Friday, March 6, 2015

The Roots of Love and Theft

Plagiarism accusations have been nothing new in the music industry. The word implies something scandalous. "Hello I Love You" by the Doors certainly runs on the same riff as The Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night" (my first 45), but was it intentional? Was George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" an intentional theft of Ronnie Mack's "He's So Fine"?

When a musician borrows from the rich reservoir of all that has gone before to reassemble it in a new way, when is it proper and where is the line that makes it improper?

As with everything Dylan says or does, the album has been scrutinized in depth, with some fascinating elements coming to light. Among these were at least five songs that had a previous life, or at least their melodies were so blessed.

One of my favorite lines in Sean Wilentz's Bob Dylan in America is delivered when discussing Love and Theft. "He (Dylan) steals what he loves and loves what he steals." The manner in which Dylan re-orients the music of the past to make it his own is much like an artist using existing images to build complicated collages that give new meanings to the old. Or revived sentiments as in his recent Shadows in the Night.

Here are five songs from Dylan's first album of the 21st century, paired here with the originals that they echoed.

Uncle John's Bongos

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee

Havin' Myself A Time

Bye and Bye

Snuggled On Your Shoulder


Low Down Dirty Dog Blues

Lonesome Day Blues

Bob Dylan's "Lonesome Day Blues" knocks my socks off. Are you aware of where that expression comes from? If you are in a car and you're hit by a train or a truck or some other massive object, for some reason it literally so shakes you to the bones that you end up barefoot. If you survive, you will never forget it.

Love and Theft is one of those rare feats that only someone like Dylan could pull off, laying down tracks that draw the sap out of historic Americana and makes it his own at a time when the music scene is in a competely different place. Truly original, and ever so unconcerned with whatever the mainstream is giddy about.

Here's one last song where you can find another echo featuring a chord progression hearkening back to Gene Austin of the 1920s. You can find the root here, and the fruit that follows.

The Lonesome Road (a.k.a. Lonesome Road Blues)

Sugar Baby

For the record, I'm aware that the accusations of plagiarism had to do with a couple lines purportedly filched from a Japanese author's Confessions of a Yakuza, not necessarily the melody making. So I really don't understand why George Harrison and The Doors had to get distracted with the legal matters they stumbled into. Then again, lawyers need to make a living, too.

Special thanks to Nelson French of the Armory Arts and Music Center for sharing these discoveries with me.


French Family Blog said...

Very nicely done!

French Family Blog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anthony Schlagel said...

Thank you. I didn't know about Gene Austin. One of Dylan's feats is that he gets us interested in others. Novelists are like that, too. We read an author, and then find out what authors he admires. And so life goes on.

Anonymous said...

Another Lonesome Day for the pot:

Stephen Party said...

Good thing I know the Dylan songs since none of the videos are available.

ENNYMAN said...

Stephen, for some reason the Dylan videos take longer to load, but they played for me when I posted and play again this a.m. But yes, good to know the songs, too.

Anthony, I agree with you on both counts. About Dylan and about novelists. As a writer I drill down into favorite writers and frequently refer to those who have influenced me. I will even read their journals to get inside their heads.

ENNYMAN said...

The blog post removed was a duplicate of the one before it.

Anonymous said...


jesus's inferno said...


Anonymous said...

Sean Wilentz is also stealing! His quote, ""He steals what he loves and loves what he steals," is a spin on Havin' Myself a Time lyrics:

"I'm having what I want
Wanting what I have
Doing what I like
And liking what I do"