06 November 2015

Meatless Friday: BobZone Edition

art: Michael Hogue
You may have previously noted that I enjoy the work of the great Bob Dylan. He is an enigmatic figure to many, and I suppose that he himself would take no pains to solve that enigma. Yet I maintain that his poetry, his songs, the body of his work seen over time, is profoundly Catholic, sometimes intentionally so.  

Many readers have taken me to task for this. So be it. I say, listen.

But in any event, I offer for your consideration today a few items that provide support for my position that Bob Dylan, drawing from the Bible, Church history and metaphysics, is the foremost Christian poet in the world today. He explores the workings of Grace. I could go further, and admit that I think he is the greatest poet in the history of the English language (sorry, Shakespeare!), but that might push some of you over the edge.  

So, item one, excerpts from the American Conservative, discussing Dylan's politics and his faith:

Bob Dylan, Christian Anarchist

A century ago Henry Adams announced himself founder of the “conservative Christian anarchist” party, and if that first adjective has been blighted perhaps beyond reclamation, “Christian anarchist,” calling to mind Tolstoy and Dorothy Day and brave Anabaptists and nude Doukhobors, has a calming and pacific ring. We could use a few in our post-Christian empire.

Jeff Taylor, gentle soul and wise political scientist, has coauthored (with Chad Israelson) a new book, The Political World of Bob Dylan: Freedom and Justice, Power and Sin, locating Hibbing, Minnesota’s favorite (well, maybe tied with Celtic Kevin McHale) son within the regional and Christian anarchist traditions.


Taylor and Israelson understand that only louts—New Masses propagandists, neoconservative think-tank martinets—subordinate art to politics, so they eschew tortured exegeses of elliptical lyrics and attempt merely to understand, and celebrate, Bob Dylan’s music and Christian witness.

Nonetheless, they detect a Minnesota accent and anarchist bent throughout Dylan’s career, from “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in 1962 to his Christian conversion circa 1979 to his memoir Chronicles, Volume One (in which he revealed that Barry Goldwater was his favorite ’60s politician) to his recent AARP interview, in which he expatiated on plutocrats who find international philanthropy so much more glamorous than helping the single mom in the trailer park or the homeless vet in the ghetto: “Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than in giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? … These multibillionaires can create industries right here in America. But no one can tell them what to do. God’s got to lead them.”

When I read of Dylan playing before a huge American flag on his 1965 tour of England, and his confession that “England is OK, but I prefer America,” which is “what I know. … It’s all there for me,” I thought of another patriot of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Sinclair Lewis, who memorized Minnesota’s 87 counties and county seats. When an English magician made a snide crack about America, George Babbitt’s creator stood up and shouted “Take it back! Take it back!” until the flustered thaumaturge apologized and left the stage.

Taylor and Israelson write, “Bob Dylan’s political philosophy since 1979 has been that of Woody Guthrie supplemented by the Gospels of the New Testament, of C. Wright Mills supplemented by the prophet Isaiah, of Merchants of Death supplemented by the Book of Revelation.” Not exactly Rising to the Challenge by Carly Fiorina or A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz.

During his lustrum as an outspoken Christian—he seems to have retained the faith but canned the proselytizing—Dylan told an audience that “politics is an instrument of the Devil. … Politics is what kills; it doesn’t bring anything alive.”

Very Adamsian, for the aforementioned Henry called politics “the systematic organization of hatreds.”


Items two and three, videos from Father (now Bishop) Barron. First, he explores the song, All Along the Watchtower. In the second he conducts more of a general overview of Dylan's biblical influences.

What's that, you say?  Oh.  Well, you are very welcome!




Anonymous said...

I've wondered for a long time why you liked Bob Dylan, but this post and especially the videos quickly answered my questions. I guess my American political mind always associated Dylan with the liberal left quacks from the 60's, but this really shows that he songs were about God and spirituality rather than being a 60's radical. Good post. You definitely changed my thinking about Dylan.

thetimman said...

Anonymous, I think I need to shut the blog down now. There are no more mountains left to climb.

Thank you!

Matthew Bellisario said...

I am a long time Dylan fan and I play a lot of his music and know most of his lyrics. Yes they contain religious phrases and metaphysical ideas, etc. But I would not make the claim that they are "Catholic" based on that article of Fr Barron's nonsense. The great thing about Bob's lyrics are that they can kind of be taken in many ways. They are poetry, and he many times writes under a veil. One of the things Dylan dislikes is for people to declare his work their own and claim they are speak for groups of people. He despises that people call him "the voice of a generation" etc. I love his music and his lyrics, but I do not claim that they fit a Catholic mold, and yes some of his songs were political and he says that they were. Sometimes you just have to let people be who they are rather than making them out to who you want them to be.

Anonymous said...

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”

Brother Gabriel said...

Just curious... why you are considering shutting down your blog?

thetimman said...

Because I won one Bob convert at last. Or "Bobvert", if you will.
Tongue in cheek, sir.