Monday, December 04, 2006

Rock On, Timrod!

This piece of nonsense was an earlier post that I had inadvertently deleted. Sorry if you've seen it before...

So poor old Bob has been hauled over the coals for pinching a few key phrases from the Confederate poet Timrod and various blues singers on his new CD Modern Times. And I thought we Aussies did the tall poppy syndrome the best!

Dylan has always taken lyrics and melodies from whatever suits him. That’s part of the creative process. For my part I regard it as icing on the cake when I hear an echo of a Robert Johnson line in a Dylan song. And in the history of literature, is Dylan the only person to have used a phrase or two from the Bible?

For me it’s not theft if the word or phrase is re-presented in a new or different way, if it’s used entertainingly and differently. I wrote a poem once for a comrade who had died. He was an older comrade who had come through the Depression and the War Against Fascism, and he loved Paul Robeson. I used the line "Old man river" in relation to him, and thought that it suited the context, and that he would have been flattered by the metaphor. I didn’t feel like a cheat or a thief for using someone else’s phrase.

The scholarship on Dylan is impressive and the annotation of his lyrics has resulted in many of us getting new insights into old Dylan favourites courtesy of the research of others.
I was looking through one website, in the wake of the Timrod controversy, and read an annotation of the song "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat) from the Street Legal album. This song contains the phrase "bathed in a stream of pure heat". It had not been annotated. It was mine! The perfect vehicle from which to launch myself into the world of Dylanology!

I Googled the phrase and got 277,000 results. Most were links to a bootleg of the same name. Pages of them. But then I hit pay dirt!

Udâna - VIII. Patalagami
This stream, whose waters etc. [as above] is now pure, lucent and untainted. ... stream, and when he arrived there, he entered the stream and bathed and - 38k - Cached - Similar pages

This was it! The source! A Buddhist text…how cool was that! The only problem was that it was a bit too cool. No heat. Could there be something better out there?

I returned to the search.

English Works! Literature: Guide to Fiction
If the rose is white, the love is pure. If the rose is damaged, ... and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his - 32k - Cached - Similar pages

This was more like it. Dylan delving into the world of English literature. This was much better than the Buddhist source, although you wouldn’t put it past Dylan to have read both of them somewhere on his travels. But that raised the question: could there be yet other sources feeding into his great brain? On went the search….

Greek Mythology: BOREAS God of the North Wind & Winter ( also ...
... and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that ... They came to the generous Troad and hit the pure, and a huge inhuman - 66k - Cached - Similar pages

Well, Dylan did spend some time in Greece. Did some drinking, and probably read this in the original ancient Greek. So what if the word order was wrong? "Heat bathed in a stream pure…" has a certain ring to it anyway. May have even gone into the first draft like that.
By now my mind was racing. How clever you are Bob to have researched so thoroughly for the said phrase.

Was there more? Could Dylan have found yet other sources? I plunged back into the search…

Culex -- Appendix Vergiliana
And whether Arna bathed with Xanthus stream ... And pleasure pure and free available, With simple cares. ... O'th'air doth echo feed, and in the heat - 35k - Cached - Similar pages

Wow!! Still Greek, but this time the word order is right! Had to be the one.
But wait! There was more….

File Format: PDF/Adobe AcrobatIf room air contained only pure air--with no water vapor at all--the ... each tube is bathed in the stream of stale air and receives heat that vaporizes - Similar pages

At last, the jewel in the crown of my research! For not only are the words all here, but there is an ethereality, an ambience that transports me into that "room where the heat pipes just cough". Here was Dylan, genius poet of our Age, recycling sources like a madman, old "Viper eyes" with heat that just vaporizes so there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off.

Well, I had done it. Joined the world of literary scholarship, added to the list of annotations, brought glory on myself and my research, and all thanks to Bob and his inability to create a wonderful turn of phrase by himself.

Rock on, Timrod!

No comments: