Dylan Obscuranti: Track 11/12 – Those Christian Moments

By Tony Attwood

While most of the Dylan catalogue has been highlighted over and over again, there are odd moments that haven’t had too much attention, so that’s what this “Dylan Obscuranti” collection brings together.

In effect I had the idea of creating an imaginary album of some of those great moments.  Tracks 1 to 10 have been set out along with the “sleeve notes” as we used to call them.  Now tracks 11 and 12 come together, and this time we have two songs that are well known in themselves but in live recordings that really, really do add something else.

These two songs that make up tracks 11 and 12 of my mythical album come from Dylan’s Christian period, and both are live recordings which to me totally turn the original versions upside down.   If it weren’t for the fact that I am an atheist I might suggest divine intervention.

As a reminder here are the tracks so far…

And now we have Dylan Obscuranti: Track 11/12: When He Returns / I believe in you

The two tracks come together on the video below, one after the other – “I believe in you” and

As I have oft said on this site, I do not take to singers, composers, or indeed anyone else telling me what I should believe in terms of religion.  But that does not stop me enjoying the expression and performance within the song.  And indeed I comfort myself in two other ways – first because the title of the song is generally written with a lower case and second because there is another performance of this song which I would like to sneak onto my imaginary album.

However here “I believe in you” although highly enjoyable, turns out to be merely the warm up to the main fare: the performance of When He Returns (capital H this time).   For me this piano and organ rendition is the absolute summit of Dylan’s performance of his religious songs.  I can forgive him telling me his 18 months of how to live my life, if that was the cost of this exquisite creation.

But, if we were short of time I would just have “When He Returns” from the concert above, and then, and then….

If you really have not had anything better to do in recent years and you’ve been reading my ravings over certain performances of certain songs you’ve probably already worked out exactly where I am going.

The full story behind this extraordinary performance is told, as best I can manage, in my article “The Sinead O’Conner experience” (telling the tale of how “on 3 October 1992, Sinead O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live and held up a picture of Pope John Paul and ripped it up declaring that paedophile priests and others in the church were the enemy”).  The response from an esteemed chat show host was that if she had done that on his show he would have hit her.  As the Monty Python team once said, “Now we see the violence inherent in the system.”

I guess for me this more than anything else expresses my position with the enjoyment and love of music.  Of course I am a person for whom music is a central part of life, but when I hear music, the background of the song, plus the feeling and emotion of the lyrics and the music all combine in my appreciation.  It is thus not the song alone – it is the total experience.  So I don’t begrudge Bob his religious conversion; especially when it can deliver performances like this.

As it happens I have occupied my time during the UK’s “lockdown” period to create playlists on Spotify, although these are mostly made of dance music so that my dance partner and I can explore the music for hours on end through the dance routines we create.  Of course we haven’t been able to dance in the clubs for over a year, and so we have been creating our own routines and moves in a private studio.   Dancing to Dylan?  Yes it certainly is possible if you work at the routine.

And I mention this because I want to offer another Sinead O’Connor piece.  Nothing to do with Dylan, but just in case you don’t know her music, and because a few people over the 13 years or so we’ve been running this site have dropped me notes to say that they quite like my rambles which travel to all sorts of unrelated places.  It’s at the end of this article, and if you’ve got here, and are only interested in Dylan songs, you can stop now.  So if you, like me, like exploring music of different textures, you might want to go on one step beyond.

The dance routine we’ve worked out to this song one is an absolute scream.  Fortunately there’s only two of us in the room, so no video is available of us dancing.

In the end, it is, after all, just a matter of personal choice.

What else?

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

You’ll also find, at the top of this page, and index to some of our series established over the years.  Series we are currently running include

  • The art work of Bob Dylan’s albums
  • The Never Ending Tour year by year with recordings
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

You’ll find links to all of them on the home page of this site

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down


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