Bob Dylan: Puritanism And It’s Obverse

by Larry Fyffe

Any Euro-centric analyst of Bob Dylan’s artistic output has to be counterbalanced by the singer/songwriter’s deep awareness of Americana – the influence of Puritanism on the American psyche, for example.

Zealous Puritans latch onto the “Gnostic-like” cosmological view that the material world is hopelessly corrupt and depraved; the only individuals who are going to escape from it are those chosen to be part of the ‘elect’ ….off they will be to a paradisal Afterlife.

An anxiety-ridden religion in that no one knows for sure if they are one of the few or not that God has listed to join Him in Heaven.

That angst is expressed in the following song lyrics:

Well, my house is on fire, burning to the sky
Well, I thought it would rain, but the clouds passed by
Now I feel like I'm coming to the end of my way
But I know God is my shield, and He won't lead me astray
(Bob Dylan: 'Til I Fell In Love With You)

The Puritans, not knowing if they are members of the Elect sail for America, the Promised Land, in search of the ‘American Dream’; inner-directed self-reliance, not outside instruction, be the key to salvation;  signified it’s hoped by economic success.

Distractions from the commands of a strict God to be avoided.

God forbids even lusting after another in one’s own mind:

Well junk is piling up, taking up space
My eyes feel like they're falling off my face
Sweat falling down, I'm staring at the floor
I'm thinking about that girl who won't be back no more
(Bob Dylan: 'Til I Fell In Love With You)

Woe unto those who allow their eyes or spectacles to fog up:

You want clear spectacles: your eyes are dim
Turn inside out, and turn your eyes within
Your sins like motes in the sun do swim: nay see
Your mites are moleheads, moleheads mountains be
(Edward Taylor: The Accusation Of The Inward Man)

Hypocrisy, based on the sin of hubris, is what Bob Dylan often sees in his critique of the social norms of America, the New Babylon.

That the sanctification of economic success be a religious superstructure (proposed by Karl Marx) is dismissed.

The obverse of ‘Til I Fell In Love With You’ turns the meaning of the song on its head ~ too much devotion to a demanding God, or the love of money for itself (the Golden Cafe), will diminish the light of natural love that individuals can have for each other.

Dark (warehouse) sunglasses, a symbol thereof:

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims ...
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I put them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)


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