Comrades From The North

There is a heatwave in progress in Europe and in the UK we have reached a record temperature high recently. Phew! Perhaps this has made the UK tabloid press twitchier than normal. July/August is the silly season here and these newspapers are always scratching round for a story, any story really. Witness the attention given to the to the recent accusations of plagiarism by Dylan evident in some of the lyrics of "Love & Theft". This has kept the papers occupied for a good few minutes. Seems like it was more "theft" than "love" and there have been some naughty journalists revelling in that. Mind you, its been a long running story as far as Dylan is concerned. He has been accused of "theft" one way or another since the early days - remember the Patriot Games saga? And then there was the use of traditional tunes (Nottamun Town, Lord Randall and so on) to which he added his own lyrics. However these early instances have long been regarded a genuine continuation of the "folk" of rereading traditional songs and old standards. Everybody did it, only Dylan did it best of all. Hence Dylan's work of this type should be regarded as a masterclass in the art. The "blotting paper man" has always been adept at using a vast array of musical references in an original way. Long may his skills remain sharp.
It is interesting in this context to consider the review of the new Neil Young album, Greendale, which appears in the premier UK music magazine, MOJO. The album is rated poorly by the reviewer who draws comparisons by what he regards as Young's limited musical influences (which include Dylan) and his growing self-referential music with Dylan's extensive musical knowledge. The point is made thatk because of that extensive musical knowledge, and the way he uses it, Dylan is able to remain fresh musically. The most pertinent section reads thus:
" concert he (Dylan) can knock off a bluegrass weeper like 20/20 vision or a Tin Pan Alley standard like We Three and make you believe he wrote 'em both"
MOJO 118, September 2003
And that's the point - whether he writes them himself, adapts ideas from elsewhere or sings other people's songs there is always that special Dylan magic at work. And he uses influences like a top plastic surgeon wields the scalpel. In other words with boldness and precisionto produce something new and beautiful.
Plagiarism? Well, maybe it went a little close with "Love & Theft" and maybe it didn't. Over the years though there is no denying that Dylan has put his own original stamp on anything which can remotely be regarded as "borrowed". Strap yourself to a tree with roots.
In closing we'd like to wish you a very good time if you are hoping to catch any of the upcoming European shows which is a pretty extensive bash. No doubt you'll have something to say about it.

May you climb on every rung.

Mike and John

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