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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Your Presence is Obnoxious to Me

Not directed to you, o gentle Dreamtime reader, but a line from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, as you probably already know, as is the penultimate line of the song's last stanza: "I've had too much of your company."

Scott Warmuth, an Albuquerque-based deejay, who first broke the news of Dylan's borrowing various lines from the poet laureate of the Confederacy, Henry Timrod, puts forth another interesting discovery . Those two lines from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum might have originated with a minstrel show skit written in 1856, Box and Cox: In One Act.

Box and Cox, sometimes Cox and Box, were the well-known protagonists of several Victorian-era farces, eventually becoming a popular comic opera, which is still occasionally performed today.  All the Box and Cox comedies center around the same theme: Messrs. B & C are renting the same room, unbeknownst to the other, as Box works during the day and Cox at night. Eventually they discover each other's presence... and hilarity ensues.

In 1856 Edwin Byron Christy adapted Box and Cox to a blackface routine, eventually publishing it under the lengthy title, Box and Cox in One Act, Africanized Expressly for George Christy. The key word of course being "africanized." An example of the "africanization" is the line that Dylan may have adapted for Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. "...So if you's no dejections, I'll just remark dat your presence is obnoxious to me."

Sharing the same famous last name and father, Edwin and George were half-brothers and part of the Christy's Minstrels blackface troupe. George would eventually take over the show when E.P. Christy retired.

As I remarked back in Episode 40: A Ghost in Blackface, Bob Dylan's thoughts on minstrel shows and blackface are unknown. But given the fact that he named "Love and Theft" after a book about the history of minstrel shows, it's pretty obvious that he does have some thoughts on the subject. And then there's Masked and Anonymous. In the movie, Dylan - as the character Jack Fate - receives a visitation from his predecessor, a blackface minstrel.

"Do you know me?" he asks.

"You look familiar," Dylan replies.

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