I will love Him: Bob Dylan announces the second coming is getting close

By Tony Attwood

As I have tried to suggest through the reviews of Dylan’s Christian songs, he had a very particular vision of what it meant to be a Christian, and I am not sure that it is a view that most Christian’s share.  Quite a few do, but not most.

Of course I am no expert on this, not least because I live in the UK and don’t really have a way of knowing how many people follow each interpretation of the Bible in the US.  But I am not sure that the notion that we can see signs that show us that the information set out in the Book of Revelations is now coming to pass, as it were, is mainstream.

But Bob clearly did believe this at this time, and specifically mentioned this song, as with

He said when the fig tree was blooming
He would be at the gate
He was talkin’ about the state of Israel
In 1948.
And the time is near
An’ I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name

As I understand it there are indeed many Christians who think that Revelations can be translated into a set of events that we can see unfolding, just as there are many Christians who believe that we can take Genesis and track the origins of the earth back to 4004 BC, thus suggesting that either dinosaurs lived at the same time as the people described in the first book of the Bible, or that dinosaurs are a myth.

But there again there are many Christians who don’t believe that the Bible can be used in such a literal way.

Dylan did take the literal approach at this time, and clearly did think the end was drawing close – however looking at the songs it seemed that this view only had a short while to go with Bob, before he changed his mind.

Bob and the band played the song twice in 1980 at the Toronto concerts, where he also introduced two other songs that were not on Saved, “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody”, and “Cover Down, Break Through”.   The recording that we have of “I will love Him” comes from the final encore on 19 April 1980 at Massey Hall, Toronto.  The official Bob Dylan site also has him performing it on 23 April, but some writers disagree with this and have the 19 April version as the only performance.

To get the full context of this performance we also have to remember that this was the era of Bob’s seven minute sermon, which if you have not heard it, you might like to try – at least in part.  Here it prefaces “I can’t let go”.

While Bob became known in his early years for varied lyrics, story telling and occasional obscurity, in this song Bob uses the gospel approach leaving nothing to doubt.

I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name
I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name
I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name
I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name

The lyrics have not been published as such but several writers with far more ability than me at understanding what Dylan says have managed to come up with what seems like a fair enough transcript of the words.

The opening lyrics do not give us a hint as to where the song is going to go…

He came on East out of Galilee
And disappeared like when he taught.
He came down to his own
His own knew him not.
But as for me
I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name

(It is interesting – for me at least, because I am always fascinated by these things – that we have here “East out of Galilee” and just a couple of months later created what for me is the much more exciting and interesting

East of the Jordan, west of the Rock of Gibraltar,
I see the burning of the page, Curtain risin’ on a new age,
See the groom still waitin’ at the altar.

Of course if Bob hadn’t performed “I will love him” in Toronto we wouldn’t have known that the whole east/west thing was on his mind at the time.

But back with “I will love him” it is then that we get the verse about the state of Israel which really does give us an insight into which approach to the Christian message Bob held at this time.

Personally I find the next verse lacks a lot in terms of poetic beauty or insight, and I wonder if it was the awkwardness of this verse (remembering still that some of the lyrics might not be exactly right) that made Dylan move on quickly from this song after Toronto.

When He was down conceived
His mother didn’t know what she carried
Took an angel of the Lord to tell her what she done carry
Carried for all mankind
An’ I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name

There’s a plaintive approach to the lyrics in the next verse, but still the final line doesn’t ring true to me, given that it is delivered with such gusto.  It all sounds so joyous, and yet we are talking about betraying the son of the Almighty here.

Did anybody say it was gonna be easy
Nobody said but you couldn’t complain
But God of the world tried to drive me crazy
Even Peter denied Him
Standin’ right beside Him
took Him out and falsely tried Him
Eventually crucified Him
Who am I to say I wouldn’t do the same?

After this I get lost – it just seems like a collection of images (which of course is fine – but is not what we were getting earlier, so doesn’t seem to fit).  In short I think the song was actually far from finished, but Bob performed it (once or twice depending on your source) just because he had it and liked the sound.  Maybe after Toronto he did sit down and think, “what am I actually saying here?” and couldn’t quite find the answer.  Or indeed he might have felt that the song thus far was unfinished, but couldn’t find a way to improve some of the verses that seemed just a little incomplete.

Anyway, this part of the song really is a bit hard to decipher, but here’s the best approach I can find…

who repaired the roof
and tried to tilt against the grain
When Herod found out that He was born
He had every boy child slain
Hey, let’s all pray
I will love Him, I will serve Him, I will glorify His name.

You will of course make up your own mind as to what we have here.   Here’s the recording

And just to see a bit of context in all this here is the full set list for Toronto.  It is, as you can see, entirely made up of the religious songs or the era.

1. Gotta Serve Somebody
2. Convenant Woman
3. When You Gonna Wake Up
4. Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell
5. Cover Down, Break Through
6. Man Gave Names To All The Animals
7. Precious Angel
8. Slow Train
9. Do Right To Me Baby
10. Solid Rock
11. Saving Grace
12. What Can I Do For You?
13. Saved
14. In The Garden
15. Are You Ready?
16. I Will Love Him

It’s the concert Bob Dylan wanted to deliver, but not necessarily the concert everyone in the audience would have liked to have heard.

The Discussion Group

We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/

The Chronology Files

There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.

All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there

 

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8 Responses to I will love Him: Bob Dylan announces the second coming is getting close

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    John Steinbeck’s theme in East Of Eden gets a mention in early Dylan.

    “All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame/Everybody is making love or else expecting rain”
    Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

    Following also my aforementioned comments, Dylan’s artistic ventures follow Steinbeck’s novel.
    In the novel Cathy symbolizes the religious view that evil dominates the world; Aron sees the goodness therein as do Romantic transcendentalists, for example.
    Cal comes to accept the Existential view that each individual has free choice, and is not predestined, as to which path to follow.

    Dylan seeks a balance to these philosophical
    viewpoints and sees Jesus worthy because Christ’s a drifter who goes against the grain …., ie, is against the corruption in religion and morality appearing once they’re formalized.

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    Dylan leaves lots of room for an Old Testament or New Testament point of view in ‘I Will love Him’;
    Jesus, never claiming to be the Messiah, says:

    “Now learn a parable of the fig tree/
    When the branch is yet tender/
    And putteth forth leaves/
    Ye know the summer is nigh”
    (Matthew 24:32)

    Dylan makes no mention of a second coming but only of Jesus saying that the time is not yet ripe
    for the entering the Promised Land. Neither Moses nor Jesus pass the Messiah test.

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    Even when writing a gospel-style song, one still has to appreciate Dylan’s fractured lyrical style that leaves room through which the drifter, the wandering Jew, can escape, aided and abetted by the ambiguous figurative language of the Bible:

    “He said when the fig tree was blooming/
    He would be at the gate/
    He was talking about the state of Israel in 1948”
    (Dylan: I Will Love Him)

    Could be the prophet Jesus condemning the moral state of the newly independent country of Israel as yet corrupt and still not ready for the Messiah and the Promised Land. But it’s not far off: any day now, I shall be released.

    In the past, Moses’ pride displeased God and he did not make it to the Promised Land either. When he came down Mount Sinai:

    “….. all the children of Israel/
    Saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone/
    And they were afraid to come nigh to him”
    (Exodus 34:30)

    Sings Dylan:

    “He came down on his own/
    His own knew him not”
    (I Will Love Him)

    Seems God tries to drive Dylan crazy, and some of His followers even attempt to take the songwriter for a ride, but the drifter is as slippery a wiggling snake. Dylan asks questions when he finds that God is on his side.

  4. Larry fyffe says:

    *wriggling

  5. Larry fyffe says:

    *as a wriggling snake

  6. Larry fyffe says:

    Jesus tells the woman at the well that he’s
    the Messiah (John 4:26):

    Dylan wanders but also wonders; he’s not sure
    what to believe, what the answer is, what is blowing in the wind?

    “Pray I don’t die of thirst/
    Baby, two feet from the well”
    (Dylan: Under Your Spell)

  7. Larry fyffe says:

    Peter is presented in some scripture as the one who smote one of The High Priests servants but
    later denied it, standing at first by the door of the court house. Jesus said Peter would deny it, and Christ got executed. The crazy question is: was Peter actually just following God’s plan?

  8. Larry fyffe says:

    To be more accurate (and considering the Bible as a literary work):

    “Now Peter sat without in the palace; and a damsel came unto him saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.

    But he denied before them all, saying,
    I know not what thou sayest.
    (Matthew 26:69/70)

    In more than one song, Dylan mentions a man
    down by the door.

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