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April 12, 2010


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Really thought-provoking. Sometimes I wonder whether his ironic aphorisms (and they have increased in recent years) tend to wipe out his "heartfelt" ones. Also, how does his statement"To live outside the law you must be honest" jibe with the fact that he's taken so many melodies (and lyrics sometimes too) from others without attribution?

By the way, since I have no other way to communicate with you, I wanted to invite you to a Dylan workshop I'm leading at Stony Book in June.

Though not an aphorism -- more like a character study -- these lines have been with me all day: "He hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime, he asks you with a grin if you're having good time, and he fines you every time you slam the door. I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more."
BTW Larry I wonder which Dylan songs you would single out as Judaic in spirit.

To Lee Marc Stein: You raise several interesting points. I like to think the irony is meant to remind us of the complexities of life. I have to admit that I don't find the cruel parts particularly attractive. The "borrowing" of melodies and lyrics is, for better or worse, an accepted part of the folk tradition. Woody Guthrie did it all the time. Pete Seeger defends it. My own view is that we know where Dylan steals from, and yet he always seems to improve the original. I'll e-mail you privately about your invitation.

Larry Epstein

Hi, David. We've all worked on Maggie's Farm. Those lines are part of me as well. I like your ending phrase "in spirit." It's easy to point out songs with some Jewish content. "Neighborhood Bully" was a take-no-prisoners defense of Israel. "Highway 61 Revisited" starts with the Biblical tale of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac. Any diligent scholar can pick out lots of Biblical allusions and textual references. The question is how Jewish "in spirit" are his songs. Here I think many of them are Jewish, if there is enough elasticity in the understanding of Judaism to include a desire for justice, a spiritual passion, sympathy for the oppressed and so on. The problem is that these can also derive from Midwestern or religious values apart from Judaism. I hope that's a start.


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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