By Tony Attwood
Although the Shot of Love album was less religious than the previous two albums Dylan recorded, it most certainly included a number of very solidly Christian songs – including rather obviously obviously Property of Jesus.
It is a song that appears to have been worked and re-worked, but then having been recorded was not used on the tours, so maybe Dylan never really felt it was finished. Or maybe he had worked it out of his system.
The title phrase is probably relates to 1 Corinthians 7, 20, which is often presented as “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them,” although obviously different editions of the Bible have different translations.
The passage goes on to say that if you are a slave, be happy to stay a slave, but if you can remove yourself from slavery that’s ok. It seems to me (as a non-Christian) to be part of the conservative nature of Christianity, allowing social situations no matter how awful (and to me slavery is certainly at the most awful end of the spectrum) to remain because what primarily matters is life hereafter, not life now. Social revolution, of the type preached in Times they are a changing, it certainly isn’t. Nor is it Masters of War.
It is, in short, “this is how it is, and that’s all right because salvation comes later.”
The song has been called satirical, but I think I am really failing here because I don’t hear it as satire at all. It seems to me to be a straightforward message saying you can make fun of this guy because he is now a Christian and you can sneer at the Christian faith and the faithful, but what you think is better is actually a lack of humanity, and a lack of Christian ways, it is in fact a heart of stone.
And therein lies the problem for me. The Corinthians phrase is for me a perfect example of a heart of stone – just stay in your poverty or desperation, and let the rich stay in their luxury, because God has put each of us in this position and He knows what he is doing, really grates with me. Of course that is my problem not yours, but I thought I’d just tell you where I am.
And of course as a non-believer I might have got this horribly wrong, but that’s how I see it. There’s a comment box below for you to put me right.
Musically it is not particularly exciting either: the verse is just sung against the chord of B flat without a particularly significant melody. The chorus does a bit more work with the descending three chord sequence of G minor, F, E flat repeated three times before it is all resolved back onto the B flat chord for another verse. And then off we go again.
I suppose I also have problems with the song because of lines like, “Go ahead and talk about him because he makes you doubt,” and it is simply a concept I can’t share. If Dylan is telling a story such as Rolling Stone, or painting a picture like Johanna, I can enter inside that. I don’t have to have despised anyone as much as Dylan despised the friend on Fourth Street, to understand the feelings. I can share what he is thinking.
But I don’t find people make me doubt. Not at all.
Also I don’t laugh at people who live much simpler lives than me. The most moving day of my life, apart from the funerals of my mum, my dad, and my aunt, was spent in the company of a Swami who had such overwhelming ease, relaxation, insight, understanding, and just about everything else that is good, that I could not have conceived such oneness with the world around. I didn’t laugh at that Swami – I marvelled at her peace and tranquillity, and have constantly tried to regain that through meditation in many ways.
Do people laugh at Christians behind their backs? I don’t see it in England, but maybe it happens. I can however get very slightly annoyed because the country I live in imposes Christianity upon me to a slight degree (most particularly because along with Iran, the UK has its clergy in the law making assembly – the House of Lords in the UK’s case – and thus they influence the laws). So we have very odd divorce laws here which still look back to the rules laid down in the Bible – and I wish we didn’t. But that’s about it.
So whereas “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend” rang true with me when I first heard it, and still does today, “Stop your conversation when he passes on the street, Hope he falls upon himself, oh, won’t that be sweet” just doesn’t touch me at all. I’m not there, I don’t get it.
And yes I know a lot of people are superstitious, but I am not too sure what that has to do with it all and when we get to
Because he can’t be bribed or bought by the things that you adore
I am afraid Bob’s rather lost me.
Of course that is my fault, not Bob’s, but that’s just where I am. Who wants to bribe a Christian? Who is bribing me? I adore my three daughters and my grandchildren. I care deeply for my close friends and I try to go as far as is required to help them when they need me. They don’t ask me often but when they do, I really do try to be there. And although I would never presume I think they would always do the same for me.
I don’t know that I adore physical property, but I do value the piano that I play each day, and which belonged to my late father… but such thoughts seem to have taken me further away from Dylan’s thinking rather than closer.
So what is the whip that is keeping me in line? What tribute do I pay that he doesn’t? Are we talking taxes? Surely not. Are we talking cigarettes and other habitual substances? I doubt it, given Bob’s love of the poison.
I suppose the real moment when I utterly lose it with the song is in the penultimate verse.
Say that he’s a loser ’cause he got no common sense
Because he don’t increase his worth at someone else’s expense
Because he’s not afraid of trying, ’cause he don’t look at you and smile
’Cause he doesn’t tell you jokes or fairy tales, say he’s got no style
Common sense is by and large nonsense. Common sense tells us that gravity doesn’t exist because we can’t see it. Common sense tells us the earth is flat and the sun moves not the earth. Common sense tells us that we can understand the world without any theory.
But what is a religion if it is not a theoretical construct to explain the world? In which case the religious and the scientific person (which is where I put myself) are at one – they both have theories. It is just that they are different types of theory. One demands evidence, one demands faith.
Anyway, it’s just me, I’m sure. But it is not, I would add, because I object to religious music or songs about religion. I can grasp the almighty edifice and monumental beauty of the B minor mass, but sorry, this song is just a song. I guess I can see why Bob kept it out of the performance repertoire.