A Dylan Cover a Day: Property of Jesus

By Tony Attwood

I reviewed Property of Jesus on this site  back in 2016 and immediately confessed my position in terms of religion, so that anyone kind enough to spend a moment or two reading my meanderings would appreciate that I was not trying to hide my own viewpoint under the guise of giving a balanced review of a piece of music.  My reviews aren’t balanced  – they come from my upbringing, my experience, my beliefs – same for all of us.

But as I think I noted at the time, and certainly have always felt, there are two ways to read this song: either the person sung about is liberated by being the property of Jesus or else she or he is enslaved by being the property of Jesus.  Being someone else’s property is of course in contemporary language, enslavement, a reduction of the full person, mental abuse…

I don’t think Bob has ever performed the song live – I know it wasn’t part of the “gospel tour” and it is not shown as being played live on the official Bob Dylan site so I think not.

And of course I don’t know exactly what Bob meant when he wrote the piece, but I had a bash at explaining my thoughts in my review here (see link above) and I’ve been a bit bemused to see that on some computers, if you do a search for the song title, my review comes up actually at, or at least near, the top of page one on Google (not that many people do search for the song on Google!)

Anyway, that’s the background, except for the fact that there are very few cover versions of the song.  However one of them is by Sinéad O’Connor of whom I have written several times in relation to “I believe in you” not least because I do consider one of the greatest Dylan covers of all time.  So of course I start with her…

Right from the start with the rhythm we know this is going to be different, and then we find the vocals are going to run the same melody line after line, relentlessly and the anti-established church view for which Ms O’Connor is well known is established.

The percussion emphasises her point of view, and her solid, strong vocals add to that.   And then, very curiously at the word “stone” the music softens, as if the heart of stone is not a criticism at all, but salvation.  Your “heart of stone” enables you to stand up against the propaganda of the church, and the evils of the Catholic Church in Ireland that Ms O’Connor has spoken about so clearly, and from personal experience.

I have never been sure what the lines

But you're picked up quite a story and you've changed since the wombWhat happened to the real you, you've been captured but by whom?

actually refer to.  Are these lines criticising the individual who says she/he doesn’t need God, or is it a reference to the person who has been caught up in a religion and has lost the “real you” and been transformed into a person who puts everything second to the belief that has now overtaken every waking moment of the individual’s life?   Or is “you” the Church itself?

And yet and yet…

There was a very good piece about the artist in America Magazine some six months ago which is well worth reading if you are interested in Sinéad O’Connor and her work.  It has a fair perspective, and perhaps helps put her performance of “Property of Jesus” into a deeper perspective than I can ever do.  And what it does portray to me, and what this recording gives me, is a deeper sense of just how far the media mob and its allies seek to punish an individual for his/her views.   For as the article says, “in the years that followed the extent of the abuse and its coverup became much more widely known….

“Three decades ago, Catholics were demanding Sinéad O’Connor apologize for defaming the church. Perhaps we had it all wrong. Maybe we should be apologizing for the way we treated her.”

Of course, many will disagree, and after all, what does my opinion matter?  But listening to Dylan’s composition, and her rendition of it, I do still find that song puzzling, and I’m grateful to Sinéad O’Connor for recording her version.

This next recording is from Neal Casal, and although it is beautifully produced I am not sure that it adds anything to my understanding of the song.  But that is not to put down Neal Casal, who as you may know, was a staggeringly brilliant musician who tragically took his own life because of his mental health problems.  And I use this opportunity to mention this because mental health is still something that is hard to discuss in our society – except it seems by those who constantly wanted to dismiss Sinéad O’Connor as being crazy and mentally deranged.   Thus it is that western civilisation finds it very easy to knock and hurt people with whom they disagree, but not so easy to support those who suffer from mental health problems.

But, time to move on.   Chrissie Hynde has said “Yes, I’m very religious. I’ve never doubted the existence of God for a moment, and I deliberately try to associate with other people for whom religiosity is important, whether Muslim or Roman Catholic or whatever. I pray, and I keep God at the forefront of my consciousness as much as I can. I know there is a super being out there who looks over and controls everything that I do. How could anyone think otherwise?”

So now we have a version that clearly expresses the view that this is a pro-Christian anti-atheist song.  Which really does make the different versions even more interesting.  Same song, seemingly opposite viewpoints.

If you have battled your way to the end of my ramble today, thank you, and if nothing else I do hope I have in a small way been able to suggest that just because some people hold utterly different views from others, that in itself is not harmful.  It is what they do in the pursuance of those views that is the problem.

But of course, that is just my view.

The Dylan Cover a Day series

  1. The song with numbers in the title.
  2. Ain’t Talkin
  3. All I really want to do
  4.  Angelina
  5.  Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
  6. As I went out one morning
  7.  Ballad for a Friend
  8. Ballad in Plain D
  9. Ballad of a thin man
  10.  Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  11. The ballad of Hollis Brown
  12. Beyond here lies nothing
  13. Blind Willie McTell
  14.  Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
  15. An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
  16. Blowin in the wind as never before
  17. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  18. You will not believe this… 115th Dream revisited
  19. Boots of Spanish leather
  20. Born in Time
  21. Buckets of Rain
  22. Can you please crawl out your window
  23. Can’t wait
  24. Changing of the Guard
  25. Chimes of Freedom
  26. Country Pie
  27.  Crash on the Levee
  28. Dark Eyes
  29. Dear Landlord
  30. Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
  31. Dignity.
  32. Dirge
  33. Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
  34. Don’t think twice
  35.  Down along the cove
  36. Drifter’s Escape
  37. Duquesne Whistle
  38. Farewell Angelina
  39. Foot of Pride and Forever Young
  40. Fourth Time Around
  41. From a Buick 6
  42. Gates of Eden
  43. Gotta Serve Somebody
  44. Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
  45. Heart of Mine
  46. High Water
  47. Highway 61
  48. Hurricane
  49. I am a lonesome hobo
  50. I believe in you
  51. I contain multitudes
  52. I don’t believe you.
  53. I love you too much
  54. I pity the poor immigrant. 
  55. I shall be released
  56. I threw it all away
  57. I want you
  58. I was young when I left home
  59. I’ll remember you
  60. Idiot Wind and  More idiot wind
  61. If not for you, and a rant against prosody
  62. If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
  63. If you see her say hello
  64. Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
  65. I’m not there.
  66. In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
  67. It ain’t me babe
  68. It takes a lot to laugh
  69. It’s all over now Baby Blue
  70. It’s all right ma
  71. Just Like a Woman
  72. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  73. Lay down your weary tune
  74. Lay Lady Lay
  75. Lenny Bruce
  76. That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
  77. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
  78. License to kill
  79. Like a Rolling Stone
  80. Love is just a four letter word
  81. Love Sick
  82. Maggies Farm!
  83. Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
  84. Mama you’ve been on my mind
  85. Man in a long black coat.
  86. Masters of War
  87. Meet me in the morning
  88. Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
  89. Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
  90. Most likely you go your way
  91. Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
  92. Motorpsycho Nitemare
  93. Mozambique
  94. Mr Tambourine Man
  95. My back pages, with a real treat at the end
  96. New Morning
  97. New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
  98. Nobody Cept You
  99. North Country Blues
  100. No time to think
  101. Obviously Five Believers
  102. Oh Sister
  103. On the road again
  104. One more cup of coffee
  105. (Sooner or later) one of us must know
  106. One too many mornings
  107. Only a hobo
  108. Only a pawn in their game
  109. Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
  110. Oxford Town
  111. Peggy Day and Pledging my time
  112. Please Mrs Henry
  113. Political world
  114. Positively 4th Street
  115. Precious Angel

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