Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bob Dylan: loving the thief

Seems like just about every critic and hundreds of thousands of fans love Bob Dylan's Modern Times.

It's Bob's first number one album in thirty years--and a rare in that it debuted at #1.

For me, it's even a rarer event. I'm pretty sure it's the first album I bought when it was number one since the Beatles white album or the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers. It might even the first number one album I've bought period since then.

It's a fine album, but there's something that really bothers me. Dylan takes composer's credit for "Rollin' and Tumblin'" which everyone knows is a Muddy Waters tune (though he may have taken it from an earlier bluesman) and "Someday Baby" which is not as closely identified with one bluesman, but which goes back to at least Ray Charles in the early 1950s. (Sleeply John Estes is said to be the original author.)

Dylan wrote some original lyrics to both those tunes, but surely he has enough dough and fame and could afford to share the credit.

Dylan borrowed the title of one of his recent CDs from historian Eric Lott's book Love and Theft which discussed the popular appropriation of black culture in the pre-civil war period. That CD had its own problems of attribution.

Albuquerque disc jockey Scott Warmuth that a number of songs contained words that were heavily inspired by the 19th century American poet Henry Timrod, with several lines directly quoting his work. Timrod was known as the "poet laureate of the confederacy."

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