Bob Dylan borrowing more phrases--this time from Civil War era poet

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http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/14/arts/music/14dyla.html?_r=1&th=&adxnnl=0&emc=th&adxnnlx=1158238978-cnkpSQFIU6EDbkL2zyeI5g&pagewanted=print

September 14, 2006
Who’s This Guy Dylan Who’s Borrowing Lines From Henry Timrod?
By MOTOKO RICH , NY Times
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Henry Timrod, sometimes known as the poet laureate of the Confederacy.

But maybe you’ve heard his words, if you’re one of the 320,000 people so far who have bought Bob Dylan’s latest album, “Modern Times,” which made its debut last week at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart..."

curmudgeon (DC Steve), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:03 (thirteen years ago) link

Who’s This Guy Dylan Who’s Borrowing Lines From Henry Timrod?
By MOTOKO RICH, NY Times
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Henry Timrod, sometimes known as the poet laureate of the Confederacy.

But maybe you’ve heard his words, if you’re one of the 320,000 people so far who have bought Bob Dylan’s latest album, “Modern Times,” which made its debut last week at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.

It seems that many of the lyrics on that album, Mr. Dylan’s first No. 1 album in 30 years (down to No. 3 this week), bear some strong echoes to the poems of Timrod, a Charleston native who wrote poems about the Civil War and died in 1867 at the age of 39.

“More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours,” the 65-year-old Mr. Dylan sings in “When the Deal Goes Down,” one of the songs on “Modern Times.” Compare that to these lines from 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 doubt about it, there has been some borrowing going on,” said Walter Brian Cisco, who wrote a 2004 biography of Timrod, when shown Mr. Dylan’s lyrics. Mr. Cisco said he could find at least six other phrases from Timrod’s poetry that appeared in Mr. Dylan’s songs. But Mr. Cisco didn’t seem particularly bothered by that. “I’m glad Timrod is getting some recognition,” he said.

Henry Timrod was born in 1828 and was a private tutor on plantations before the Civil War started. He tried to sign up for the Confederate Army but was unable to serve in the field because he suffered from tuberculosis. He worked as an editor for a daily paper in Columbia, S.C., and began writing poems about the war and how it affected the residents of the South. He also wrote love poems and ruminations on nature. During his lifetime he published only one volume of poetry. Among his most famous poems were “Ode Sung on the Occasion of Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina 1866,” and “Ethnogenesis.” Mr. Cisco said he could not find any phrases from these poems in Mr. Dylan’s lyrics.

Mr. Dylan does not acknowledge any debt to Timrod on “Modern Times.” The liner notes simply say “All songs written by Bob Dylan” (although some fans have noted online that the title of the album contains the letters of Timrod’s last name).

Nor does he credit the traditional blues songs from which he took the titles, tunes and some lyrics for “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” and “Nettie Moore.”

This isn’t the first time fans have found striking similarities between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and the words of other writers. On his last album, “Love and Theft,” a fan spotted about a dozen passages similar to lines from “Confessions of a Yakuza,” a gangster novel written by Junichi Saga, an obscure Japanese writer. Other fans have pointed out the numerous references to lines of dialogue from movies and dramas that appear throughout Mr. Dylan’s oeuvre. Example: “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word” echoes a line from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

This time around Scott Warmuth, a disc jockey in Albuquerque and a former music director for WUSB, a public radio station in Stony Brook, on Long Island, discovered the concordances between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and Timrod’s poetry by doing some judicious Google searches. Mr. Warmuth said he wasn’t surprised to find that Mr. Dylan had leaned on a strong influence in writing his lyrics.

“I think that’s the way Bob Dylan has always written songs,” he said. “It’s part of the folk process, even if you look from his first album until now.”

Mr. Warmuth noted that Mr. Dylan may also have used a line from Timrod in “ ’Cross the Green Mountain,” a song he wrote for the soundtrack to the movie “Gods and Generals,” which came out three years ago. Mr. Warmuth said there also appeared to be passages from Timrod in “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” a song on “Love and Theft.”

Mr. Dylan has long been interested in the Civil War: in “Chronicles: Vol. 1,” Mr. Dylan’s autobiography, published by Simon & Schuster in 2004, he writes about spending time in the New York Public Library combing through microfilm copies of newspapers published from 1855 to 1865. “I crammed my head full of as much of this stuff as I could stand and locked it away in my mind out of sight, left it alone,” Mr. Dylan wrote.

To Mr. Warmuth, who found 10 phrases echoing Timrod’s poetry on “Modern Times,” Mr. Dylan’s work is still original. “You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people, but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs,” he said.

Mr. Dylan could not be reached through his publicist for comment. A spokeswoman for Columbia Records, Mr. Dylan’s record label and a division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, did not return calls for comment.

Because Timrod is long dead and his work has fallen out of copyright — you can find his collected poems on the Internet — there is no legal claim that could be made against Mr. Dylan.

But some fans are bothered by the ethics of Mr. Dylan’s borrowing ways. “Bob really is a thieving little swine,” wrote one poster on Dylan Pool (pool.dylantree.com/phorum5/read.php?1,642969), a chat room where Mr. Warmuth posted his findings. “If it was anyone else we’d be stringing them up by their neck, but no, it’s Bobby Dee, and ‘the folk process.’ ”

Authors who have been caught copying from other writers have been accused outright of plagiarism. Earlier this year Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore who had written a first novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” was attacked when readers discovered that many passages in the book nearly exactly replicated portions of “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” novels by Megan McCafferty. Ms. Viswanathan’s publisher, Little, Brown, pulled the book from shelves, and the author was disgraced in the press.

In Mr. Dylan’s case, critics and fans have long described the songwriter’s magpie tendencies, looking upon that as a manifestation of his genius, not unlike other great writers and poets like T. S. Eliot or James Joyce who have referenced past works.

Christopher Ricks, a professor of the humanities at Boston University who wrote “Dylan’s Visions of Sin,” a flattering study of the musician, said, “I may be too inclined to defend, but I do think it’s characteristic of great artists and songsters to immediately draw on their predecessors.” He added that it was atypical for popular musicians to acknowledge their influences.

Mr. Ricks said that one important distinguishing factor between plagiarism and allusion, which is common among poets and songwriters, is that “plagiarism wants you not to know the original, whereas allusion wants you to know.”

“When Eliot says, ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’ — to have a line ending ‘to be’ when the most famous line uttered by Hamlet is ‘to be or not to be’ — then part of the fun and illumination in the Eliot poem is that you should know it,” he said. But he added: “I don’t think Dylan is alluding to Timrod. I don’t think people can say that you’re meant to know that it’s Timrod.”

That’s exactly what bothers Chris Dineen, a middle school Spanish teacher and casual fan of Mr. Dylan’s in Albuquerque. “It seems kind of duplicitous,” he said. “Even casual fans know that Dylan has a history of doing this and it’s part of what makes him great, but this is different. This is one poet who’s used over and over and over again.”

Mr. Dineen said he would have been happy if Mr. Dylan had just given Timrod credit for the lines. “Maybe it’s the teacher in me. If I found out that he had done this in a research paper, he’d be in big trouble.”

But James Kibler, a professor of English at the University of Georgia who teaches the poetry of Timrod in his Southern literature classes, was delighted to hear of Mr. Dylan’s use of the verse. “If I were Timrod, I would love it,” he said. “I would say he’s doing a great honor to Timrod and let’s celebrate that.” Mr. Kibler said he planned to share Mr. Dylan’s references with his classes because his students “probably know more about Bob Dylan than Timrod.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

curmudgeon (DC Steve), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:06 (thirteen years ago) link

Is there a hole for me to get sick in?

Mark (MarkR), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:10 (thirteen years ago) link

OK, let he who is without borrowing phrases from Bob Dylan throw the first stone!

mark grout (mark grout), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:10 (thirteen years ago) link

OMG he's borrowing riffs too!

gabbneb (gabbneb), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:28 (thirteen years ago) link

That's old news.

"But some fans are bothered by the ethics of Mr. Dylan’s borrowing ways. “Bob really is a thieving little swine,” wrote one poster on Dylan Pool (pool.dylantree.com/phorum5/read.php?1,642969), a chat room where Mr. Warmuth posted his findings. “If it was anyone else we’d be stringing them up by their neck, but no, it’s Bobby Dee, and ‘the folk process.’ ”

curmudgeon (DC Steve), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:41 (thirteen years ago) link

Bobby Dee and the folk process sounds like a really shitty band.

struttin' with some barbecue (jimnaseum), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:44 (thirteen years ago) link

Oh come on, we all know that many people considered to be the greatest songwriters have done, and will continue to do this.

Pete Seeger on Woody Guthrie:

"...I didn't really start writing songs until I met Woody Guthrie. And I suddenly learned something that was awful important. And that was: Don't be so all-fired concerned about being original. You hear an old song you like but you'd like to change a little, there's no great crime in changing a little." (from an interview with Paul Zollo).

shorty (shorty), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:50 (thirteen years ago) link

hootie stole a whole verse from him, dude figured he could do it too.

john, a resident of chicago. (john s), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:50 (thirteen years ago) link

“I’m glad Timrod is getting some recognition”

Hahaha.

This actually makes me want to buy this album.

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:56 (thirteen years ago) link

i think it's funny how many reviews of the album approvingly quote the "i sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the fall" line, without noting that it's part of standard blues vocabulary.

seems to me that people who think that this kind of thing can validate or invalidate bob dylan don't really get bob dylan. or at least, they're getting (or looking for) something different out of dylan than i am.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:58 (thirteen years ago) link

Feet in the hall, surely?

mark grout (mark grout), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:58 (thirteen years ago) link

I heart Pete Seeger. He seems like such a nice man. I like listening to him talk. He can use phrases like "all-fired" and not sound like it's a put on! so cuet!

M@tt He1geson: Real Name, No Gimmicks (Matt Helgeson), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:59 (thirteen years ago) link

Unless it's american for

"I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the autumn time"

mark grout (mark grout), Thursday, 14 September 2006 13:59 (thirteen years ago) link

haha, yes "hall." although maybe blues vocabulary plus typos = dylan's surrealism.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Thursday, 14 September 2006 14:01 (thirteen years ago) link

That was one of the funnier music articles I've read in a while. Actually, I'm not sure what I think about the ethics of this kind of unacknowledged borrowing, but I can't say it bothers me much on a gut level.

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Thursday, 14 September 2006 14:05 (thirteen years ago) link

why are people still writing this article

Thomas Tallis (Tommy), Thursday, 14 September 2006 14:06 (thirteen years ago) link

it's part of the folk process.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Thursday, 14 September 2006 14:11 (thirteen years ago) link

How many folk singers does it take to write this article?

mark grout (mark grout), Thursday, 14 September 2006 14:19 (thirteen years ago) link

how many civil war poets can dance on the head of a pin?

M@tt He1geson: Real Name, No Gimmicks (Matt Helgeson), Thursday, 14 September 2006 14:23 (thirteen years ago) link

The next one is called "How Bob Dylan Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life"

vingt regards (vignt_regards), Thursday, 14 September 2006 15:20 (thirteen years ago) link

first song: "He's Just Not That in to You"

M@tt He1geson: Real Name, No Gimmicks (Matt Helgeson), Thursday, 14 September 2006 15:21 (thirteen years ago) link

written by Motoko Rich (frank's half-wit nephew?) nepotism at the Times shockah!

timmy tannin (pompous), Thursday, 14 September 2006 15:29 (thirteen years ago) link

also, the fact that his NAME isn't even his own.

mdesjardins (desjardins), Thursday, 14 September 2006 15:52 (thirteen years ago) link

To Mr. Warmuth, who found 10 phrases echoing Timrod’s poetry on “Modern Times,” Mr. Dylan’s work is still original. “You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people, but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs,” he said.


Bingo!

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Thursday, 14 September 2006 19:27 (thirteen years ago) link

didn't this subject get beat to death a week or two ago?

Bass-man (bassguy), Thursday, 14 September 2006 20:08 (thirteen years ago) link

This is the first I've heard of it.

I'm at WORK, Otto! (samjeff), Thursday, 14 September 2006 20:30 (thirteen years ago) link

It's interesting that he half-cribbed, "Sleep is like a temporary death," since that line has seemed awkward to me, when I've listened to the album. (Is sleep really like a temporary death?)

I like the verse from the poem better:

You will perceive that in the breast
The germs of many virtues rest,
Which, ere they feel a lover's breath,
Lie in a temporary death

I'm at WORK, Otto! (samjeff), Thursday, 14 September 2006 20:42 (thirteen years ago) link

(The fact of Dylan's cribbing in general doesn't bug me, btw.)

I'm at WORK, Otto! (samjeff), Thursday, 14 September 2006 20:44 (thirteen years ago) link

he also "borrows" the real life trials and tribulations of a very young ms.alicia keys on this album.

Ryan Walsh (rhw), Thursday, 14 September 2006 20:59 (thirteen years ago) link

And James Brown ain't mad at *her*.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Thursday, 14 September 2006 21:05 (thirteen years ago) link

Was this article inspired by every other article about dylan taking from others or is it a poetic allusion to those articles? I don't see citations! This guy is a phoney baloney!

Period period period (Period period period), Thursday, 14 September 2006 21:11 (thirteen years ago) link

neither here nor there, but motoko rich =/= "guy".

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Thursday, 14 September 2006 22:28 (thirteen years ago) link

That tune Dylan is singing in the I-tunes commercials sounds a whole lot like Muddy Waters "Trouble No More". It took a couple of times seeing the commercial to realize that it was an original with a similar tag line.

Earl Nash (earlnash), Thursday, 14 September 2006 22:33 (thirteen years ago) link

Here's the previous thread discussing Dylan's musical borrowings. This was before the Timrod stuff (Which NPR discussed as well)

Bob Dylan: Borrower or thief?

curmudgeon (DC Steve), Friday, 15 September 2006 03:11 (thirteen years ago) link

at least we know he casts a wide net when it comes to reading material

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Friday, 15 September 2006 03:12 (thirteen years ago) link

"under a spreading chestnut tree
miss alicia keys she stands
miss keys a mighty woman is she
with small and sinewy hands"


that's my favorite part of the album.

scott seward (scott seward), Friday, 15 September 2006 03:25 (thirteen years ago) link

i prefer

Relationships of ownership
They whisper in the wings
To those condemned by Alicia Keys
And wait for succeeding kings
And I try to harmonize with songs
The lonesome sparrow sings
There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Friday, 15 September 2006 04:46 (thirteen years ago) link

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I was listening to "Highway 61 Revisted" the other day and that whole "God said to Abe, God told Isaac...etc" that whole story is straight out of the Bible. He adds, like, nothing to it of his own. Some people!

Cunga (Cunga), Friday, 15 September 2006 16:55 (thirteen years ago) link

>That’s exactly what bothers Chris Dineen, a middle school Spanish
>teacher

Well, bollocks, if he can't please this guy than nothing's sacred.

Squirrel_Police (Squirrel_Police), Friday, 15 September 2006 18:31 (thirteen years ago) link

Of course, if Bobby's shagging Keys now, I guess that's a given.

Squirrel_Police (Squirrel_Police), Friday, 15 September 2006 18:32 (thirteen years ago) link

Chris Dineen, a middle school Spanish teacher and casual fan of Mr. Dylan's in Albuquerque

I've always wondered how journalists find random people like this to interview for articles like this one. Friends of friends? Cold calling?

Excuse me while I fold my pants... (samjeff), Friday, 15 September 2006 18:40 (thirteen years ago) link

myspace

p@reene (Pareene), Friday, 15 September 2006 18:52 (thirteen years ago) link

That tune Dylan is singing in the I-tunes commercials sounds a whole lot like Muddy Waters "Trouble No More". It took a couple of times seeing the commercial to realize that it was an original with a similar tag line

He says "worry" instead of "trouble" but otherwise it's pretty much the same song with new verses, no?

o. nate (onate), Friday, 15 September 2006 19:54 (thirteen years ago) link

Muddy Waters didn't exactly invent "Trouble No More" out of whole cloth.

Squirrel_Police (Squirrel_Police), Friday, 15 September 2006 20:02 (thirteen years ago) link

No one's saying he did, though his is probably the most imitated version.

o. nate (onate), Friday, 15 September 2006 20:04 (thirteen years ago) link

I could be wrong, but I believe Muddy is listed as the composer on his original 1956 hit recording. But I don't know if it was based on an older blues song or not.

o. nate (onate), Friday, 15 September 2006 20:08 (thirteen years ago) link

Of course Muddy also took writing credit for "Rollin and Tumblin" which was based on an earlier song by Hambone Willie Newbern, so who knows.

o. nate (onate), Friday, 15 September 2006 20:16 (thirteen years ago) link

The point is that in blues the line between composition and performance was very fuzzy indeed. They weren't handprinting immaculate scores and signing them flairfully.

Squirrel_Police (Squirrel_Police), Friday, 15 September 2006 20:56 (thirteen years ago) link

sleep is a temporary death for religous folx, esp xians

anthony easton (anthony), Saturday, 16 September 2006 13:36 (twelve years ago) link

i was hoping he stole the line from Nas instead. : (

M@tt He1geson: Real Name, No Gimmicks (Matt Helgeson), Saturday, 16 September 2006 14:46 (twelve years ago) link

The point is that in blues the line between composition and performance was very fuzzy indeed. They weren't handprinting immaculate scores and signing them flairfully.

I agree. Which is why I think it's acceptable if Dylan wants to give himself a solo writing credit for "Rollin and Tumblin" and "Someday Baby" - even though both are pretty much standards in the blues repertoire, his new verses and other modifications are enough to qualify them as "new" songs within the standards of the genre. On the other hand, you have the Rolling Stones suing the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" off the face of the earth because of the relatively tiny amount of copyright infringement in that song, so who knows where the line is drawn these days. All I'm saying is that without Muddy Waters I doubt anyone would be recording versions of those songs today, especially not versions that sound like that.

o. nate (onate), Tuesday, 19 September 2006 18:19 (twelve years ago) link

twelve years pass...

My dad referenced the Alicia Keys lyric in an iMessage chat today; I had totally forgotten about it.

(this was the only thread I could find on Modern Times)

#YABASIC (morrisp), Friday, 6 September 2019 03:36 (one week ago) link


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