom" was coined by their forebear Johnson, an itinerant Depression-era musician whose scratchy old recordings are much beloved by latter day rock 'n roll musicians such as the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. Dylan makes use of the expression, which may or may not be an elaborate sexual double entendre, in the song High Water. The erstwhile folk singer's legal team has stated publicly that they feel the suit is without merit. "These people don't even know what Diddie-Wah-Diddie means," suggested Blane Cummings, a paralegal working on the case.

Dylan was not available for comment. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Spokesman for a Generation refused to answer questions. "He is doing well considering the circumstances," a representative said. Sources close to Dylan said he was not looking forward to any fuller hearing in any public forum.

Dylan had appeared at first to weather the storm over purported Yakamora borrowings. But a string of allegations proved difficult to ignore. The most recent focused on the possibility that Dylan appropriated original work of Isaiah ‘Izzy” Horowitz, noted Borsht Belt comedian, and father of an also noted intellectual property lawyer.

“In “Poor Boy,” on Dylan’s latest Love and Theft CD,” said Horowitz’s son, Lance, “a character in a hotel “calls down to room service, and says, ‘Send up a room.’

That’s Izzy Horowitz all the way,” he said.

“That’s not Love and Theft, that’s just plain theft,” he continued.

Horowitz is not alone. Sheldon Adelstein, inventor of the knock-knock joke is ‘investigating all avenues’ of resort, according to people close to the matter. Again, the lines in question are in ‘Poor Boy.”

Knockin' on the door, I say, "Who is it and where are you from?"Man says, "Freddy!" I say, "Freddy who?" He says, "Freddy or not here I come."

Although he looked haggard, Dylan clearly hoped hoped an August appearance on Fox’s Miss Teen America would help restore his standing. But threats of suits from survivors of dead vaudevillians have mounted.

In recent days, lawyers claiming to represent the estate of W.C Fields have raised questions about Dylan’s comment on “weather not fit for man or beast” in "Lonesome Day Blues". Fields made such a comment in his noted routine: “The Fatal Glass of Beer.”And a lawyer for another estate began to suggest that the Dylan character “looking in the window at the pecan pie” -- again in “Poor Boy” -- looked very much like Charlie “the Little Tramp” Chaplin as seen in numerous movies.

Despite his departure as Spokesman for a Generation, Dylan will continue to hold the titles of Stubborn Individualist, Troubled Troubadour and the arguably titular post of Half-Intelligible Old Fart.

What do you think?


Gordon Thomas said...

Bob's extending the "bluesman's method" to copyrighted works or dead white poets brings up the Modern, or postmodern, or digital age, question of the ownership of authored works. On the one hand, as I maybe only half-articulated in my previous comment, I wonder if you could even label as plagiarism Bob's cutting and pasting of isolated phrases and images out of context; by welding them to his own phraseology and imagery he eschews their original meaning and creates new context and content. Yet, on the other, how would Bob, or Sony's cadre of lawyers, feel if I starting using phrases like "the ghost of electricity howled in the bones in her face" in my own published songs?

Also, and I guess I should get over it (and myself), I have an old-fashioned, kinda European, non bluesman concept of Dylan as a creative force. When Bob gets off a zinger, like "I picked up a rose and it poked through my clothes" (When the Deal Goes Down), I want the line to be his, as much as Faust was Goethe's. But Dylan can rhyme better than Goethe, who would never couple "orphanages" to "sons of bitches", so what do you do?

Anonymous said...

Hello Jack,

I'm glad you posted this about the NY Times article. I'll read it all. I agree with you: it doesn't matter where he gets the lines because he changes them and uses them in a different context. A radio station played "Rollin' and Tumblin'"this morning and the DJ said, "Dylan claims he wrote this. That's impossible. R.L Burnside wrote it." Then later he said, "Well actually, it's a tradional thatRL Burnside later said he 'arranged' it differntly and that's how he got a credit. Dylan has done the same thing."
ALso, he changed a lot of lyrics.

The two most incredible songs on the record to me are "Ain't Talking, Just Walking," and "Nettie Moore." I've listened to "Talking' at least 15 times and it is a song ONLY Bob Dylan could write, in my opinion. The singing and subtle infelctions are so fine and the lyrics incredible. I was driving through Eureka with this guy the other night, 11:30, foggy, deserted streets, and we listend to the song in complete silence. With each stanza I was waiting what he would sing next and usually felt surprised. Nettie Moore has a similar, hypnotic feel. I heard a couple lines of that song came from a 19th century song. The musical structure is so spare and unusual...who does a song like that now besides Dylan? I sure don't know anybody else. Great lyrics, that bass drum...

anyway, those songs alone make the record well worth buying (there's other reasons, too).

Jeff DeMark

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