“Ye shall be changed”; old song, old message, old testament, new religion.

By Tony Attwood

As we travel through Bob’s compositions of 1979 we are now into full blown Bible related songs, this one (on the surface at least) taken directly from 1 Corinthians 15:52…

 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

And Bob said…

Ye shall be changed, ye shall be changed
In a twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet blows
The dead will arise and burst out of your clothes
And ye shall be changed

It’s one of three songs that Dylan recorded for Slow Train Coming which was then dropped.  It was finally issued on the third volume of The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3.

It’s a song saying that modern life doesn’t offer much except blood sweat and toil, but don’t worry, if you follow the right faith then when the second coming of Christ occurs you will arise with Christ and everything will be fine, because you have followed the correct path.

So you have worked really, really hard but there is an emptiness inside you “that can’t be filled” until you find the one true religion.

OK, that much I get, and I can understand the Christian message, but then

All your loved ones have walked out the door
You’re not even sure ’bout your wife and kids no more,

So this is an appeal to a man who has be let down by everyone – including his own family.  And of course there are people like that, but this clearly is not a clarion call for everyone, but for the individual with nothing to lose.

Which is interesting because among the many famous lines Bob has donated to the world we have

Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

So I guess the best we can say is, different times, different places to go. Although I can’t help thinking that if we changed one letter we have

Go to Him now, He calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

Now we have…

Just surrender to God and He’ll move you right here where you stand, 

It has been said that around this time Dylan took the moment of the second coming quite literally so that suddenly, rather as in a sci-fi movie (sorry I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, I am just expressing it as it seems to me, the non-believer), all the believers are removed from the world into God’s paradise, and everyone else is left looking at each other wondering where all the good guys went, and what the hell is going on.  Well, actually, it is Hell that is going on.

Maybe that is what it means, but I don’t think the song itself actually says that we are supposed to take lines such as

In a twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet blows
The dead will arise and burst out of your clothes

completely literally.  I think the focus on the song is about the individual deciding to choose salvation him or herself and then reaping subsequent rewards.

The path you’ve endured has been rough
When you’ve decided that you’ve had enough, then…

So instead of going to “him” now he calls you, in Rolling Stone, the person in this song goes to Him now he calls.

But… I still have further issues, for musically I find much more of interest here because the song is based quite closely on “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine” from Blonde on Blonde in 1966.

Now when I reviewed that song, I said that the chord sequence which starts on a minor chord and moves around the nearby minors before coming back to the major key chord was “A perfectly reasonable chord to use in this key, but very unusual for rock.   And its not something he does in any other song I can think of.”

Well, I didn’t think of “Ye shall be changed”.   But I should have, because both songs are telling someone that they have got it wrong – the only difference is that in 1966 Bob was telling the person to whom he was speaking that

time will tell just who fell
And who’s been left behind
When you go your way and I go mine

But now he knows the right way.  And so

You say you love me
And you’re thinkin’ of me
But you know you could be wrong
You say you told me
That you wanna hold me
But you know you’re not that strong

becomes (using a very similarly structured song)

You harbour resentment
You know there ain’t too much of a thrill
You wish for contentment
But you got an emptiness that can’t be filled

OK, so we have Dylan using an old  theme (go to him now he calls you) but changing it from the secular Rolling Stone, to the religious Ye Shall Be.   And to do this he is reusing an old Dylan chord sequence (Most Likely You Go), and its musical style.

The song does improve (to my ear) greatly when we get to “In a twinkling of an eye” – where we have the rotating chords F, B flat, E flat, A flat, and a different melody, but even here I find, again for me, personally, that the “Dead will arise and burst out of your clothes” line doesn’t work.

But now I have further problems, because not only is Dylan re-using an old idea of his, and an old song of his, he is also incorporating his old religion into his new religion.

What I thought of when I heard this was the Old Testament (ie Jewish) prophet Isaiah.  As in Isaiah 26.19 “Your dead will live, their corpses will rise, and those who dwell in the dust will shout for joy. Your shadow is a shadow of light, but you will bring down the ghosts into the underworld.”

Now of course I am not so dumb as not to know that the Old Testament is part of the Christian religion, it is just that I expected that having changed from Jew to Christian, Dylan might at this point be writing about the Second Coming from a truly New Testament point of view.

In the end, I think Dylan was absolutely right to drop this song from the album and not sing it in public, because it is a mish mash of ideas and music from old songs, and a prophet from his old religion, while trying to express his devotion to his new religion by taking the verse out of Corinthians, and putting all those bits together, it just doesn’t work.

It is of course perfectly valid to say,

You can’t live for today
When all you’re ever thinking of is tomorrow

but believing that, one can just as likely find a better life by Zen contemplation or indeed by going out and having a dance or supporting a football team or listening to your favourite rock star.

In effect I am saying I think Dylan was trying to write about his new faith too early, just by taking lines from the Bible and turning them into songs.  With this one, it didn’t work.  At least not for me.

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  1. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed
    1 Corinthians 15:52 NEW TESTAMENT

  2. Interesting perspective…yes, not Dylan’s best expression of his new found fath…but Dylan is both Jew and (at the time at least a professing) Christian…and there are a number of people who are melding the two together…and, Dylan at the time was influenced by Dispensationalism, the popularized eschatology of The Left Behind school…there are other understandings…of The Second Coming…wouldn’t through the baby out with the bath water…and You Shall be Changed has an in-this-moment dimension as well…

  3. Times they are a changing, You shall be changed, If you put these together it suggest that, Time will change you. The only thing constant is change. This focus on time and change seems to be a theme running though Dylan’s work. Not only is he constantly changing over time, we all our. In physic there the uncertainty principal, which states that its impossible to know both the location and speed of a atom, so much so with us, we are either speeding ahead with no location, or stopped with no direction. Most likely we are somewhere between both, speeding ahead searching for a location, we can call home. May we all stay forever young as we all seek a home in a world of changing times.

  4. Sometimes all this extreme examining, personal decoding, and your explanations… makes me want to SCREAM!
    I have read many of these thought provoking, at times pontificating writings on Dylan’s Christian era…
    Why can you not take the song for what it is… where Bob simply was, and felt he wanted to convey at that given time. He must of thought it was not quite up for inclusion
    on those released during that period… I for one love the song and get it.. and am glad he later released it.
    I personally believe that he is, and will always be a Christian, as well as a dedicated Jew who happens to believe in his found Messiah (my opinion).
    This guy really through himself into the Word of God..
    and many people happen to believe he has written some of the all time greatest gospel music, along with Larry Norman. Much better than most all “Christian artists before or after.. again my opine.
    Bob is Bob, I wouldn’t have it any other way… He may never put out that exact type of LP, but for those who have ears to hear, it still continues to pop up regularly. Not to mention he is still performing some of those songs, just not the past year or so. Lets not forget about a year or two… when interviewed he clearly said he had wanted to release another Gospel type album.
    I love all his music and will be happy with what I receive.
    Just my thoughts, absolutely no harm intended.

  5. OK Bruce, a difference of opinion. I quite enjoy writing the reviews, and some people write in to say they like them too, so I’m going to continue.

  6. Absolutely do Tony… I seriously meant NO disrespect of any kind. Enjoy reading differing points of view.. First time commenter, just needing to sound off a bit.
    Nothing personal at all.

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