Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Post Evangelical Dylan on Faith and the Church -- Still a Man of Faith?

A Facebook friend asked for my take on a few of Bob Dylan's albums (Particularly INFIDELS -- my favorite and I believe the most spiritual of his releases), and as anyone who knows what a huge Dylan-phile I am would guess, I jumped at the opportunity.

However, as you read it, bear in mind this caveat:

The beauty of a Dylan album for me is that it could mean one thing, or another, or any number of things, or perhaps nothing at all. The lyrics are like the Book of Revelation. They can be interpreted and defended from many vantage points. My views are no doubt interpreted through my own experiences (like any exegete) and failure to be a non-attached third person objective listener. Music doesn't allow you that option.

Okay, enough set-up . Here's what I had to say...


Okay, you asked for my analysis, and here it is, like it or not...

"Jokerman" is about Christ, how he was misunderstood by the world and the powers that be. He was just a joker to them, standing on the water, casting his bread. He defeated the serpent (born with a snake in both his fists) while being hunted (a hurricane was blowing). He's a friend to the martyr, friend to the woman of shame, looks into the furnace and sees the rich man who wanted Lazarus to warn his family. At twilight, he rides a white horse. While he's the "fool" a woman gave birth to a prince today (Antichrist) and dressed him in scarlet, and he will have the church and political system in his pocket. Christ knows his plan, but it doesn't faze him or worry him.

"Sweetheart Like You" is a story of the church symbolized as a falling (not fallen) woman looking for love in every place she shouldn't be. Even the demons recognize her and try to woo her. Dylan's still hanging onto his theology but he's had it with the church at this point.

"Neighborhood Bully" is a song about Israel, and how the world is set against "him." Again, looking at biblical prophecy, but tying it to contemporary politics.

"Licensed To Kill" and "Sundown On The Union" are seen though a "least of these" set of lenses.

"I And I" covers the church again, as a woman sleeping around on her husband. The world is going to hell, and she's in his bed. He's still fascinated by her, but he doesn't want to talk. He's over that scene. He's got nothing left to say to her (i.e., the SAVED and SHOT OF LOVE period is over).

"Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" is another song about the church as a woman, only he's wistful, not wanting to see her fall or their relationship end. I'm willing to bet this was a holdover from one of the previous albums or an early song in the writing for INFIDELS.

This heartbreaking relationship with the church as a woman is something he'll cover again during EMPIRE BURLESQUE and OH MERCY. Not only that, but he's still dealing out the cards of theology in those, from the sinfulness that destroyed everything ("Everything Is Broken") to call for the least of these ("Ring Them Bells").

The wistfulness to the church (girl) is back again in "What Was It You Wanted" with lines like:

"Is the scenery changing
Am I getting it wrong
Is the whole thing going backwards
Are they playing our song?"

He's still wondering about faith at this point, still thinking about what's he's put behind him, as in "What Good Am I?":

"What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I? ...

"What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?"

But before he can temper his attitude toward her (the church), he has to get through the bitterness of EMPIRE BURLESQUE (which could be seen as a rip at the dog and pony show the church in American had become at this point), with songs like "Tight Connection To My Heart" (while she ignores the beating of a John the Baptist type, no doubt in reference to racial tension also) and "Seeing The Real You At Last":

"Well, didn’t I risk my neck for you
Didn’t I take chances?
Didn’t I rise above it all for you
The most unfortunate circumstances? ...

"I’m hungry and I’m irritable
And I’m tired of this bag of tricks
At one time there was nothing wrong with me
That you could not fix...

"When I met you, baby
You didn’t show no visible scars...

"Well, I’m gonna quit this baby talk now
I guess I should have known
I got troubles, I think maybe you got troubles
I think maybe we’d better leave each other alone"

And perhaps my single favorite song in Dylan's love/hate relationship with faith and religion is "Never Gonna Be The Same Again." I so often find myself echoing these thoughts in regard to my own feelings about the church:

"Sorry if I hurt you, baby
Sorry if I did
Sorry if I touched the place
Where your secrets are hid
But you meant more than everything
And I could not pretend
I ain’t never gonna be the same again

"You give me something to think about, baby
Every time I see ya
Don’t worry, baby, I don’t mind leaving
I’d just like it to be my idea

"You taught me how to love you, baby
You taught me, oh, so well
Now, I can’t go back to what was, baby
I can’t unring the bell
You took my reality
And cast it to the wind
And I ain’t never gonna be the same again"

I've often thought of preparing a scholarly paper on Dylan's love/hate for faith and religion, but I never seem to find the time. It's like of like actual scripture for me in one way anyway -- once you open your mind to the idea that it's in his work, you suddenly see evidence of it everywhere.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. it's like seeing animals in the clouds

  3. thanks for sharing ,dylan father a child out of wedlock in 1992 with gabby gogo and after that didnt want to be labeled a hyporite so toned doen the overt christian lyrics.