Lily O’Valley, Mary Magdalena, And The Jehovah Of Hearts:
Bob Dylan Mixes Up The Medicine
by Larry Fyffe
Bob Dylan finds gospel music to be very inspirational; the Vineyard Evangelist Movement relies on the impact of such music to emotionally bond its followers.
Vineyard Evangelism is a loosely organized branch of the Christian religion based on charismatic authority, with the New Age Saint Augustinian slogan called ‘the genius of generosity’ that asserts that faith all by itself is not sufficient for salvation: good works count. Adherents are expected to keep what they need for a decent family life, and provide money and assistance to the local church in order to help the less fortunate improve their spiritual outlook and economic situation.
How the leaders and adherents of this branch of Christianity behave in accordance with its religious values is a point of contention.
In some of his song lyrics, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, in a round-about way, warns Vineyard members about being hypocritically used for the selfish benefit of the already well-off :
Politician got on his jogging shoes
He must be running for office, got no time to lose
He been suckin’ the blood out of the genius of generosity
You have been rolling your eyes, you been teasing me
(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)
The anti-establishment poetry of William Blake comes to mind – the poet searches for the Garden of Love:
And the gates of the Chapel were shut
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore
And I saw that it was filled with graves
And tombstones where flowers should be
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds
And binding my joys and desires
(William Blake: The Garden Of Love)
Per usual, Dylan’s Blake-influenced song lyrics are quite doubled-edged in meaning:
Jesus is calling, He’s coming to gather up his jewels
We living by the golden rule, whoever got the gold rules
(Bob Dylan: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking)
That is, what does the Christian religion stand up for – gold and jewels – symbolizing wealth and power or, alternatively, precious souls?
In other song lyrics, Dylan notes that this community-based religion, backed up by gospel music, brings a feeling of joyful comfort to its followers:
But you changed my life
Came along in a time of strife
From silver and gold to what man cannot hold
You changed my life
(Bob Dylan: You Changed My Life)
Again doubled meaning. The lyrics above can be interpreted as meaning that the garden of love can be found but it doesn’t last – ‘what man cannot hold’. Even in Dylan’s gospel songs, Gnostic mysticism lurks in the background – every silver cloud is dark inside from where the howls of the ghosts of electricity can be heard:
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He that can reduce me to tears
Don’t you cry, don’t you die, and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns
(Bob Dylan: When He Returns)
Note that Jesus replaces ‘wrong’ with ‘right’; not ‘evil’ with ‘good’.
Gnostic mystics seek to ascend a misty metaphorical ladder in order to raise themselves above worldly woes – such as desire, wrath, and ignorance
(ie, to rid themseves of ‘ignorance’, not ‘sin’ – it’s not a matter of ‘evil’ versus ‘good’):
He who has ears to hear, let him hear
Peter said to Him, since you have explained everything to us
Tell us this also: What is the sin of the world?
The Saviour said, There is no sin, but it is you who make sin
You do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called ‘sin’
(Gospel Of Mary Magdalene, 4:24-26)
Blakean and Swedenborgian, the metaphors of Gnosticism be:
He who has a mind to understand, let him understand
Matter gave birth to a passion that has no equal
Which preceeded from something contrary to nature
Then there arises a disturbance in its whole body
(Gospel Of Mary Magdalene 4:30)
Disturbing to orthodox Christianity, that’s for sure.
The following lyrics are from the Gnostic “song of song’s’, found in the Holy Bible:
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels
Thy neck with chains of gold
We make thee borders of gold with studs of silver
While the King sitters at his table
My spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof
A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me
He shall lie all night between my breasts
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire
In the Vineyards of Engedi
(The Song Of Solomon)
‘Engedi’ means ‘Fountain of Goats’. The standard Christian interpretation is that the maiden is the bride (church followers) of the bridegroom Jesus…on their wedding night, I presume.
That the maiden describes herself as ‘the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valleys’ brings it all back home to ‘Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts’, and what allegories might lie within that song:
The cabaret was empty now, a sign said, ‘Closed for repair’
Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her Father, who she very rarely saw
Thinkin’ about Rosemary, and thinkin’ ’bout the law
But most of all, she was thinkin’ ’bout the Jack Of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)
Bob Dylan did not get the Nobel Prize In Literature for fiddling while Rome is burning.
What else is on the site
1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.