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July 12, 2003

Steal a little and they

Daniel Radosh

Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king. Jon Pareles weighs in on the Dylan "plagiarism" story (adroitly told by Jonathan Eig and Sebastian Moffett in The Wall Street Journal and uncovered by Chris Johnson). Pareles makes the same points I've been making in my own Dylanologist e-mail circles: It's intereting that Bob is inspired by such an obscure source, but what's the rest of the fuss? If he were lifting the words for his own book about the Yakuza, that would be plagiarism, but what he's doing is appropriating images and putting them into new contexts, just as he's long done with the Bible, Eliot, Browning (I've always liked that particular allusion), etc. I'd add that "crediting" his sources in the liner notes would be a mistake. The pleasure of music like this is always discovering influences on your own (or via the Wall St. Journal). Now that word's out, though, I do think it would be nice if he agreed to blurb the man's book. Sean Wilentz, one of the first Dylanologists to fully hash out the meaning of the title Love and Theft agrees with me, and guesses that, "there's at least 5 times more theft on L&T than anybody's figured out yet."

Meanwhile, after hearing that someone suspected that Bob's Cross the Green Mountain, from the Gods and Generals soundtrack is heavily influenced by Walt Whitman's Civil War poems, I ferreted out at least one source.

A letter to mother came today
Gunshot wound to the breast is what it did say
But he'll be better soon, he's in a hospital bed
But he'll never be better - he's already dead

O a strange hand writes for our dear son—O stricken mother's soul!
All swims before her eyes—flashes with black—she catches the main words only;
Sentences broken—gun-shot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,
At present low, but will soon be better.
See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.
Alas, poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul;)
While they stand at home at the door, he is dead already.

Bring on Masked and Anonymous!

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