Tangled Up in New - Bob Dylan and Intertextuality

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Tangled Up in New
Bob Dylan and Intertextuality

Appropriation has always played a key role in Bob Dylan's music. Critics and fans alike have found striking similarities between Dylan’s lyrics and the words of other writers. On his album “Love and Theft,” a fan spotted many passages similar to lines from “Confessions of a Yakuza,” a gangster novel written by Junichi Saga. Other fans have pointed out the numerous references to lines of dialogue from movies and dramas that appear throughout Dylan’s works. He has stolen words from Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and more recently, Henry Timrod in his latest album, "Modern Times" (Rich 1). Culturally, we have reached a point in time where revisiting past movements and styles have become the norm in music, literature and other media. The challenge for all creative works in this era has become more of an exercise in borrowing from one's influences rather than drawing from one's invention or original thought. And you know what? It's okay. We cannot help but be influenced by what we see; that's just being human.

Tracing influence is a very hard task, one that can never be complete because of the countless stimuli encountered every time anyone opens his or her eyes and ears, something true for both author/artist and reader. Dylan could not possibly be aware of all of the ideas that influenced him over his lifetime. But from the influences he is aware of, why should he be expected to report every single line he has appropriated into his lyrics?

According to Motoko Rich's article, Scott Warmuth, a disc jockey in Albuquerque and a former music director for WUSB, a public radio station in Stony Brook, Long Island, discovered the similarities between Dylan’s lyrics and Henry Timrod’s poetry.. Mr. Warmuth said he wasn’t surprised to find that Mr. Dylan had leaned on a strong influence when writing his lyrics.

“I think that’s the way Bob Dylan has always written songs,” he said. “It’s part of...
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