by Larry Fyffe
The song lyrics of Bob Dylan are often taken by listeners and music critics to be those of a dyed-in-the-wool apocalyptic visionary. Some of these listeners and critics accept the words of the Bible as the be-all and end-all of what the future has in store for mankind, ie, do what you might, it’s all over now, baby blue. So best to become a ‘true believer’ – you might be lucky enough to make it to Heaven.
Dylanologist Kees de Graaf, as far as I can tell, takes this view:
Again Dylan may had in mind Revelation 20:8, the battle of Gog and Magog.
May the Lord have mercy on us indeed when this war begins (de Graaf: The Cat’s In The Well)
It’s a plausible interpretation of the particular song lyrics in question. But put in the context of Dylan’s works as a whole, matters are not so clear:
(Bob Dylan: With God On Our Side)
Listening to Dylan’s songs that relate to canonised religion reveals he’s honestly confused. More than that, as an artist who feels compelled to rebel against orthodox teachings, including religious dogma, the singer/songwriter proclaims that ignorance stops ‘true believers’ from confronting God – to get Him to change His mind; to get Him to stop the apocalypse:
(The Gospel Of Thomas)
Little wonder, many Gnostic gospels are omitted from official biblical canon. A God made in the image of man is surely blasphemous. That mankind can change the course of history for the good, even if there are setbacks, jeopardises the established authority of Christian leaders – their walls could come a-tumbling down:
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)
Dylan sings a Ballad, not for the Thin Man who drowns living things, but for the Brave Man who saves them:
(Nursery Rhyme: Ding, Dong, Bell)
Dylan ding-dongs the bells of alarm: where is the brave God that’ll stop the next war? Weary he is of the thin God at whose feet the bloodhounds kneel:
(Bob Dylan: Cat’s In The Well)
Dylan is anything but an a an apocalyptic prophet who throws up his hands in surrender to inevitable fate:
(Bob Dyan: Idiot Wind)
Waiting for Shelley perhaps: all is not lost – if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
Placed in the context of his songs as a coherent vision, there’s a slow train coming up around the bend. Slow it be, but it’s coming:
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)
That is, in time, rather than man being separated from God as he is now, he will be united with Him:
(Bob Dylan: When You Gonna Wake Up)
All visionary writings of the Gnostics have not been left out of the Bible -Jesus saith:
As we have already seen, Dylan himself speaks with a Gnostic tongue. One that that says any spark of goodness that remains within the human body is in danger of dying out.
Trinitized Christianity, he metaphorically envisions as a religion of slaves, of bloodhounds that kneel – in need of a reformulation:
(Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)
A kindred poet-spirit, the singer/songwriter has:
What else is on the site
1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.