200 Million Ton Magpie

“Why is this bookmarked?” said Pal.

“It’s a fillet,” said the clown with no name.

“What?”

“Didn’t want to give you the whole fish. With the guts and scales and eyes. Gills. Was trying to … use it. To make present a dollop: being creative and making worthwhile art, even music, is all about taste, and incredible conviction — through hard work.”

“And I know that’s been a koan, or whatever, for years, but I always thought of the larceny as a part, rather than the sum. In other words, yeah, like that Picasso line that Steve Jobs thinks Pablo said but actually Pablo never did, you steal. You thieve — but then you mix it with the purebred shit you came up with on your own. Which is more to how T.S. Eliot put it in 1920 — after stealing it from a London journalist named W.H. Davenport Adams — ‘Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.'”

“But, see, it is the entire thing.”

“Maybe not when T.S. was throwing shit against the wall, but now, yeah. Because, think about it, everything is — at the very least — postmodern. Nothing is truly original. So, the best collage, the best brew or stew or soup, equals the greatest work of art.”

“Mean, really, if you have great awareness and a sharp, shrewd palate then to become a great artist alls you need is faith. In oneself. And a sinewy work ethic.”

“It’s also how you steal though,” said the heaviest clown, before grabbing a sharpie and writing these two graphs from a 2003 New York Times article on one of the shop’s eggshell walls:

Sometimes Mr. Dylan cites his sources, as he did in ”High Water (for Charley Patton)” from the ” ‘Love and Theft’ ” album. But more often he does not. While die-hard fans happily footnote the songs, more casual listeners pick up the atmosphere, sensing that an archaic turn of phrase or a vaguely familiar line may well come from somewhere else. His lyrics are like magpies’ nests, full of shiny fragments from parts unknown.

Mr. Dylan’s music does the same thing, drawing on the blues, Appalachian songs, Tin Pan Alley, rockabilly, gospel, ragtime and more. ”Blowin’ in the Wind,” his breakthrough song, took its melody from an antislavery spiritual, ”No More Auction Block,” just as Woody Guthrie had drawn on tunes recorded by the Carter Family. They thought of themselves as part of a folk process, dipping into a shared cultural heritage in ways that speak to the moment.

“You steal small. And from obscure places,” said the heaviest clown.

Salami slicing,” said the clown with the really small parrot on his shoulder. “Penny shaving. Smurfing.”

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