The Gospel Of Bob Dylan
by Larry Fyffe
Bob Dylan has always been critical of orthodox thinking by anyone including those who religiously follow folk, or blues, or rocknroll, as being the ultimate in terms of music. That gospel music with it’s lyrics has the ability to emotionally affect listeners cannot be denied.
What escapes many listeners is that Dylan, unlike say Elvis, intentionally throws in double-edged lyrics with the evangelistic gospel sound. He warns individuals not to take lyrics as unquestioningly imparting the Truth, the Whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth:
(Bob Dylan: When He returns)
Though orthodox believers would not agree, the lyrics above as Dylan sings them – in view of Lord Buckley’s (‘The Nazz’) influence on the singer – can even be construed as burlesque.
In any event, there’s more interpretations – whether literal or metaphorical – in the quoted lyrics above than a listener can shake a stick at!
One being rather Existentialistic – individuals have a duty to carry on regardless of God’s commands since the Lord is completely disinterested – apparently unaffected by one’s behaviour: ‘He is unconcerned’.
A strong dyed-in-the-blood orthodox interpretation can also be offered:
(Book Of Proverbs: 16:4)
One might also place these Dylan’s lyrics in the context of his works as a whole, and contend that Dylan ribs various religions -Judaism, Puritanism, Calvinism, and Wesleyanism – for fiddling with such contentious issues as ‘predestination’, ‘original sin’, ‘faith alone’, and ‘good works’.
(Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding)
Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
(Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited)
As either song writer or interpreter thereof, one needn’t go down well-trodden paths.
Not a gospel in the traditional sense, Dylan presents a parable in the following lyrics:
(Bob Dylan: Soon After Midnight)
There be an allusion to:
Iron Maiden’s Charotte is not the materialistic and selfish Whore of Babylon of the Bible, but a Christ-like woman who sacrifices herself for the love of mankind. In terms of Gnosticism, Alchemy, and the Humour elements of earth, air, fire, and water, she’s associated with air, hot and moist. And also with blood, and the heart; with spring and youth; with the Thunder God Zeus.
On the other hand, Bob Dylan dresses Mary Magdalene in green, the colour of earth in summertime; she’s a reformed prostitute – matured, yet still youthful in spirit, dedicated to her man. According to Gnostic Christianity, Jesus said to her:
In short, it’s up to others to carry on the teachings of Jesus, to enliven His Spirit. That’s because the physical life of Jesus is gone – for Him, it’s midnight. And Mary Magadelene now too is dead; it’s after midnight, and she’s a ‘fairy queen’:
Saith Bob Dylan:
That is, there’ll soon be a changing of the guard.
Jesus will return, but in what way is the question – He’s got plans of his own to set up His throne.
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.