by Larry Fyffe
The organizers of orthodox Christianity come up with the idea of ‘original sin’ so that choosing to be ‘good’ isn’t the way to salvation; rather the intervention of a priestly class (a Church) is needed.
Many forms of Gnosticism, with the concept of a far, far-away ‘God’, hold that the solid material body in which most people are trapped prevents the faint but goodly spark within them from being ignited, ie, beware of those with “violence in the eyes” and “assassin’s eyes”.
Other Gnosticists hold that the apparent material/spiritual duality is due to people’s perception being limited by their senses. A modern Gnostic poet William Blake be a strong influence on the beat poetry of Allen Ginsberg and on the song lyrics of Bob Dylan.
If the doors of perception were cleansed
Enerything would appear to man as it is, infinite
(William Blake: The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell)
Ginsberg and Dylan search for Gnostic messengers, precious angels with a clear perspective to assist them light the torch within – ie, a humane teacher (like Jesus), or a kindred friend, but especially a fiery sex partner. In through the doors of persception these messengers bring bright light into a dull world:
How did I meet you? I don’t know
A messenger sent me in a topical storm
You were there in the winter, moonlight on the snow
And on Lily Pond Lane when the weather was warm
(Bob Dylan: Sara)
Allegorically speaking, encountering such an ‘angel’ turns one’s perception of reality upside down:
If not for you
Babe, I could not even find the door
I couldn’t even find the floor
I’d be sad and blue, if not for you
(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)
Dylan sings out that the spiritual spark is kindled to flame in the heart of the individual in spite of a ‘subtle enemy’, holier-than-thou religious institutions that chain followers to dogmas such as Christ being literally the ‘Son of God’.
A hallmark of Postmodernist writing is its tendency to employ irony – the author expresses the opposite of what s/he really means. Furthermore, the author often leaves it an open question whether or not s/he is in fact being ironic:
Now there’s spiritual warfare and flesh and
blood breaking down
Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there
ain’t no neutral ground
The enemy is subtle, how be it we are so deceived
When the truth’s in our heart, and we still don’t believe …..
You’re the queen of my flesh girl, you’re my
woman, my delight
You’re the lamp of my soul, girl, you’re the torch
of the night
But there is violence in the eyes, girl, so let us not
On the way out of Egypt, through Ethiopia, to the
judgment hall of Christ
(Bob Dylan: Precious Angel)
Looking at double-meaning, multi-level lyrics in the context of the author’s art as a whole lends some assistance in determining what possible meanings are actually intended to be conveyed, ie, Jewish slaves seeking the Promised Land of Israel, and former black slaves, the Promised Land of Ethiopia, uniting in Christ’s teachings about love for others – though not in Christian institutions.
Bob Dylan in his lyrics has always cautioned his listeners not to be misled by political, economic, and religious authorities because they do not necessarily have the best interests of their underlings in mind:
I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains
I offered her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm
(Bob Dylan: As I Went Out One Morning)
As well as his own, the true artist tries to uncover what actually lies behind the door of another person’s mind:
Well, I got the fever down in my pockets
The Persian drunkard, he follows me
Yes, I can take him to your house, but I can’t unlock it
You see you forgot to leave me with the key
(Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)
In reference to the context of that enigma, ‘door’ and ‘key’ be symbols used by Dylan:
Patty gone to Laredo
But she be back soon ….
The door is locked and the key’s inside
(Bob Dylan: Patty’s Gone To Loredo)
That the door to the meaning of human existence itself is closed, Dylan expresses in words that Frederich Nietzsche himself might employ – that all religious truths about such matters as an afterlife add up to one big lie; merely mythologies they be, created by the human imagination, and figurative language:
The lamp-post stands with folded arms
Its iron claws attached to curbs ‘neath holes
where babies wail
Though its shadows metal badge all and all
can only fall
With a crashing but meaningless blow
And no sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)
Existentialism writ large, a perception of the world where no metal-badged human robots, conditioned to produce and protect materialistic things, will ever get to see the blazing face of God, though desire they might to board the bus to Paradise:
Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark, for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door
(Bob Dylan: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door)
The sad-eyed prophet of the Gnostic mystics laments the triumph of reason over desire:
Serpent reasoning us entice
Of good and evil, virtue and vice
Doubt self-jealous, watery folly
Struggling through Earth’s melancholy
(William Blake: The Keys To The Gates Of Paradise)
Blake’s mythology contends that the cause of sorrow in the present world is that the ‘elements’ of earth, air, fire, and water are out of balance within the human body.
What else is on the site
1: Over 480 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on 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 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 produced 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.
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