Bob Dylan: Christ As Casanova
By Larry Fyffe
Through many a dark hour, I’ve been thinking about this – Quite a few analysts thereof consider Bob Dylan’s song lyrics to be about Jesus; so where is the Christ in Jack Kerouac-influenced “Desolation Row”?
Lo and behold, Jesus is right there. He’s Jacques Casanova – J.C., if you will. Apparently, many of the mainstream analysts avoid pointing this out since, in real life, Casanova’s a Gnostic, a follower of a variation that advocates loving the physical world rather than feeling trapped by it. To Jacques Casanova, Desolation Row is anything but a Dystopia.
Casanova’s real-life Gnosticism considers an emanation of light from the far away hermaphroditic Monad to be Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom and Goddess of Understanding; she’s manifests herself in the material realm as Mary Magdalene, the bride of Christ. Out of the same fires of the metaphorical blast furnace Jesus is forged.
The Holy Bible pays tribute to Sophia:
Doth not wisdom cry?
And understanding put forth her voice?
She standeth in the top of high places
By the way in the places of the paths
She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city
At the coming in at the doors
Here’s a Gnostic vision by Dylan. That Casanova (a violinist and gambler living down on Desolation Row) rubs shoulders with the downtrodden upsets the high priests of orthodox Judeo-Christianity. Though they pretend to be kind, and to have pity on the poor, they’re actually out to crucify JC. The disfigured Phantom of the Opera knows what’s going on. He sounds the alarm:
They are spoon-feeding Casanova to get him to feel
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning
him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinning girls, ‘Get outta
here, if you don’t know
Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row’
Bob Dylan’s not fooled either; he’s quite happy living there with Lady Sophia:
And the riot squad, they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)
For at the window of my house
I looked through my casement
And beheld among the simple ones
I discerned among the youths
A young man void of understanding
(Proverbs 7: 6,7)
Likewise, according to Gnostics, a God without Sophia lacks the benefit of feminine intuition and wisdom. Alone, He’s a vengeful Demiurge:
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord
Neither remember iniquity for ever
Behold, see, we beseech thee,
We are all thy people
The holy cities are a wilderness
Zion is a wilderness
Jerusalem a desolation
(Isaiah 64: 9, 10)
From the consequences of the so-called ‘Utopia’ established by the almighty and powerful, there are people who want to escape. Given no other choice, they’d rather live on Desolation Row. Even then no living in peace is found because their masters try to burn them out:
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)
The Gnostic-influenced poet William Blake (whose footprints are detected on many of the song sheets of Bob Dylan) envisions an idealized world before the construction of ‘dark Satanic mills’ when Christ, united with his bride Sophia, protects the populace from the fearful Tiger-God:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen
(William Blake: Jerusalem)
Should you like a darker depiction of alienation from the flames of the life force, there’s always:
Marguerite Gautier: Don’t you know that tonight I am going to betray you?
Jacques Casanova: Why would you do that?
Marguerite Gautier: Because I’ve outlived the tenderness of my heart
(Tennessee Williams: Camino Real)
In stark contrast to the wise, understanding, and faithful Sophia portrayed below:
I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine
Of the juice of my pomegranate
(Song Of Solomon)
You might also be interested in
- Desolation Row – making sense of the masterpiece now we live there
- Desolation Row – it doesn’t get more frightening than this
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