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PostPosted: Mon October 31st, 2011, 00:53 GMT 
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JOHN BROWN

Mike Marqusee

After Oxford Town, Dylan returned to an antimilitarist theme in John Brown, the tale of an innocent sent "off to war to fight on a for¬eign shore" (the song does not appear on any of Dylan's 1960s albums, but it became a staple of his live performances in the 1990s, along with other anti-war material). The young soldier's proud mother dispatches him with the advice, "Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get." She brags to the neighbors "about her son with his uniform and gun, / And these things you called a good old-fashioned war:" And Dy¬lan hammers home the ghastly refrain: "Oh! Good old-fashioned war!"

The same year Dylan wrote John Brown, the Kingston Trio were enjoying success with Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone, which included an antiwar verse considered daring in its time:

Where have all the soldiers gone
Gone to graveyards ev'ry one
When will they ever learn?

Dylan's song is less wistful and more graphic in its account of the costs of war. When the soldier returns from overseas and is met at the station by his mother, she is shocked at his condition:

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist.
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know,
While she couldn't even recognize his face!

Though the disabled soldier's "mouth can hardly move," he manages to address his mother in all his bitterness:

"Don't you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?"

Then he tells her something of the reality of war. He tells her how in the midst of battle he asked himself, "God, what am I doing here?"

But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine.

And a terrified, indignant Dylan wails in refrain: "Oh! Lord! Just like mine!" Finally Brown recalls how "through the thunder rolling and stink" it came to him that he "was just a puppet in a play." In John Brown Dylan told the story of Ron Kovic – disabled Vietnam veteran, anti-war crusader and author of Born on the Fourth of July – some seven years before Kovic lived through the nightmare and drew the lesson of the song from his own experience. The writing in John Brown is sometimes cumbersome, the naturalism is crude, and the hysteria less disciplined than in Ballad Of Hollis Brown, but in its repugnance at jingoism, glancing references to class, filial rage, and anguished opening to an in¬ternationalist vision, the song shows Dylan working to synthesise something new, a contemporary folk music that was emotionally raw and politically uncompromising. In John Brown social patriotism has begun to go sour.

Oliver Trager

John Brown, a biting screed demolishing Hollywood conceptions of war heroes, was written in 1963 during the early days of the US military involvement in Vietnam and at the height of the cold war. Sharing the tone and subject matter of Johnny Got His Gun (Dalton Trumbo’s World War I era novel, published in 1938), John Brown is a sstory about a boy who leaves home to fight in an unnamed war on foreign soil for a never explicated cause. His mother expresses her pride at his decision and brags of his feats to “everyone in the neighbourhood.” Such euphoria is sobered, however, when the mother goes down to meet her son at the train station upon his return – only to find him crippled, blind and maimed. When she asks him how he came to be this way, he tells her in an angry, unrecognisable voice that when he went to battle, he realised he was merely a “puppet in a play”, that he could only “kill someone or else die trying”, and saw that his enemy’s face “looked just like mine”. He then coldly drops his worthless medals into her hand and hobbles off to a life of despair. An enent like this may be impersonally reported on the news, but Dylan brings home all of its horrifying consequences in his embittered, cinematic composition.

The roots of the song may lie in the lyrics of Mrs McGrath, thought to be a traditional ballad, and sung to the tune of 900 Miles with a free adaption of that traditional melody. Mrs McGrath, according to William Cole’s Folk Songs Of England Ireland Scotland And Wales (1961), hails from the late-18th or early-19th century, when many poor Irish boys, in search of food and shelter, were joining British forces going to war against Napoleon. Mrs McGragh (Cole notes that it is pronounced “McGrah”) is a “bitter and ruefully witty commentary on that unfortunate situation, much as is the well-known Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye.” The similarity between Mrs McGragh and John Brown may be seen clearly when Mrs McGragh goes to meet her son on his return, “Well, up comes Ted without any legs / And in their place he’s got two wooden pegs / She kissed him a dozen times or two / Saying, “Holy Moses, it isn’t you!”.”

After writing and initially performing John Brown in the autumn of 1962, Dylan first formally recorded the song in January 1963 at the New York City offices of Broadside magazine in a version released later in 1963 as Jon Brown on Broadside Ballads, Volume 1. A second, rarer version was cut in August 1963 for a Witmark demo, and a live version was recorded on 12 April 1963, at New York’s Town Hall for the never-released Bob Dylan In Concert album. Broadside published John Brown in March 1963, and there indicated a 1962 copyright for the song. Dylan did not perform the song again until his sets with The Grateful Dead. Thereafter, he intermittently worked it into his repertoire during his acoustic sets in the 1990s, and somewhat surprisingly played it at his MTV Unplugged session in 1994. By 2001, as US bombs were falling on Kabul, John Brown was the showstopper of his fall tour. Occupying centre-stage, and lit by a single spotlight, accompanied by the barest of instrumentation from his band in an arrangement that returned the song to its Appalachian, banjo-flavoured, snaggle-toothed roots, Dylan, singing in a bronchial rasp that might frighten even the Malboro Man into tar-free life, unflinchingly told the story of the doomed boy leaving home once again to fight “a good old-fashioned war”.

Clinton Heylin

Published lyrics: Broadside #22; Writings and Drawings; Lyrics 1985; Lyrics 2004.

First known performance: Gaslight Cafe, New York, early October 1962.

Known studio recordings: Broadside session, New York, February 1963 [BE].

John Brown, another protest song Dylan could not be bothered to record for Columbia, has been restored to favour in recent years. Any blame for this state of affairs should be directed at the fulsome frame (for worms) of Jerry Garcia. The song was first exhumed in 1987 at the request of the guitarist for a disastrous series of shows with The Grateful Dead. In keeping with the majority of songs in these sets, Dylan could barely remember the order of the verses, let alone the point the song was trying to make (though in fairness, on this one, he stumbled over the words at the Broadside session, as well as at the Town Hall in 1963). Unfortunately a narrative with a moral, such as John Brown, stands or falls on its delivery.

Given his difficulties with The Grateful Dead, few expected the attention with which Dylan dished out the song with The Heartbreakers barely three months later. Indeed, it seems to have become one of Dylan's favourite early songs, given the gusto with which he has continued to perform it in the past decade and a half. It even got a Sony release, on 1995's Unplugged. And yet, in its day, it never warranted a Columbia CO number, though it had been written shortly before four Freewheelin' Bob Dylan sessions in late fall 1962. When he did get around to recording a rendition, within the woolly walls of Broadside in winter 1963, he struggled to remember how it went. Yet he allowed this rather imperfect rendition to appear on the Broadside Ballads LP (for which he adopted the alias Blind Boy Grunt to bypass his contractual obligations to Columbia).

As to the song's source, it has been suggested that an Irish street ballad, Mrs McGrath – recently given a “hey diddle diddle” arrangement by Bruce Springsteen on The Seeger Sessions – probably provided Dylan with the idea. And there is at least one couplet in the street ballad that confirms a direct association. When the returning soldier appears before his mother, Mrs McGrath, minus both his legs, she asks him if he was drunk or blind, because he has left “two fine legs behind.” The son replies:

“Oh I wasn't drunk and I wasn't blind
But I left my two fine legs behind
For a cannonball on the fifth of May
Took my two fine legs from my knees away.”

In John Brown, the line “a cannonball blew my eyes away” is a clear allusion to the Irish original. But Dylan has now got the hang of this rewriting lark, and the description Brown gives of his experiences to his mother packs a greater punch than Mrs McGrath, as does his discovery that “when my enemy came close / I could see that his face looked just like mine.” John Brown' also sets up the dramatic denouement from the outset, detailing just how proud Mrs Brown was when her son “went off to war / to fight on a foreign shore,” whereas Mrs McGrath passes quickly from the boy's recruitment to his return, battered and bruised. Dylan has begun to let such songs speak for themselves. So, whereas Mrs McGrath rails at everyone from the King of Spain to Don John for her son's fate, in John Brown the returning soldier simply “drops his medals down into her hands” and leaves it at that.


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PostPosted: Mon August 18th, 2014, 22:48 GMT 

Joined: Wed April 11th, 2007, 04:15 GMT
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Location: City of Angels
Remember that long ago year of 2012 when Bob played different songs still??

Here's a gem from that year.
A fantastic arrangement of this old anti-war fable with Bob delivering an intense version
of this with some brilliant harp to punctuate this horrific tale. Donnie plays some gorgeous banjo on this one as well:)
I really miss surprises like this...

Dresden Germany
July 3 2012
https://www.sendspace.com/file/ycjwy3


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PostPosted: Tue August 19th, 2014, 00:56 GMT 
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Thank you Marker.


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PostPosted: Wed August 20th, 2014, 00:28 GMT 
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One of my favourites.


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PostPosted: Tue April 4th, 2017, 14:58 GMT 

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Münster. That's the word.

You know what I mean.


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PostPosted: Wed April 5th, 2017, 19:55 GMT 

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Meh. Derivative lyrics, derivative melody. A young man's idea of a profound song. It's just too damn earnest for my liking. Not quite as dreadful as God on Our Side, but still awfully staid.


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PostPosted: Wed April 5th, 2017, 20:17 GMT 
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^I hope you are drunk. Otherwise I have lost a great deal of respect for you, sir. Were you born so jaded you have never known love of country? Or have you simply forgotten how it feels to come to grips with reality?

For me, these are powerful songs, though it's true that if Dylan wrote them today he'd be pilloried for their simplicity. Same with Masters of War, which is also great. What is wrong with you???


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PostPosted: Wed April 5th, 2017, 20:33 GMT 

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smoke wrote:
^I hope you are drunk. Otherwise I have lost a great deal of respect for you, sir. Were you born so jaded you have never known love of country? Or have you simply forgotten how it feels to come to grips with reality?

For me, these are powerful songs, though it's true that if Dylan wrote them today he'd be pilloried for their simplicity. Same with Masters of War, which is also great. What is wrong with you???


The problem isn't what those songs say. It's how they say it. The point of John Brown is made much more powerfully and effectively in other songs, such as "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" and "Mrs. McGrath," or, later, Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda." In comparison to those songs, "John Brown" is inept and embarrassing. And "With God on Our Side" is praised for the idea it conveys, which is certainly a worthy one (now as much as ever). But the execution of it is crushingly obvious--everything it has to tell us is there in the first verse, but it just goes on and on.

In other words, agreeing with the message of a song doesn't make it a good song. (And disagreeing doesn't make it a bad song, but that's a subject to get into in discussing the next Bootleg Series release.)


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PostPosted: Wed April 5th, 2017, 20:41 GMT 
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mojofilter wrote:

In other words, agreeing with the message of a song doesn't make it a good song. (And disagreeing doesn't make it a bad song, but that's a subject to get into in discussing the next Bootleg Series release.)

:lol:

Well, I do get your point, but I disagree with the idea that they're done after the first verse - except With God on Our Side, although the verses do build nicely and that one has an almost historical importance and was performed by all kinds of people to great success. Like Serve Somebody it's pretty obvious, tho.

Tin Angel may be patently inferior to Maggie Groves, but John Brown is damn fine, though obvious in a couple places.


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PostPosted: Wed April 5th, 2017, 20:47 GMT 

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Ahhh smoke, I hope I don't go down in your esteem, you're one of the best posters here. I'm afraid I just don't like this song very much. I think Masters of War is better because it's so angry, I feel the raw emotions of young Dylan. This song and God on Our Side have very little emotion, it's just a 20 year old pointing his finger. It's sort of like an undergrad in college trying to explain how the world works. Dylan's work matured immensely as he got experience with how crazy the world actually is. I agree with mojo, the problem isn't the message, it's the overly earnest delivery.


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PostPosted: Wed April 5th, 2017, 21:02 GMT 
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mojofilter wrote:
smoke wrote:
^I hope you are drunk. Otherwise I have lost a great deal of respect for you, sir. Were you born so jaded you have never known love of country? Or have you simply forgotten how it feels to come to grips with reality?

For me, these are powerful songs, though it's true that if Dylan wrote them today he'd be pilloried for their simplicity. Same with Masters of War, which is also great. What is wrong with you???


The problem isn't what those songs say. It's how they say it. The point of John Brown is made much more powerfully and effectively in other songs, such as "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" and "Mrs. McGrath," or, later, Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda." In comparison to those songs, "John Brown" is inept and embarrassing. And "With God on Our Side" is praised for the idea it conveys, which is certainly a worthy one (now as much as ever). But the execution of it is crushingly obvious--everything it has to tell us is there in the first verse, but it just goes on and on.

In other words, agreeing with the message of a song doesn't make it a good song. (And disagreeing doesn't make it a bad song, but that's a subject to get into in discussing the next Bootleg Series release.)


The last verse of With God on Our Side can't be accused of repetition (itself a standard vehicle for emphasis in folk songs).


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PostPosted: Thu April 6th, 2017, 11:00 GMT 
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Did Bob have a special war in mind when he wrote that song? I know that this question doesn't really matter, it's a universal song and its key message ( the enemies face looked just like mine) applies for every war since the beginning of time.
Still, John Brown, for me, always has the feeling of being about the First World War. Of course the lyrics don't support my feeling, but I always have pictures of the trench warfare in my head when listening to this song.


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PostPosted: Thu April 6th, 2017, 11:17 GMT 
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WrittenInMySoul wrote:
Did Bob have a special war in mind when he wrote that song? I know that this question doesn't really matter, it's a universal song and its key message ( the enemies face looked just like mine) applies for every war since the beginning of time.
Still, John Brown, for me, always has the feeling of being about the First World War. Of course the lyrics don't support my feeling, but I always have pictures of the trench warfare in my head when listening to this song.


As Bob said himself, John Brown isn't so much about war as it is about mothers.


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PostPosted: Thu April 6th, 2017, 18:54 GMT 
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gibsona07 wrote:
WrittenInMySoul wrote:
Did Bob have a special war in mind when he wrote that song? I know that this question doesn't really matter, it's a universal song and its key message ( the enemies face looked just like mine) applies for every war since the beginning of time.
Still, John Brown, for me, always has the feeling of being about the First World War. Of course the lyrics don't support my feeling, but I always have pictures of the trench warfare in my head when listening to this song.


As Bob said himself, John Brown isn't so much about war as it is about mothers.


Great insight. You know, you're right. Maybe not all mothers, but perhaps ambitious ones or those with certain rigid expectations. I'll hear this song differently from now on. Thanks for that.

[I don't think Dylan was writing from personal experience. His own mother, God bless her, seems to have been proud of him no matter what untrodden path (sorry UP) he took].


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PostPosted: Thu April 6th, 2017, 23:44 GMT 

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How can anyone dislike this song. It's razor sharp and it paints the scene effortlessly. The line about seeing the enemies face looking just like his. Come on, that's profound on levels not even relating to war and it's just one couplet


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PostPosted: Fri April 7th, 2017, 03:42 GMT 
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John Brown is a great 'short story' and is every bit as powerful and masterful as Mark Twain's "The War Prayer."
It also captures many of the same themes found in Tim O'Brien's masterful novel The Things They Carried.
Of course, many other songs do this as well, but I've always found that adding the following songs made for a nice unit on 'The Casualties of War': "Sam Stone," "No One Left," and "Us and Them."
[from one of my Advanced Placement assignments]

April 1, 2017
Assignment:
Taking The Things They Carried as a reference, write a compare and contrast essay using any three of the works listed below. Cite specific passages as evidence while focusing on how each work addresses a common theme. Also note similarities among the works in regards to rhetorical elements such as: tone, diction, syntax, structure, figurative language et al.

Length: Enough is enough; however, less than 750 words is not enough.
Due date: April 8, 2017

Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried
Mark Twain - The War Prayer
Bob Dylan - John Brown
John Prine - Sam Stone
Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) - Us and Them
Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman) - No One Left


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PostPosted: Fri April 7th, 2017, 13:13 GMT 
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I love this song. The most powerful moment for me comes at the end of the song, when John Brown put his medals into his mother's hands. This, however, remains an open question; we don't know if she finally put the medals on the wall.


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PostPosted: Fri April 7th, 2017, 14:08 GMT 
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Senyor Timbaler wrote:
I love this song. The most powerful moment for me comes at the end of the song, when John Brown put his medals into his mother's hands. This, however, remains an open question; we don't know if she finally put the medals on the wall.


I love it to, Bob did it justice in the 90s, and it was one of the few passable songs during his tour with the Dead.

To answer your question, in my humble opinion:

At the beginning of the song she says to her solider boy: "WE'LL put them on the wall when you get home."

I.e., we both will put them on the wall together

Then at the end of the song, he holds his mother close, looks into her eyes, and "drops the medals down into her hands."

To me that shows that the medals were given to her rather than put up on the wall. I suppose once the son walks away his mother can do what she will, but I think the strong implication is that rather than end up on the wall as a sign of accomplishment and honor, the medals are given back to the mom as a personal reminder of the cost of war.


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PostPosted: Fri April 7th, 2017, 19:36 GMT 
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Yes! This is precisely what I wanted to say. The powerful thing is the open question that remains at the end of the song. You have to compose the end of the story, the song does not explain any explicit thing about the mother's change of mind about war, or about the things she needs to be proud of her son, or about her feelings of guilt. This things are all implicit. The end of the story has more power being that way.


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PostPosted: Fri April 7th, 2017, 19:44 GMT 

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Wilfred Owen
"Strange Meeting"

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”


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PostPosted: Fri April 7th, 2017, 19:49 GMT 

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"Dulce Et Decorum Est"
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Notes:
Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”


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PostPosted: Sat April 8th, 2017, 03:36 GMT 

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That's not a fair comparison, Wilfred Owen's poems and "John Brown." Wilfred Owen knew what he was writing about, and he knew how to write it--he had the technical skill. You don't expect us to hold Bob Dylan to those standards, do you?


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PostPosted: Sat April 8th, 2017, 12:02 GMT 

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mojofilter wrote:
That's not a fair comparison, Wilfred Owen's poems and "John Brown." Wilfred Owen knew what he was writing about, and he knew how to write it--he had the technical skill. You don't expect us to hold Bob Dylan to those standards, do you?



Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for literature, I think that it's very fair to hold him to the highest poetic standards.


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PostPosted: Sat April 8th, 2017, 18:45 GMT 

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toilandblood546 wrote:
mojofilter wrote:
That's not a fair comparison, Wilfred Owen's poems and "John Brown." Wilfred Owen knew what he was writing about, and he knew how to write it--he had the technical skill. You don't expect us to hold Bob Dylan to those standards, do you?



Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for literature, I think that it's very fair to hold him to the highest poetic standards.


Yes, Bob's got the Nobel. And Wilfred Owen must be just sick about it.


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PostPosted: Fri October 6th, 2017, 18:49 GMT 
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Does anyone know where this amazing version is from? Which year, which concert?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_v5Qu8b3HeM


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