It’s Modern to Steal

The question is not so much: “Is this a good Dylan album?” – which it is – as “Is this a Dylan album?” – which it isn’t.

First the lyrics: as Scott Warmuth has discovered, through an ingenious google investigation, several lines of lyrics are lifted from the works of the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy” Henry Timrod in much the same way as Yunichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza unwittingly contributed to “Love and Theft”. This has caused considerable reactions, in far wider circles than usual.

So, is Dylan a thieving scoundrel and a plagiarist, or a genius who transforms what he reads into new gems?

The lyrical side of his creative borrowings don’t bother me a single bit, and I’m surprised that such a fuss has been made over this. If anything, they add to the value of Dylan’s effort, rather than subtract from it. I would never call any of that plagiarism, neither in the case of Modern Times nor of “Love and Theft”. I can’t imagine Dylan sitting there in his divine solitude, struggling with a line, then walking over to the bookshelf and picking out Timrod or Saga in search for a line that would work. Now, that would have come closer to plagiarism: to let someone else do the job. I imagine it’s the other way around: Dylan has read Yakuza and Timrod, certain phrases and figures have stuck in his mind, from where they in due time have popped up again, in a completely new context. This kind of use is not dictated by need but by circumstance, coincidence, “intuition” if you wish. That is what I find fascinating about the use of these sources on these two albums: they highlight just how it is that things “pop up” in one’s mind – how people think.

But my surprise by the overreaction regarding a few creatively transformed word connections is multiplied by the lack of a similar reaction to the musical borrowings. These are both much more substantial and much more difficult to defend.

At the time of writing (Wed 20 Sept, 16:08 CET), the following songs on Modern Times have known models for their music:

  • Rollin’ and Tumblin’ • Taken from Muddy Water’s version of Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll and Tumble Blues” from 1929.
  • When the Deal Goes Down • based on Bing Crosby’s trademark song “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)” by Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert
  • Beyond the Horizon • Taken from Jim Kennedy’s “Red Sails in the Sunset”
  • The Levee’s Gonna Break • taken wholesale (apart from a few new lines of lyrics here and there) from Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks” from 1929.
  • Someday Baby • taken from “Worried Life Blues” (aka “Someday Baby” or “Trouble No More”), performed by Sleepy John Estes, Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, the Animals, and Bob Dylan himself (Toad’s Place, 1990), just to mention a few.

These are not just influences: in all cases, the chord structure is lifted from the models and the melody is clearly recognizable, and in some cases, the whole arrangement is “borrowed”.

That’s five out of ten. Furthermore, I’d be very surprised if the music to Spirit on the Water is Dylan’s own. Thunder on the Mountain could be by anyone, and probably is. That leaves us with three songs where the music is – at least until proven otherwise – truly “by Bob Dylan”.

It so happens that these are the three strongest songs on the album: “Nettie Moore”, “Ain’t Talkin’” and “Workingman’s Blues #2”. I don’t know if this is good news or bad: it is reassuring that his own songs are the best, but why, then, did he have to put in the rest of it – didn’t he have more than three songs in him in five years?

If this is a sign of creative drought, that may be a matter of concern regarding the possibility of more albums in the future, but in this particular context, it’s not my main concern.

If the various textual allusions and citations can be redeemed as a fascinating display of creative intertextual intution, it is quite the opposite with the music. When Dylan w/band play the exact same notes and the exact same solos as Muddy Waters did on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, that’s not “intuition” or creative translocation, it’s just “letting Muddy do the job”, plain and simple. That doesn’t add to my appreciation of the work – on the contrary.

Not all the borrowings are as straightforward as “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”. “When the Deal Goes Down” is a more interesting case. It is quite analogous to his version of “You Belong To Me” or just about every live cover he has performed during the Never Ending Tour years: his melody is quite different from the original; he has clearly made it his own, although the tune is clearly the same. The difference is that “You Belong To Me” doesn’t have “Written by Bob Dylan” under it.

Putting the label “All songs written by Bob Dylan” on this CD is plain indecency. Again, this applies only to the music; I would not have wished to see anyhing like: “Words by Bob Dylan and Henry Timrod”. But I would have liked to see: “Words: Bob Dylan, Music: Muddy Waters” (disregarding here the fact that Muddy didn’t write the tune either, but that’s moot: he played those solos, he shaped the song into the form which Dylan has taken over, so for all intents and purposes Muddy is the originator). If Dylan has copyrighted the tunes of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and Beyond the Horizon, he gets money from selling something he didn’t own in the first place. And regardless of the money, by putting “by Bob Dylan” under it he is taking creative credit for something he didn’t create, stating “This is what I have to say” without actually saying anything. That’s my main concern: he isn’t saying anything. And as Tom Lehrer so eloquently put it: “If you can’t communicate, the least you can do is shut up!”

As more and more references and borrowings were discovered on “Love and Theft”, I got this wonderful vision: what if it wasn’t just a few lines of Japanese gangster-lore here and there – what if every note and every lyric line were direct quotations, put together in a grand collage – that would have been a major achievement, and a bold highlighting of the problematic of communication, by blurring the normally well-established pattern of sender-receiver; pointing (fingers) to our expectations and norms, and proving them to be wrong. It would have been like a game. And that title … But when the same thing happens on Modern Times, only without the extra level of “game”, it just becomes a sign of someone who is content with playing lounge music, but who has a reputation to live up to and a record company with an over-zealous sales department on his back.

Some have defended Dylan with reference to the folk tradition. “This is what one does there: one takes what one hears and builds on that. This is what Dylan has always done.” Etc. Fair enough, but only to a point. Of course, there are contexts where, for historical or other reasons, a legalistic approach to authorship may be less relevant than in other contexts, or at least require an interpretation in the light of practice, the “folk tradition” being one such context. The next question would then be if a multi-million seller is at all comparable to the swapping, sharing, reworking of songs in coffee-houses or dance halls which I would more immediately associate with the “folk tradition”. If the folk tradition is about community, sharing, and freedom of expression, Modern Times does that, but it does a lot of other things too, such as making money for the artist, the record company, and the manager’s uncle, which places it in a completely different context.

Besides, as Nick Manho said on the dylanpool (making a point that he had borrowed/stolen from emily smith):

The difference between Bob ripping off the blues guys in the 60s and Bob ripping off the blues guys now is that in the 60s Bob’s rip-offs were better than the originals.

There’s a point in that. Not that quality would be a justification for rip-offs, nor that the statement is always true, taken literally, but to the extent that standing in a creative tradition would imply taking in something from a common storehouse (whether or not an original composer can be identified), processing it, and putting out something which adds something to the input. The point of standing on others’ shoulders should be to see farther, not to stand taller. ’Being in the folk tradition’ isn’t a valid excuse for acting more like a thieving bastard than as a creative musician with a rich heritage.

38 thoughts on “It’s Modern to Steal

  1. I’m not sure that I totally agree. Dylan has been doing this for quite a while. Not to be exhaustive, in ANY sense of the word, but way back in ’63, on “The Times They Are ‘a’ Changin'”, which is Dylan’s seminal work, we see “restless fairwell”, which is a not-so-different re-write of “The Parting Glass”, a traditional Irish melody.

    I think, in Dylan’s defence, that he would view himself as a bluesman. Muddy Watters, as we well note, did NOT write “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”, he recorded his own version. His version was probably shockingly similar to someone else’s version also. Muddy Watters simply has a stroke of luck here that Dylan does not – nobody would have heard his source. Because Muddy probably heard it done by a poor gigging musician who never recorded, and who history has forgotten. So Dylan rips of Muddy, who “ripped off” somebody else.

    The fact is that blues riffs are notoriously few. How many blues songs share identical turnarounds, blatantly similar melodies, and solos based on identical licks, merely put in a different order? Tonnes.

    Dylan said in 61 that he wanted to be a bluesman. Well, the bluesmen have all claimed writing credits to songs which are very similar to (ripped of from?) other people’s songs. I’m not saying Dylan shouldn’t give credit where it is due, I am simply saying that the people whom he is failing to credit probably failed to credit some people themselves. Maybe “theiving bastard” is stronger than necessary.

    But then, maybe not. you ARE the exper (seriously), and it IS late at night. BUt just an idea.

    Joseph Orlando

  2. Well, both of you have a point. I think Eyolf, when talking about the commercial side of this, is right on the money (pun intended) That issue affects the validity of the “folk tradition” theory. But this approach it could be rethinked at part of the post-modern “cut & paste” aesthetic. The thing is, hip-hop sampling usually gives credit where its due, folk and blues doesn’t.
    Joseph is also right when says that Bob has been doing this from the beginning (most of Freewheelin’ is traceable to previous songs) and he might see himself as a bluesman. I think “Modern times” is a very good to great album, though not as good as “L&T” and I must admit that the stealing affects my enjoyment of the album, not as a collection of songs and performances but as the work of a genius it should be (especially after 5 years)
    “Nettie Moore”, “Ain’t Talkin’” and “Workingman’s Blues #2” have different sources each, where in music or lyrics. WB2 is a typical Dylan ballad with that descending bass line he loves to use. And Thunder on the mountain is another rewrite of Chuck Berry’s “Too much monkey businees” as “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was. The thing is, he really created something new with “Homesick”, which in turn Elvis Costello used it (with the help of a killing bass line by Bruce Thomas) to make something else with “Pump it up”. Modern Times Dylan doesn’t exactly create something new, but adds the charm and the swing of his interpretation.
    One more thing: I don’t know why are you so angry, since you listed several of the sources of the jazzy songs of Love & Theft on your great transcriptions (eg, Billie Holliday’s Having myself a ball with Bye and bye)

  3. First of all, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog. I found it extremely interesting and intriguing. (I felt the same way reading the comments posted)

    I was especially interested when you said that “Ain’t Talkin’,” “Workingman’s Blues #2,” and “Nettie Moore” were the only true Dylan songs on the record, because these were my three favorite songs from Modern Times. As for the apparent plagiarism on the other seven songs, I think that you provide sufficient evidence to bring up a convincing case against him. However, this, for me, does not make the record any more or less enjoyable. I enjoy the songs after reading this as much as I did the first time I heard them. Even if he did “steal” the songs from the various artists named above (which, I suppose, it is safe to assume he did), the songs remain the same to me. I still view them as “Dylan songs,” even if they aren’t truly his. To me, a Dylan song is any song that Dylan plays. Simply hearing him and his band play a song, even if the song is musically and lyrically identical to the “original” version, puts a new spin on it and makes it sound, for lack of a better word, different. To me, hearing him play a song exactly the same way as another version of the song can improve upon it or even make it sound worse. Simply the fact that he is the person playing it, with his won unique style of playing, makes it sound the way that is does.

    Also, you mentioned that it would be interesting, albeit exciting, if everything from Love & Theft was a “grand collage,” if all of the lyrical “stealings” were all just a part of a much bigger picture, a game, so to speak. From that idea, I began to wonder if Dylan has done what he has done on this album just to play a game, just to humor himself. He has been known to make controversial moves in the past (“Dylan goes electric,” the move to Gospel music), and I wonder if this isn’t just another one of them, created for the sole purpose of getting naysayers and fans alike “all riled up” about the plagiarism of Modern Times. Or, perhaps not. One can dream, can one not?

  4. Now, that’s where personal choice comes in: there is no way anyone, myself included, can or should tell anyone what to think about this album, or any other for that matter. I’ve stated an opinion, based on some factual information, but this is in no way a fact about the value of the album. My own negative feelings about it stems from my own judegment of the lack of (a) decency and (b) an honest communicative intent behind it, but as those two factors are (a) based on ethics rather than aesthetics, and (b) my own feeling of involvement in a (pseudo-)communication, they are – and should be – irrelevant per se for any other person’s judgement about the same things. All I can say is that I don’t like the album half as much as I would had he given due credits. That’s my problem, and if you don’t have it, I’m glad on your behalf — ’cause it’s a damn good album…

  5. It seems that “Ain’t Talking” got it’s chorus from another song as well … they mentioned this on Wikipedia, but it looks like Dylan took it from
    “Highway Of Regret” by the Stanley Brothers

    Ain’t talking, just walking
    Down that highway of regret
    Heart’s burning, still yearning
    For the best girl this poor boy’s ever met

    Just thought you’d like to know.

  6. Hello Eyolf and everybody,

    Thx for the great site. Concerning the “stealing” discussion i am a bit surprised. Wouldn’t you come to the same result with ANY album by ANY artist? I mean let hundreds (or even thousands?) of critics, fans, musicians, literates or whatever jump on it, and i pretty sure you would come to the same result. I mean i am not so much concerned with that matter. I don’t even care. I love the album (music and lyrics).
    Just makes me feel like: Poor Mr. Dylan. He can’t win anymore. Can he?

    Best wishes to everybody. Don’t stab. Tab!

  7. I think you’re overestimating the role of direct borrowing in the music world, and underestimating the consistency in Dylan’s approach. On a scale from “using what’s common to us all” (i.e. language), over “generally influenced” > “directly inspired” > “derivative” to “copying” (or, if one wants to add the moral/legal element: “plagiarizing”), Dylan comes closer to the right end of this series than most artists.
    He can’t win, you say? At least he makes a living. And on the artistic level, my third article in the series “Dylan: the Postmodernist?” is in fact a long defense of his methods – albeit with a critical question here and there.

    I’ve done the tabbing. If I feel like stabbing, I’ll stab :-)

  8. Hello Eyolf,

    You’ve DEFINITELY done the tabbing!!! The “Don’t stab…” was more of a joke, but i can see you got that.

    I haven’t read that article but i will!

    All the best to you and again thx for the highly inspiring work you and everybody thats taking part in this site are doing.

  9. Lighten up a bit!! I have to say I think you’re missing the point. To paraphrase a song that comes to mind, you’ve been with the professors, and… you’re very well read it’s well known, but something is happening here and … well I’m sure you know the rest. Modern Times is a dazzlingly assured and extremely moving and soulful piece of music and writing which is far, far beyond anybody else in the field. Dylan’s use of ‘borrowings’ is a certain artistic method he’s chosen quite deliberately to use…. And don’t forget, he’s always loved winding up intellectuals. Well, I could go on but I have some swords to swallow. I’m writing series of a Track By Track responses to the album at\blog so I guess my take on the album is there… So would be interested in any responses from anyone who’s been here. My email address is there…
    Love to all

    Chris Gregory

  10. its stealing… no two ways about it… instead of “All songs by Bob Dylan” album credits shoulda said “All songs Traditional, Arranged by Bob Dylan”… I love dylan to death, but the nads on the guy… did he write house of the rising sun too?… shame on you dylan… give these guys their due… guess i’ll start claming Tombstone blues as mine when i play it live now, as i play it completely different and change a few words…


  11. Dylan should pay Hendrix’s estate all royalties he collected for Jimi’s version of All Along the Watchtower. That is a much more original reinterpretation of a song than are Dylan’s reinterpretations of Trouble No More, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, or When the Levee Breaks.
    Dylan is a thief. At least Led Zep changed the arrangements of the songs they borrowed.

  12. That is absurd! That is Dylan’s song. Besides, Hendrix’s family would just use the money to make Jimi Hendrix soap or something. They have always seemed to cheapen Jimi’s name by making money any way they could by putting his name on cheap crap.

  13. I wonder what’s going on that head of his… Does he really think he wrote all these songs? Does he just not give a damn anymore? There’s gotta be an explanation behind all this. I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing.

  14. In response to the idea that claiming authorship of a piece of music and getting money for it is different than the folk tradition:

    This is exactly what The Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and pretty much any bluesman ever recorded, has done. In other words, this is not outside the folk tradition, it’s fully within the longstanding practices of that tradition. Also, one thing I’ve come across repeatedly in interviews and such is Dylan’s defense against these same sorts of charges; he reads stuff, it sort of percolates, and what comes out is what comes out. He doesn’t do it consciously…this too is common, particularly in the blues genre, which in its earliest forms (up through the thirties anyhow) was mostly improvised. To refer to anything on this album as “stolen” is, indeed, missing the point…

  15. First of all, shit yeah, DYLAN WROTE THE GODDAMN SONG. Secondly, I have heard both the Before the Flood version of “All Along the Watchtower” and the version he does in concert these days (or did two years ago). While they are certainly similar to the Hendrix version, in that they use electric guitrars and have some pretty awesome solos, they are still very different from the Hendrix version. This was proven to me about a month ago when, at a college party, I jonied the band that was playing in singing Watchtower. I’m used to the way it’s done on BtF (and the repeated performance on Biograph), electric, somewhat Hendrix-like; when I tried to sing it that way (four sets of the chords in between verses) with their Hendrix-copying, I was completely off, because the arrangements of the two versions are widely different. Saying Dylan has stolen Hendrix’s arrangement of this song is like saying Eric Clapton plagiarizes all of his covers because he plays the same instrument (i.e., electric or acoustic guitar). To say that Dylan did anything more than be influenced by Hendrix’s version is to be pretty deaf, I tihnk, because the two version differ so widely.

  16. I don’t see how people can defend Dylan’s musical borrowings based on the “folk tradition”… Like Eyolf said in his “Introductory Remarks” this is beyond the folk tradition. This is not a bunch of people sitting down with guitars and learning from one another. This is one of the most famous musicians in the world taking credit for half an album worth of songs he didn’t write! Can you honestly say Dylan doesn’t owe Muddy Waters credit for “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”? If somebody took my arrangement, my riffs, my solos,played them exactly the same, and then claimed to have written them, I’d sure as hell be angry. There’s no way that anybody else other than Dylan could get away with this. Just ask Led Zeppelin.

  17. It’s about time to point out that he is Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is about performing music. He began writing songs because the songs he wanted to play didn’t exist. It’s obvious that on this album he felt like he had found some songs he wanted to play, some songs that voiced what he felt like voicing himself. Every musician since Dylan has looked up to him as a singer/songwriter/poet. Does it really matter if he says something that isn’t his is his? Hasn’t he done enough for modern music for us to be able to call him modern music itself? Finally (and much less meaningfully): Does anyone here think that Dylan designed the inside of his cd case all by himself, or is it more likely that someone at the record label threw it together and he said, “Sure, that looks like a cd case to me…”?

  18. I think you come off angry and near indignant in your tone and even thought process; perhaps you are let down or you feel BD is copping out somehow. Maybe I read it wrong – but regardless – consider this: Seems to me he got under your skin at some point in your life and he is still doing that very thing. Gettin under your skin. I like the record. It’s brilliant.

  19. It’s been his great ability to channel his influencers and add his own layer while doing it,that has been the genius of Bob Dylan.Intoxicated first by the fumes of Woody Guthrie and the early folk/bluesmen and now perhaps more transparent in ‘Modern Times’,there is nothing in the construct or inspiration behind MT’s very worthy songs that should surprise us. Even his ommission in not crediting Muddy Waters on ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’ is simply the sound of the master saying to us; ” Hey didn’t you all know this is the way it’s always been? “.

  20. I stopped being a fanatic for dylan when i realized most of his work (the ones he actually composed) were mostly irreverent transformations borne after erudite readings. OH wait isn’t that what all artists do? Don’t try holding a mirror up against art, you will more than likely always fail to see anything.

  21. Hey tb, you sound like a spin master from a political campaign, accusing someone of being “angry” and letting Dylan “under the skin” just to discredit their point. Come on, just because you disagree with the guy doesn’t mean you need to smear him Howard Dean style. The guy raises a fair point. I love Dylan as much as anyone, but lets be honest with ourselves here. If you wrote a song and someone else covered it start to finish and claimed it as their own, you’d be pretty damn infuriated. If you don’t agree with that, then you’ve obviously never written a song; or at least anything worth being proud of. Just because he’s Bob Dylan doesn’t mean he’s beyond reproach.

    When the Stones originally recorded Love in Vain and claimed it as their own, they got called on it (fairly so) and changed the credit on the album sleeve. Dylan should do the same. I would still enjoy Modern Times as much as I still enjoy Let it Bleed. And who knows, maybe some due credit would lead someone to discover Lightning Hopkins or Fred McDowell in much the same way that the Stones led me to Robert Johnson. I would like to think that would be reward enough for Bob.

  22. “All I can say is that I don’t like the album half as much as I would had he given due credits.”

    Very entertaining stuff, Eyolf. Thanks for a good read.

    I must confess that this aspect of your argument strikes me as similar to those who are unable to appreciate the work of say, the French novelist Celine because he was anti-semetic. Or those who are unable to listen to Mick Jagger because they find him sexist. Or basically, anyone who cannot view the art apart from the personal behavior of the artist.

    Your complaint, in my opinion, is entirely valid. But I get the feeling that you are not actually seeing (or, more accurately, *hearing*) this record. You’re annoyed by what is essentially an action of Dylan’s publishing company concerning copyrights.

    The other thing I think you’re missing is that Dylan is no longer a “pop songwriter”. He is a blues artist. There is not a blues artist on the planet who actually WRITES a song, and there never has been.

    Blues has, right from the beginning, been a process of assembling existing phrases – both lyrical and musical – and putting your own vocal spin on them. Every blues record in the world says “music by so-and-so”, and there is not one instance where so-and-so actually wrote the music.

    Yeah, Willie Dixon sued Led Zepplin and got a bunch of cash because they ripped off his version of “You Need Love”. Good for him. He had a good lawyer. But anyone who thinks what Zep did was a *smidgen* different from what Willie did all his life betrays their lack of knowledge of the history of blues music.

    Mostly I detect in you the telltale signs of a fanatic who is finally recovering his vision. This process is similar to the disillusionment that children experience when they realize their parents are actually human beings. You have clearly devoted a disproportionate chuck of your life and energy to this one particular artist. Now perhaps it’s wearing thin.

    This happened to me with another artist (who will remain nameless). When the fanaticism started to lift I found myself increasingly irritated by aspects of the artist. These aspects were always there, but I was seeing them for the first time without the rose-colored glasses of hero worship. I did not at the time consider myself to be a “hero-worshipper”. After all, I was not uncritical of this artist, nor was I a fawning “fanboy” type. I considered myself a critic. Looking back though I realize that the true test is to what extent your energy is occupied by ONE thing. Having followed your writings for some time, I’m guessing your time of hero-worshipping Dylan is coming to a close. Perhaps you don’t yet realize that’s what you have been doing. In any case, good for you for taking off “the glasses”. You are clearly an intelligent and perceptive man. Too intelligent and perceptive to remain a “fan” – even a critical one, which is an inherently subservient and immature position.

    And perhaps someday you will return to Modern Times and really be able to listen to it without the smothering context of your own fixation.

    You might find it a pretty fun record.


  23. newestmember. and first note.. ya all got something interesting going on here
    if i say it , it must be true

  24. Hey if noone complains, then who’s stealing. Dylans been doing it for years. Rimbuad, Verlaine in his early years. Now this. Get over it. If anything, I’d rather him steal from people and put it something I’d actually like to hear. I would have no idea who rimbaud and verlaine were if it weren’t for dylan. So thx for the theft BD. Besides if he put down every name of every person he took lines or songs from I would have nothing to research. And you would have nothing to talk about.

  25. Well for me the album come alive when he performs them in the context of his live show. I paid the record no attention till I heard it live. He’s created borrowed stolen burned and pillaged for something that in performance inspires him and his audiance. If its a crime to put together something that inspire’s in the context of a live performance, Who cares? If it iratates some who is more intrested in who said what and when, whos owed credit and money for it, screw it. If this is how dylan imbarrases him self as he’s putting togerther a body of passonat live performaces that will stand for 1000 years so be it. Would you be happy if he only played the songs he unqestoinably wrote in Las Vegas. Cmon the man reinvents the words great amirican great human just great great great. Better yet go get drunk and see him on a good night, witch was any night he played last November and then tell me what you think. “Dylans’s great but he’d be better if he was more Honest” Please

  26. Wait I reread the thing and your really saying that Bob Dylan is a “thieving bastard”? your out of your mind and poluting the word with the vile shit that comes from your mouth. I’m going with Bob on this one. Who the hell does he answer too? I’m so glad that he’s not trapped in the psycotic prison that your in. “Thieving Bastard” I read that Bob was happy that his book got good reviews cause the reviews were writers who knew something about waht they were criqueing. I be interested to know if you have writtin songs and got them produced and performed them. Then you’d have some credabilty. Ya Know I look at porn when I jerk off at the computer. You write drivle about Dylan.

  27. Wait I reread the thing and your really saying that Bob Dylan is a “thieving bastard”?

    Eh, no, I’m not.
    Learn to read, and watch your mouth – then we can talk.

  28. Hello,

    I completely understand your argumentation and your point, eyolf, nevertheless I came to completely different conclusions regarding “Modern times”, especially after having listened to the originals – or should I say “sketches” – of the songs on this album. When I bought the album on its European release date I was content to listen to a great bunch of new songs, which seems to reach the heights of “Love and theft” and “Time out of mind” again easily. But when I first looked into the booklet, it took me by surprise that “Rollin & Tumblin”, popularized not only by Muddy Waters but also by Eric Clapton on his widely sold “Unplugged” album 12 years ago, was credited as a Dylan song. The title, the tune and the lyrics were so strikingly similar that I just couldn’t believe it. I agree with you that, although this one may be public domain, it should have been credited properly.

    Now to the other songs: Dylan plays a bit of cat and mouse with his listeners on that one. For the well-educated Blues and Folk music listener (such as Jerry Garcia would be) it is a puzzle of famous roots (not complete songs!) put together in a completely new way. In my opinion it is perfectly fair to argue, as some people already did, that Dylan has stolen melodies much more considerably as with “No more auction block” becoming “Blowin’ in the wind”, “Lord Randall” becoming “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall”, and even more notably: “The patriot game” becoming “With God on our side” (little change in the subject as well), “The parting glass” becoming “Restless farewell” amo.
    These were just the “bloody obvious” examples, but they prove that Dylan lifted melodies from known songs much more radically then than he does now. No-one would doubt that these old songs are “real Dylans”, since they wear his undeniable stamp in their performance and, most importantly, their lyrics. On the other hand, if he made a song his own, such as Eric van Schmidts “Baby let me follow down” (altered forever on the 1966 tour), it was a different situation: The lyrics remained mostly unchanged and he never credited that one as his own.

    Now to the new songs: Some of them do resemble well-known blues and jazzpop classics, but for me they do not qualify as rip-offs due to the different performance, altered melodies, different arrangements and different lyrics. And the thought of Dylan consulting his library about new lines to fix up a post-modernist riddle sounds far less likely than your theory of phrases coming to mind, not necessarily knowing where they have their origins. Art is also about context and about the artist’s individuality and I think it is a bit awkward to argue that “Modern times” is not a Dylan album at all. Post-modernism might be an idea to solve the riddles around “Self portrait”, but it doesn’t seem exactly a probable explanation for “Modern times”.

    But as I said, I respect your conclusion and highly recommend it to any “Modern times” listener. I can understand that your research kind of spoiled the album for you, since at first it did the same to me as well. But the more I compared the originals with Dylan’s songs (not versions) the more I realized there are far more differences than communities.

  29. Let me just say that, for what it’s worth, I love Modern Times, but I noticed that no one else mentioned that Workingmans Blues #2 sounds remarkably like the chorus to Total Eclipse Of The Heart (written by Meatloaf songwriter Jim Steinman, I think).

    I mean, a lot.

  30. Eyolf this is a fantastic site you have here and thank you for sharing so much of your knowledege and insight into Bob’s work over so many years and giving us all the opportunity run off at the mouth about it all!

    As I have posted elsewhere on the site that I take a more relaxed veiw about Bob’s ‘plagiarism’ tho’ share concerns that his publishers should have been more acurate about the genesis of some of the tracks.

    Christopher Ricks writes in ‘Dylan’s Visions of Sin’ “Dylan doesn’t borrow things without making them his own.” and he was talking about song writen many many years ago!

    Like many people here I am sure I have a large collection of bootleg concerts many of which repeat the same songs over and over i.e., 40 versions of All Along the Watchtower 36 versions of Knockin’ on Heavans Door. What keeps this stuff alive is Bob’s ability to reinvent his own songs almost every time he performs them. In this respect I agree with Will – what painter has ever acknowledged their influences in a work, they may have acknowledged them in commentray but not on the canvas. Bob has acknowedged more blues and folk artists than anyone performing in my lifetime and had done more to bring their work to public attention than anyone since Hammond.

    Modern Times is, to my mind, an album worth listening to again and again. For me familiarity breeds apprecaition of the man’s ability to confront us with both personal and practical conumdrums and here we are rehersing them!

    Anyone looking to have a pop at Dylan’s ability to draw on the work of others will find ample examples in Christoper Ricks ‘Dylan’s Vision of Sin”. Go on, have a ball.

    Enjoy the music!

  31. Sometimes the thievery is better than the thiev-ed, oftentimes in Dylan’s case; but why not save yourself 5:25 seconds of the painfully whorish blues on “Gotta Serve Somebody” and just read Alexander Pope’s epigram that is basically the same thing, but better. I know Dylan read Pope because of his “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (Essay on Criticism, 1711) comment on Jokerman. So save yourself the pain of rhyming Zimmy with Timmy and read these two sentences by that genius brit:
    Epigram, 1738
    I am his Highness’ dog at Kew
    Pray, tell me sir, whose dog are you?

  32. I think it’s really interesting to find snippets of other authors work in works you already admire. Its easy to point fingers, but it’s more difficult to give credit where credit is due: we’re all in the same meme-pool here. So just sit back and admire the variety of Dylan’s reading, spot it, point it out. It’s also easiest when you don’t give a shit because it doesn’t really matter anyway, its just fun. It’s like authors pulling together to make one good piece of work, even if it comes from many authors, most of whom are horriblylonggonedead.

  33. I have to agree about Gotta Serve Somebody. I never understood why he got a grammy for that one. It made it a bit easier when I learned that it was for the vocal performance and not for the song itself, but still… there are quite a few good performances of good songs on that album.

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