1. Any opinion on what you're hearing so far, Michael? I suppose it's hard to form an opinion on this 59 second snatch, but it seems like he's quite committed in these songs. This certainly sounds more interesting than ERK, but the contrast is exciting too...

  2. It seemed a sure bet that this would be better than Early Roman Kings and of course it is, by some considerable distance, even based on what is a very brief clip. I can't help but breathe a sigh of relief to hear a Dylan song that doesn't immediately sound like something we've heard before in countless guises. Alright, the detectives will probably find the source of the tune soon enough - perhaps echoes of Nottamun Town in there? - but at least it sounds like Bob has bothered to write a song this time. Even on this very scant evidence, I would say that there is probably going to be something of interest on Tempest - it won't be as disposable as Together Through Life. Beyond that, who can say.

  3. Ruritanian general checks tie is straight before addressing assembly. (Or is it Gaddafi's twin finally breaking cover?)

    Rambling Gambling Gordon

    1. I got a similar shiver upon hearing this as I did the 1st time upon hearing Blind Willie McTell. I can think of no finer compliment.



  4. It looks like we have John Greenleaf Whittier to thank for the lyrics. Is Dylan even capable of writing a good line anymore? Even a single metaphor, simile, turn of phrase that is his own? Even average writers can do it without too much effort. Bob now seems to be unable to manage on his own what even a minor writer could bring off, at least on the micro-level.

    1. This summary is from John Baldwin's Desolation Row newsletter of yesterday, and he collated it from various items on the Expecting Rain forum:

      From Dylan’s Scarlet Town
      In Scarlet Town, in the hot noon hours,
      There's palm leaf shadows, and scattered flowers

      From John Greenleaf Whittier, To Avis Keene, 1850
      He gives the weary eye
      The palm-leaf shadow for the hot noon hours,
      And on its branches dry
      Calls out the acacia's flowers

      From Dylan’s Scarlet Town
      Beggars crouching, at the gate

      From John Greenleaf Whittier, The Chapel Of The Hermits, 1851
      How blessed the swineherd's low estate,
      The beggar crouching at the gate,
      The leper loathly and abhorred,
      Whose eyes of flesh beheld the Lord!

      From Dylan’s Scarlet Town
      You make your humble wishes known

      From John Greenleaf Whittier, The Wish Of To-Day, 1848
      But, bowed in lowliness of mind,
      I make my humble wishes known;
      I only ask a will resigned,
      O Father, to Thine own!

      From Dylan’s Scarlet Town
      I touched the garment, but the hem was torn
      From John Greenleaf Whittier, The Chapel Of The Hermits, 1851
      And, weak and troubled, envy them
      Who touched His seamless garment's hem

      John Baldwin then adds these:

      From John Greenleaf Whittier, A Spiritual Manifestation, 1870
      I touched the garment-hem of truth,
      Yet saw not all its splendor;
      I knew enough of doubt to feel
      For every conscience tender.

      From Dylan’s Scarlet Town
      In Scarlet Town, where I was born
      From Barbara Allen, trad. (as performed by Bob Dylan during 1988-91; Gaslight version uses “Charlotte Town”)
      In Scarlet Town where I was born
      There was a fair maid dwelling,
      And her name was known both far and near,
      And they called her Barbara Allen

    2. Mate, you're living in the dark ages. This is the DIGITAL age.

    3. And, "mate", your point is?

  5. My point is that the internet has rendered obsolete old-fashioned modes of composition, in the same way that cameras destroyed the validity of representational painting.


  6. Its fine for Dylan to have "less and less to say"; he has given so much.
    But why try to justify his plagiarising, and laziness-(see his honest admission in the recent R.S. interview.)? Jack

  7. I know very little about poetry, so "conceptual poetics" is new to me. As far as I can tell, it involves using appropriated texts of various kinds. Of Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project, we are told it is " a book, made up in large part of the words of others with its juxtaposition of poetic citation, anecdote, aphorism, parable, documentary prose, personal essay, photograph, diagram—indeed every genre".

    I think the problem I have with what Dylan has done here (if the sample is anything to go by) is that he isn't stitching together lines from various and diverse sources in creative ways, he is using the work of a single writer to produce his lyric in a way that actually resembles editing rather than writing. He takes lines from a poem or poems by a single writer, rearranges them slightly, cutting, pasting, trimming and chopping them where necessary, until they fit the music. I would prefer it if he used mutiple sources, and created a sort of babel of voices text like The Waste Land than lazily appropriate the work of a single author in the way he has done here. But even then - I prefer the Dylan who was once so original. There are so many great Dylan lines of the past that you will not find anywhere, no matter how many times you google them.

  8. These last two comments seem to me to sum things up admirably, and I'm grateful to both contributors.

    The one thing I can't picture is Bob Dylan cutting and pasting using a computer.

    Which is part of why I can't agree with Glenn's brisk dismissal of all pre-digital methods of writing and composition, or indeed of the "validity" of all representational painting. These seem absurdly sweeping claims and make for a dodgy analogy. And yes, inapplicable to Dylan, who strikes me as the last person to be relying on the internet and on trawling through Google Books in order to write a song.

  9. I think 'Disease of Conceit' is a good song.....Sad to see such a decline of integrity.... A friend saw exorbitantly priced signed prints of Bob Dylan's paintings in a local art shop.

  10. Dylan IS using this method, so I don't see how it's "inapplicable".

    One must be thoroughly modern. -- Rimbaud

    1. I've just finished writing a short novel (my 22nd). I didn't use a single line stolen from the internet. Am I out of date and old-fashioned?

  11. Michael

    My guess is that you have heard (and seen) this already:


    My initial reaction is that it is quite good and infinitely preferable to 'Early roman Kings.'

    Now to find out where Bob has stolen it from?

  12. Michael

    Thought this might interest you.

    Its an interview about Bob with Tom Russell (a fine songwriter himself):


  13. Michael

    Would be interested to see what you make of this 'review':


  14. Elmer Gantry25 September, 2012


    Wondered if it has been pointed out yet that Dylan's lines about 'Searching for phrases to sing your praises' from 'Soon After Midnight' is a direct lift from the Johnny Mercer/Richard Whiting song 'Too Marvelous for Words' - the best version of it is probably Sinatra's but he doesn't include the intro which contains the lines.

    Should point out that coming in from work the other evening my wife heard Tempest - which I was playing at the time - and asked 'what is that creepy music?'

  15. Elmer Gantry25 September, 2012


    Having been trying to track down this quote for a while, as it seems to describe Bob's current writing methods very well.

    Its from an interview that Morrisey did with Joni Mitchell (well before Joni described Bob as a plagiarist)...

    " I know Dylan said to me at one point that he, you know, he couldn't write anymore, and I said, "Oh, what about this and what about that?" And he said, "Oh, the box wrote it." I said, "What do you mean 'the box'?" He said, "I write down things from movies and things I've heard people say and I throw them in the box." I said, "I don't care where you got your bits and pieces; you still put them all together."

  16. Elmer Gantry01 October, 2012


    What particularly interests me about the Joni Mitchell quote is that, in it, Dylan does not justify his 'borrowing' as being something that all songwriters do, (as he does in the recent petulant Rolling Stone interview), but instead links it to a loss of creativity - or writer's block - on his own part.

    It seems to me that the first approach actually devalues the extraordinary creativity and capacity for innovation that Dylan showed in his earlier work..

  17. Elmer Gantry11 November, 2012


    It looks as if the line in 'Scarlet Town' that runs:

    'Sweet William on his death bed lay'

    also comes from a variant version of "Barabara Allen' that I found included in 'Folk Songs of the South' edited by John Harrington Cox.

    1. I'm so tired of this debate. Is anyone complaining about the fact that, in "Pay in Blood," he sings, "I came to bury, not to praise"? Of course not! Everyone knows that's Shakespeare. He's appropriating it. He's riffing on it. He's echoing it. Hell, in "Roll on John," almost every line is an appropriation. He even sings, "I read the news today, oh boy"! Come on! He's not "stealing" it. He's using it. In this case, we all get it, we know where he's going with it, and it's fine. Those are interesting lines from Whittier, who I've NEVER heard of (and I finished the course work for a PhD in literature), but it's not like he's ripped off a Whittier poem. Bob's writing a song. My guess is that he's not reading Whittier with the intention of stealing anything. He loves poetry and he goes far afield. Most of us would read those lines and not even notice them and think he was some 19th century hack because we didn't read him in our college English classes. The "Spoonful" metaphor in Blues has been used I don't know how many times, and no one's accusing those guys of plagiarizing. Let's all get off our high horses here. He's drawing on the past, but he's giving us something entirely new, and we're lucky this guy is still writing, still vibrant, still giving us something to listen to, talk about, and love.

    2. If you're so tired of this debate, then (a) why rejoin it so late, and (b) why add nothing to it except a belligerent tone that you seem to imagine is virtuously brisk? You say nothing new. No wonder you're so tired of it.

    3. Hi Michael,

      I'm sorry if my tone struck you or others as belligerent. I was simply frustrated because every time an album comes out, the same stuff churns. That's one of the reasons it's hard for anyone to come up with anything "new," because it seems the only thing new is whatever obscure source material Bob dredges up. That said, I love knowing where it came from and appreciate the rigor involved in tracking it down. It fascinates me, but I don't see it as dishonest in any way. I joined the debate here late, because I only stumbled upon it after I'd gotten word about the Whittier material. I googled, found myself on the forum, and just posted a reaction, which I almost never do. The one thing new I thought I had contributed was the fact that Bob does "lift" from sources that would be common knowledge to the poetically inclined (especially on the new album): lines from Lennon, Shakespeare, William Blake. I found it curious that no one anywhere is accusing him of plagiarizing those lines, so I thought that added a new wrinkle, that people accept what he's doing on some level if they're not calling him on Blake but do call him on Whittier. I agree that's not exactly groundbreaking, but it did seem to be lacking from the debate here, so I posted it. Again, I apologize if the tone was inappropriate in any way, and I appreciate there being a forum for this kind of stuff. I confess to never having imagined myself as "virtuously brisk," but I like the phrase and hope Bob lifts it for his next song!

    4. Your response here is more gracious than my testy reply was, so thank you.

  18. What is lacking from this debate (not just on this blog) is any assessment of the changes Dylan makes to the phrases and occasional lines he takes from his sources. To cite just one example, Whittier has: "He [God] gives the weary eye / The palm-leaf shadow for the hot noon hours / And on its branches dry / Call out the acacia's flowers" in a poem that is a paean to the beauty of God's earth (It begins: "Thanks for thy gift"). Dylan has reversed the order of the phrases, making the "hot noon hours" seem oppressive, and the palm-leaf shadows feel lascivious as they are now strewn with "scattered flowers" (not in Whittier's poem). This is a dramatic change of mood and a commentry on Whittier's upbeat assessment of God's earth.

    Another example: "I touched the garment-hem of truth" (Whittier); also, "I ... envy them / Who touched the garment's seemless hem". Dylan has, "I touched the garment but the hem was torn". Again, an optimistic vision has been subverted to suggest something quite sinister (note too that Dylan dramatises this damaged hem by physically separating Whittier's "garment" and "hem" in his wording).

    Only by assessing such uses of his sources can we avoid name-calling (plagiarist!) and superficial justifications (everyone does it!) and return to informed debate.

    1. You're right. This is a really good contribution, and I hope one or two other people might take you up on it. If I were writing a detailed critique myself (which I'm not, at least for now), I'd be looking at how Dylan uses the Whittier lines much as you have done here. (Just as in Song & Dance Man III and The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia I look, for instance, at a comparable shift Dylan makes from Browning's optimism to his own pessimism when utilising Browning's lines inside 'Blind Willie McTell'.)

      I'll just add that of course in the case of the hem and its garment, Whittier himself is alluding to the New Testament story; Dylan may well have in mind, prompted by Whittier, not only the bible story but the song based on it, and which he has long known from the fine Sam Cooke recording of it - 'Touch The Hem Of His Garment' - in which, though the message is upbeat, the words "hem" and "garment" are just as separated from each other as in the Dylan song (ie by two intervening words).

  19. True, but to be precise, the phrase "hem of the garment" is one semantic "chunk" of language (the possessive apostrophe+s being reserved for people and animals). Whittier uses "garment-hem", which is essentially the same structure. Dylan's "I touched the garment but the hem was torn" is clearly a divided structure, with "but" providing obvious contrast. It is these subtle distinctions that can create radically different moods.

  20. Elmer Gantry07 December, 2012


    Funnily enough, these lines feature in Whitter's poem, 'Remembrance";

    And as one who scatters flowers
    Where the Queen of May's sweet hours
    Sits, o'ertwined with blossomed bowers,

    In superfluous zeal bestowing
    Gifts where gifts are overflowing,
    So I pay the debt I'm owing.'


  21. Elmer Gantry07 December, 2012


    Actually, Whittier seems to have had a very keen interest in scattering flowers. This is from his poem, 'The Sycamores";

    Slowly passed that august Presence
    Down the thronged and shouting street;
    Village girls as white as angels
    Scattering flowers around his feet.

  22. Elmer Gantry08 December, 2012


    it could also be argued that Dylan's bleak vision in 'Scarlet Town' is not that far removed from these earlier lines in Whittier's poem, which is centred on a debate between opposing optimistic & pessimistic visions :

    "In days when throne and altar heard
    The wanton's wish, the bigot's word,
    And pomp of state and ritual show
    Scarce hid the loathsome death below,--

    "Midst fawning priests and courtiers foul,
    The losel swarm of crown and cowl,
    White-robed walked Francois Fenelon,
    Stainless as Uriel in the sun!

    "Yet in his time the stake blazed red,
    The poor were eaten up like bread
    Men knew him not; his garment's hem
    No healing virtue had for them.

  23. Elmer Gantry08 December, 2012


    This is from Whittier's poem, "On a Prayer Book" - the line about the 'seamless robe' is interesting here:

    'Looks forth, — a Church without humanity!
    Patron of pride, and prejudice, and wrong, —
    The rich man's charm and fetich of the strong,
    The Eternal Fulness meted, clipped, and shorn,
    The seamless robe of equal mercy torn,
    The dear Christ hidden from His kindred flesh,
    And, in His poor ones, crucified afresh!
    Better the simple Lama scattering wide,'

  24. Elmer Gantry09 December, 2012


    Through the 'torn' reference, Dylan may also be alluding to the lines in Matthew 27,35, , "Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet."

    These of course are lines Bob knows well & has alluded to in previous songs...

    The idea of the 'torn' garments - or the rendering of the 'seamless' garment - also seems to have been a pretty common metaphor for the divisions in the Christian Churches after the Reformation...

  25. The discussion of hems, seams, garments and seamless garments is now closed.

  26. Elmer Gantry14 August, 2013


    Joni elaborates on the point about 'the box' here: