by Larry Fyffe
You can read part 1 of this article at Cool Hand Bob
David Weir analyzes many of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics too much methinks through the lens of canonized Christian dogma, but assures us he is not imposing any religious message on the songs.
Kees de Graaf, on the other hand, comes to praise Dylan for his supposed Christian beliefs, but ends up burying Dylan’s figurative language underneath page upon page upon page that expound de Graaf’s own Christian beliefs. In a nutshell, Jesus Christ is the one and only answer to all the world’s problems.
The Bible, of course, is composed of two major books – the Old and the New Testaments with both of them composed of many smaller ‘books.’ Bob Dylan often references these major works in his song lyrics, but we really do not know what his personal spiritual beliefs are.
What we do have in front of us is his music and his song lyrics even though he quite often revises both of these aspects of his art form as well. To me it seems, if not into art for its own sake, Dylan is a seeker of knowledge, and his life experiences be a teacher that gives no definitive or simple answers. He also looks to traditional folk and blues songs, as well as to an assortment of literary and dramatic works; movies, too.
Regardless of what de Graaf thinks, Dylan’s song lyrics tend to present a Gnostic, if not Gothic, view of worldly existence – a dark, overly materialistic place in which everybody’s trapped, but from which the rebellious persona in his songs attempts to escape – in both body and spirit – through the door of empathy, a door that is seldom open:
As I walked out one morning To breathe the air around Tom Paine's 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)
Time waits for no one – wish though we might that it would, the human body cannot remain forever young; attention has to be paid:
My clothes are wet, tight on my skin Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in I know that fortune is waitin' to be kind So give me your hand, and say you are mine
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)
Between then and there, the hand revealed is the one dealt to us in the poker game of life – go ask Willie Loman, he knows:
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can Some things are too hot to touch The human mind can only stand so much You can't win with a losing hand
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)
Poor Willie – the American Dream turns into a nightmare (‘Death Of A Salesman’ by Jewish American author Arthur Miller). The myth of the freedom-loving frontier cowboy (including outlaws with hearts of gold) lives on – perpetuated in Western movies, often produced by Jews who escaped the horrors of persecution by fleeing to America (Wyatt Earp is buried in a Jewish cemetary in California):
John Wesley Harding Was a friend to the poor He travelled with a gun in every hand He opened many a door But he was never known To hurt an honest man
(Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding)
Meanwhile back at the ranch, many of the song lyrics by Bob Dylan compare modern America to the biblical Babylon of old:
There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne Got white skin, got assassin's eyes.... This place ain't doing me any good I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)
The only thing we know for sure about Bob Dylan is that his name isn’t Bob Dylan, and that his persona has no fondness for the hypocritical behaviour of supposedly religious leaders; nor for any of their like-minded followers:
Well, I'm grinding my life out, steady and sure Nothing more wretched than what I must endure .... Low cards are what I've got But I'll play this hand whether I like it or not
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)
As did Jewish American actor Paul Newman in the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke’.