Bob Dylan: The Higher Calling Of The Lord


By Larry Fyffe

In his analysis of ‘Disease Of Conceit’, Kees de Graaf asserts that the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan points out that feeling excessively self- important is setting oneself up for a fall.

Eve, contracts ‘the disease of conceit”(vanity and pride); she desires to be just like God, and so she takes the ‘apple’ from Satan. She’s punished – made to suffer – by losing the God-given life-force, the “spirit”, driving her immortal ‘soul’ or body. Now, relative to her blissful life in Eden, she’s metaphorically ‘dead’. Adam catches the ‘disease’ from her, and suffers the same fate; he’s now confined to a physical body that is mortal:

Seems they’ve both caught the disease from God, but He’s apparently immune to its effects:

There’s a whole lot of people dying tonight
From the disease of conceit
There’s a whole lot of crying tonight
From the disease of conceit
Comes right out of nowhere
(Bob Dylan: Disease Of Conceit)

If the song is taken in isolation, de Graaf’s analysis is all well and good. But it’s known that Big Bob is well-read, and that he’s no one’s fool – he owns the town’s only ‘diamond’ mind.

He’s got Frederich Nietzsche down there working for him. Freddy, ready or not, turns the rocks upside down; he says that God is the One who is metaphorically ‘dead’ from the disease; that the human ‘overman’, whether artist, prophet, explorer, or whatever, is not conceited at all if he listens to his heart, and launches his ‘ships’ upon unknown waters:

Noontime, and I’m still pushing myself along the
road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put
Someone else is speaking with my mouth, but I’m
listening only to my own heart
I’ve made shoes for everyone, even you, while I go barefoot
(Bob Dylan: I And I)

According to Nietzschez – not Christianity itself, but Jesus himself can be considered an inspirational, yet humble, ‘overman’. Dylan expresses a similar view concerning the constricting power of social norms:

As I went out one morning
To breathe the air around Tom Paine’s
I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains
I offered her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm
(Bob Dylan: As I Went Out One Morning)

For Dylan, the female serves here as a symbol of ‘Conformity’ rather than a devil-inspired rebel against established authority as Eve strives to be.

Though he claims it’s sometimes good to look back in search of Truth, Dylan himself is a rebellious silver-tongued devil at other times:

Shake the dust off your feet, don’t look back
Nothing now can hold you down, nothing that you lack
Temptation’s not an easy thing, Adam given the the devil reign
Because he sinned, I got no choice, it run in my vein
Well, I’m pressing on
Yes, I’m pressing on
Well, I’m pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord
(Bob Dylan: Pressing On)

What that ‘higher calling’ may be comes from his own heart; Dylan ain’t a-gonna be anybody’s fool.

That’s not to say a female Muse doesn’t come in handy-dandy at times:

She’s got everything she needs
She’s an artist, she don’t look back ….
She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall
She’s nobody’s child, the law can’t touch her at all
(Bob Dylan: She Belongs To Me)

What else is on the site

1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on 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 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 produced 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.

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.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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


  1. You write : “Seems they’ve both caught the disease from God, but He’s apparently immune to its effects” and also “He’s got Frederich Nietzsche down there working for him”. This may be your reading but certainly not Dylan’s. Dylan writes: “they’re breaking down the distance between right and wrong” (Ring them bells). Dylan sees an absolute -Biblical – distance between right and wrong. God has nothing to do with wrong, so they -Eve and Adam – cannot contract this disease from God. You somehow seem to suggest that Dylan supports some of Nietzche’s nihilistic ideas. But doesn’t. Dylan is not a Gnosticist nor a nihilist.

  2. Thanks for response, but I’m not saying what Dylan believes; instead, light-heartily what his lyrics can be taken to mean – backed up by evidence taken from Dylan’s wonderful manipulation of words….even found in many of his ‘gospel’ songs.

    You cannot speak for Dylan any more than I can. I let the lyrics speak for themseves – and Dylan leaves them open to interpretation on many levels. ie, if God is absolute, then He must have created the Devil.

    Your dogmatic faith is yours to have, but it makes you force
    deliberaely ambigious words in many of his lyrics into just one and only one interpretation.

  3. “they’re breaking down the distance between right and wrong” is a dogmatic statement from Dylan on its own. This statement assesses that there is such a distance. So why accusing me of having ‘a dogmatic faith’ whereas the truth is that there are many such dogmatic statements in Dylan’s lyrics and not only in the period 1979-1981.Odd that I never hear you say that Dylan has a ‘dogmatic faith’ but that you only label those who point to those dogmatic statements in Dylan’s lyrics’……

  4. Dylan presents a Calvinist religious view with its concept of the ‘chosen few’ in ‘Ring Them Bells’.

    I’m not not going to label Dylan himself a Calvinist ….were every song of his to have a theme of Calvinist dogmatic predestination I might be tempted to do so.

    He takes on the persona of a Calvin; sometimes of Nietzsche; other times of the Devil himself – using direct quotes from sources that he often puts a twist on to.

    At other times perhaps he is speaking sincerely about himself .

    I look at all his lyrics and they express a lot of differing views….. so I’m not going to stick one strict label on him but rather consider most of the lyrics that he writes to be in general ‘spiritualistic’.

  5. PS: Nietzsche says that it is society that has become nihilistic, not himself; that modern materialistic society has metaphorically killed the spirit of God.

    Whether one’s agree or not with some of the Nietzsche’s ideas about what the renewed God should be like in spirit is a whole different matter.

    ‘Prophets’ of all kinds are creatures of their own time who rebel against at least some established values – as Jesus himself did.

  6. “You say I’m a gambler, you say I’m a pimp but I may be neither one”. Dylan knows exactly what he is talking about. You say: “You cannot speak for Dylan any more than I can”. In itself this is true but….. Under News/Hype on Dylan’s own website there is a link (15.11.2011), linking visitors to my analysis of “All along the watchtower”. Obviously this analysis was good enough to prompt visitors to go to my website and read this analysis. As I outlined in detail on my website “All along the watchtower” is the core of Dylan’s song writing, if you got that one right you have the key to all of his works. Certainly ,this does not mean that every word I write is on target but it is surely an encouragement to believe that I am on the right track, and remember: “there ain’t but train on this track”…… is a slow train I admit but it is still picking up speed…..

  7. ‘Watchtower’ is indeed at the core of Dylan’s works and in an interview Dylan says he made a bargain with the ‘commander in chief’ including the one in the world that we cannot see.

    You go out of the way to insist it is with heavenly Jesus that he made the bargain with but he does not say that. What Dylan considers God to be, I do not know nor is it my business when it comes right down to it as far as I am concerned.

    His writings are ambiguous enough to suppose a number of meanings including that he attempts to reconcile a number of spiritualistic view points in order to formulate a personal vision of his own.

    He does not say without any ambiguity (ie precisely ) what his message is.

    ‘Gnosticism’, for example, blankets such a broad religious field that sprouts so many different forms , I have no problem using the term in regards to much of Dylan writings.

    Whatever Dylan believes it is sure not an absolutist one, as revealed in his lyrics.

    That you always attempt to squeeze them into a Christian box of the standard size flies in the face of Dylan’s creative talents.

  8. The gap between your interpretation of Dylan’s work and mine is so wide that it would really worry me if he would link his website to your articles, but he doesn’t. Therefore, the narrow box you put me in, might be more to Dylan’s liking than you are willing to admit……..

  9. I have no idea what or where Dylan’s personal website is – -nor he of my articles I’m sure!(lol)

    But if he were, I’m sure he’d agree with every word I write!(lol)

    Does Dylan himself treat on the site, or is it an ad site, an endorsed site, or what?

  10. I should add that my thoughts on Dylan are not exclusively my own….there have been a few books written on the subject, you know…,but I try to be somewhat original without straying from his lyrics and, especially, by not going very much into the possible biographical aspects thereof.

  11. It is also very odd that de Graaf thinks I am calling his anaysis of Dylan’s lyrics incorrect when I simply point out his focus is on one level of meaning only.

  12. If you like:


    Part freedom-loving Tom Paine

    Part chained-up Frankenstein monster (Shelley)

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