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
- The song with numbers in the title.
- Ain’t Talkin
- All I really want to do
- Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
- As I went out one morning
- Ballad for a Friend
- Ballad in Plain D
- Ballad of a thin man
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- The ballad of Hollis Brown
- Beyond here lies nothing
- Blind Willie McTell
- Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
- An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
- Blowin in the wind as never before
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- You will not believe this… 115th Dream revisited
- Boots of Spanish leather
- Born in Time
- Buckets of Rain
- Can you please crawl out your window
- Can’t wait
- Changing of the Guard
- Chimes of Freedom
- Country Pie
- Crash on the Levee
- Dark Eyes
- Dear Landlord
- Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
- Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
- Don’t think twice
- Down along the cove
- Drifter’s Escape
- Duquesne Whistle
- Farewell Angelina
- Foot of Pride and Forever Young
- Fourth Time Around
- From a Buick 6
- Gates of Eden
- Gotta Serve Somebody
- Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
- Heart of Mine
- High Water
- Highway 61
- I am a lonesome hobo
- I believe in you
- I contain multitudes
- I don’t believe you.
- I love you too much
- I pity the poor immigrant.
- I shall be released
- I threw it all away
- I want you
- I was young when I left home
- I’ll remember you
- Idiot Wind and More idiot wind
- If not for you, and a rant against prosody
- If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
- If you see her say hello
- Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
- I’m not there.
- In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
- It ain’t me babe
- It takes a lot to laugh
- It’s all over now Baby Blue
- It’s all right ma
- Just Like a Woman
- Knocking on Heaven’s Door
- Lay down your weary tune
- Lay Lady Lay
- Lenny Bruce
- That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
- License to kill
- Like a Rolling Stone
- Love is just a four letter word
- Love Sick
- Maggies Farm!
- Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
- Mama you’ve been on my mind
- Man in a long black coat.
- Masters of War
- Meet me in the morning
- Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
- Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
- Most likely you go your way
- Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
- Motorpsycho Nitemare
- Mr Tambourine Man
- My back pages, with a real treat at the end
- New Morning
- New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
- Nobody Cept You
- North Country Blues
- No time to think
- Obviously Five Believers
- Oh Sister
- On the road again
- One more cup of coffee
- (Sooner or later) one of us must know
- One too many mornings
- Only a hobo
- Only a pawn in their game
- Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
- Oxford Town
- Peggy Day and Pledging my time
- Please Mrs Henry
- Political world
- Positively 4th Street
- Precious Angel