Bob Dylan’s Civil War

I can’t believe that it took me so long to discover the music of Bob Dylan.  The recent Martin Scorsese Moderntimescvr200 documentary No Direction Home which aired on PBS, along with my colleague John Amos, served as the trigger.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  The most recent release – titled "Modern Times" – is absolutely brilliant.  It is hard to believe that Dylan is still able to produce high-quality and thoughtful music.  Today’s New York Times reports that Dylan seems to have "borrowed" some of his lyrics from Southern poet Henry Timrod:

Henry Timrod was born in 1828 and was a private tutor on plantations before the Civil War started. He tried to sign up for the Confederate Army but was unable to serve in the field because he suffered from tuberculosis. He worked as an editor for a daily paper in Columbia, S.C., and began writing poems about the war and how it affected the residents of the South. He also wrote love poems and ruminations on nature. During his lifetime he published only one volume of poetry. Among his most famous poems were “Ode Sung on the Occasion of Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina 1866,” and “Ethnogenesis.”

Mr. Dylan has long been interested in the Civil War: in “Chronicles: Vol. 1,” Mr. Dylan’s autobiography, published by Simon & Schuster in 2004, he writes about spending time in the New York Times combing through microfilm copies of newspapers published from 1855 to 1865. “I crammed my head full of as much of this stuff as I could stand and locked it away in my mind out of sight, left it alone,” Mr. Dylan wrote.

I just purchased tickets to see Dylan in Fairfax, Virginia in November.  Although I’ve heard that his voice is not what it used to be live, it will be enough to be in the same room with a real American icon.  Go out and pick up his latest release.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

4 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2006 @ 12:12

    Hi John, — I think you know that I am extremely excited about the Dylan show. Just thinking about the crew that will be accompanying us and it safe to say that the evening will be a real whoot. The more I listen to Dylan’s music the more I am convinced that a team-taught class on postwar-America using Dylan’s music and lyrics would be quite interesting.

  • Anonymous Sep 15, 2006 @ 11:48

    Kevin – the folks who have responded to your Dylan posting are a bit out of the loop. Fear not, his voice in concert will be just as beautifully ravaged as it is on the current album. You shouldn’t head to the concert with low expectations–happy just to be in the room with a legend. It will be alive and vibrant and raw and very rock n’ roll.
    The fact that he’s lifted lines from a Civil War Era poet is, to me, quite cool. Another sign that he’s the living embodiment of the American myth. When I listen to some of the stuff on the last two albums, it’s as though I’m hearing some wonderful synthesis of Chuck Berry and Jack Kerouac; Hank Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald; Muddy Waters and (now) Henry Timrod, etc. etc. See you soon.

    john amos

  • elektratig Sep 14, 2006 @ 22:56


    I guess each person has his favorite Dylan albums. To me, his latest sounds like someone’s grandfather — just sad. Give me Highway 61 Revisited or The Times They Are A-Changin’ any old day. Happy listening!


  • David Woodbury Sep 14, 2006 @ 14:15

    I got hooked on Dylan in high school in the 70s when my older brother brought his records home from Iowa City. After that I was fairly obsessed for quite a few years, and went to see him whenever I could. Eventually I lost interest in his live shows, because it was so hit-or-miss whether he was energized, or just fulfilling his obligations. In concert, Dylan is famous for rearranging his earlier works to the point that they’re unrecognizable, save for the lyrics (which, often as not, are delivered in an unintelligible fashion). My favorite show of his was in West Lafayette, Indiana, on the Slow Train Coming tour — a very scaled-down, tight band, no frills. Regardless of his own performance, he always has a spectacular band.

    The attention this new album is getting has piqued my interest again, and I’ll probably pick it up. May even try to catch a concert. Unlike more Southern songwriters who evoke the soul of America — people like Steve Earle — Dylan’s references to the Civil War are all but nonexistent, and I was surprised to see that comment in his memoir. Of course some of his most famous songs deal with the war’s legacy, 100 years later, such as “The Death of Emmett Till,” the subject of news stories even now:


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