Thoughts on Bob Dylan

I listened to Bob Dylan’s autobiography “Chronicles” on the road back and from Breckenridge.  You may know some of his music, but unless you are my brother Adam, you might not like it.  It’s not aesthetically beautiful singing, but raw, and full of attitude.

But his lyrics are the real deal.  Here is just a sampling from “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”:

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Bob Dylan was a revelation, and the hippies went mad for him.  They called him “the conscience of his generation.”   He was hounded by the media and fans, who would go on meccas to his home in Woodstock, calling on him to come “lead them to revolution.”  They considered him a prophet, a messiah.

Bob Dylan hated it all.  He was awkward around the media, and despised his adoring fans.  The more he tried to escape, the more his disciples followed him.  The more insulting he was to them, the more they longed for him.  Eventually, he resorted to erratic behavior, deliberately putting out shoddy albums and giving half baked performances.  He accepted accolades from conservative universities and other organizations despised by the hippies.  Then he converted to Evangelical Christianity, abandoning his secular Jewish heritage.  After this, the hippies left him alone.

Well that’s just a little overview so you’ll have a bit of perspective about what I’d like to say about him.

Bob Dylan had the gift of discernment.  His autobiography is less about himself, than it is a series of portraits of incredible people he met throughout his life.  These portraits are generous, larger than life, heroic, and inspiring.  It seems he was always able to see the god behind the man, to trace the mythical themes running through their lives.   Listening to the autobiography was inspiring to me, because he was beautifully describing people who I would probably lightly dismiss.   Where others could see no value, he saw great value.

And somewhat more broadly, Bob Dylan could discern the time he lived in, could see the changes and understand them.  He said of the 60s upheavals, that they were a march into blood and chaos that was not led by God, and wasn’t led by the Devil either.  People called him “the conscience of his generation” because he could see and discern the truths, good and evil, of the times he lived in.  What Dylan discerned was not always kind to his generation.   His song “Like a Rolling Stone” is a put down of the free-loading hippie lifestyle.  It’s an explosive song, his most famous.   They called him a prophet, because his words, like the scripture says, were “sharper than a two-edged to the dividing of both joint and marrow.”  These powerful words, accompanied by his aggressive guitar and harmonica, and his ringing nasal voice, made for a real religious experience in his listeners.  For them, he was The Word.

But Bob Dylan hated being called a prophet, because he had no agenda.  He was merely an observer.  Yes, he could see, understand, and sing about it, but he was no leader.  He did not crave power or attention.His deepest desire was to understand and absorb his world, and then to become the most raw and undiluted expression of that world.  Other than that, the only thing he said he ever prayed for, was that he could be a nicer person.   That was the extent of his mission: to try to become nicer.  Music was only a diversion: a diversion on a grand, epic scale, but nevertheless a diversion.

Here are three songs I think you all Mormons might appreciate:

You’ve Got to Serve Somebody (think the scripture from Joshua about “choose you this day.”)

“Might be a rock’n’ roll adict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Knocking on Heaven’s Door
(a song about repentance, burying your weapons of war, like the Anti-Nephi Lehis)

“Mama put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That cold black cloud is comin’ down
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”

When He Returns (a straightforward song about the 2nd Coming.  Fans of Lehi’s Dream will like the opening lyrics.  Couldn’t find the original, but this is a cover:

“The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod,
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.”

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2 Responses to Thoughts on Bob Dylan

  1. Aaron R. says:

    One of my favourite Dylan quotes (and yes, I love his music) has reference to way he was often called a Prophet. During his born-again era he apparently said: Years ago they … said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No it’s not me.” They used to say “You sure are a prophet.” They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, “Bob Dylan’s no prophet.” They just can’t handle it.

  2. natebergin says:

    That’s a great quote, thanks for contributing. Kind of like John the Baptist, when he pointed to Christ, I imagine many of his followers probably abandoned him too.

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