One of my favorite songwriters writes about one of my favorite songwriters.

I am passionate about Bob Dylan. As a songwriter, I find there is nothing like singing “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” It is nearly eight minutes of cascading images, rich language and the coolest, most unexpected metaphors. My synapses light up in little fireworks, making connections they don’t get to make in ordinary life. So I read with curiosity about the similarities between some lyrics on his new album and the verses of a forgotten Civil War-era poet. Who is Henry Timrod? Is it true that Dylan has been borrowing from his poetry? I ran out and bought the CD – not downloading it, because I wanted the lyric booklet. I wanted to see the evidence.

And, of course, I discovered that he includes no lyrics in the CD package. No words at all, not even liner notes. Bob isn’t making this easy. It’s modern to use history as a kind of closet in which we can rummage around, pull influences from different eras, and make them into collages or pastiches. People are doing this with music all the time. I hear it in, say, Christina Aguilera’s new album, or in the music of Sufjan Stevens.

So I had an open mind when approaching this Dylan album – which is called “Modern Times,” by the way. Does this method of working extend to a lyric? To a metaphor? To Bob Dylan’s taking an exact phrase from some guy we never heard of from the middle of the 19th century without crediting him? That’s what I needed to satisfy myself about.

That’s where it starts, and it’s just getting good…

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