The Not So Narrow Road That Leads To Dylan’s Door

The Not So Narrow Road That Leads To Dylan’s Door

By Larry Fyffe

Woe unto analysts of the lyrics composed by Bob Dylan who are sure they can make his songs featuring biblical imagery fit the moral and theological messages contained in the pages of the Judeo-Christian Bible.

David Weir, for example, looking at Dylan’s ‘Narrow Way’ contends that the song is about Jesus, God, and humanity. In a manner somewhat Gnostic in tone, Weir claims that the song depicts the dark human side of Jesus as well as His divine side (by having faith in the light-emitting side of Jesus, humanity achieves peace through redemption, the grace of God, and the blood of the Lamb). Though no names are mentioned by Dylan in the song, Weir makes the case that there’s tension shown in ‘Narrow Way’ between two facets of Jesus – one divine and one human.

Weir presents the interesting idea that Dylan builds an analogy beside Jesus, and nails His human and divine sides to it – to the historical event known as the War of 1812:

Ever since the British burned the White House down
There’s a bleeding wound in the heart of town
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

Wier states: “The implication is that the British need to ‘go back home’ so leaving the
Americans in peace” – the Americans represent the suffering of Christ on the cross while the British symbolize Man redeeming himself by taking responsibility for doing bad things and going home.

The problem is that the analogy flies in the face of historical accuracy – it is the Americans who declare war in 1812 with the intention of looting, plundering, and taking over Canada (British North America); the invading American armies burn York, and British forces respond by burning the White House. American ground forces are ousted from Canada by British troops with the help of Canadians.

Among the Canadian fighters are English, French, and ‘Indian’ characters akin to those portrayed in Dylan’s famous 1964 CBC-TV appearance from the city of Toronto (formerly, York).

So if any religious meaning for ‘Narrow Way’ is warrented better construed it be that God allows the British to set the White House on fire in order to punish the United States of America for its sinful ways. Mama, the country’s only bleeding because it worships the Golden Calf, the Almighty Dollar, and covets its neighbour, Canada – the burning of the White House analogous to the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; God’s no longer on America’s side.

Such a theme Dylan presents in many of his lyrics – the United States he paints in a red colour as though it were the New Babylon; not the saviour of the world like many US politicians would have it. Furthermore, David Weir’s analysis requires listeners to the song accept, at least in metaphorical terms, that Jesus possesses a Gnostic-like sexual identity. In some verses, Christ appears in the form of a female, he claims:

I gonna have to take my head and bury it between your breasts
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

No doubt the song by Dylan being about the trial and tribulations of relationships between men and women is easier to maintain; out on the D-train, Dylan plays ‘pin the tail on the allusion’.

Ironic Post Modern Art features the montage technique. A songwriter mixes fragmented pieces of the works of other writers, including pieces of his own previous creations, into his songs. The fragmented pieces are supposed to reflect that in modern times every thing is broken:

Look down angel from the stars
Help my weary soul to rise
I kissed her cheek, I dragged your plough
You broke my heart, I was your friend ’til now
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

Bought to mind is the following poem:

Look homeward angel now and melt with ruth
And O ye dolphins waft the hapless youth
(John Milton: Lycidas)

And a song from Dylan himself:

Businessmen, they drink my wine
Ploughmen dig my earth
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

And another:

You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are
my friend
When I was down you just stood there grinnin’
(Bob Dylan: Positively 4th Street)

In the ‘Narrow Way’, the listener trips over shadows of the Bible;

It’ s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

That being:

Because straight is the gate
And narrow is the way
Which leadeth unto life
And few there is that find it
(Matthew 7: 14)

And over the shades of the Beatles:

The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
(Paul McCartney: The Long And Winding Road)

Even more as the moving finger writes, and moves on:

You went and lost your lovely head
For a drink of wine and a crust of bread
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

Bringing it all back home to the drunken Persian:

A book of verses underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow
(Edward Fitzgerald: Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam)

Indeed, many an allusion there be:

If I had a thousand tongues, I couldn’t count them all
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

And so it goes:

Give me a thousand kisses and a hundred more
(Catulus: To Lesbia)

 

What else is on the site

1: Almost 500 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.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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

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2 Responses to The Not So Narrow Road That Leads To Dylan’s Door

  1. jzsnake says:

    BTW, in case anybody is interested Mitzrayim which is the Hebrew word used in the bible for Egypt is sometimes translated as the narrow way and God of course took the Jews out of this narrow way.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    Literally and metaphorically, out of the narrow way taken.

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