Bob Dylan is a plagiarist. Did you know that? Just ask Mokoto Rich, who pointed out that the lyrics from Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times, strongly resembled the poetry of Confederate poet laureate Henry Timrod.
Bob Dylan is a fake. Did you know that? Just ask Joni Mitchell, who recently told the Los Angeles Times that, “Everything about Bob is a deception.”
Bob Dylan is a poet, a genius, and one of the greatest artists in American history. Did you know that? Just ask Sean Wilentz, whose recent book, Bob Dylan in America, attempts to properly place Dylan in the lineage of American artists, from Allen Ginsberg to Walt Whitman, from Aaron Copland to Blind Willie McTell.
Wilentz is, by his own admission, a fan, so there is an unmistakable affection for Dylan throughout the book. When Wilentz discusses the accusations of plagiarism, for example, there’s no hint of condemnation. Similarly, Wilentz writes first-person accounts of concerts with the admiration and awe of a member of the “spellbound” audience.
But Wilentz is also a historian (and a rather renowned one at that), so Bob Dylan in America is not the gushing ode to Robert Zimmerman that so many Dylan books quickly become. Instead, Wilentz uses Dylan as a springboard to investigate the annals of American artistic history, tracing Dylan’s influences and inspiration back to their roots. As a result, Bob Dylan in America is about America as much as it is about Bob Dylan. Continue reading