Category Archives: Songs

The Divine Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has always been a bit of an enigma.

Like a lot of artists, he has “periods” where fans can identify certain emphases in his music and lyricism. For example, in the 60s he was thought of as a generational prophet. Then there was the “Christian” period of the late 70s and early 80s during which believers bought albums such as “Slow Train Coming.”

However, Ben Sisario of the New York Times has written of how Dylan resists study.

“Over the decades he has frustrated many an interviewer who wanted to penetrate his mind and method,” he says.

‘Dylan has never been at all revealing about those kinds of issues,’ the music critic and author Anthony DeCurtis said in an interview.

‘He has always been dismissive,’ Mr. DeCurtis said. ‘He has certainly said things that have minimized his lyrics in the attempt to fend off or downplay any attempt to see him as a prophet.’ So he’ll say, “Oh, I just wrote what came to my mind.”

Whatever kind of offhand thing you could say to try to deflate someone who is trying to inflate your lyrics with meaning.”

A 1991 interview with Paul Zollo further illustrates Dylan’s reluctance to be pigeonholed. He asked Zollo,”Songwriting? What do I know about Songwriting?” Though Dylan said this with laughter, the grain of truth, i.e., he is just your average Joe,  is there.

Despite his reticence to be acknowledged, Zollo points out one of the reasons Dylan is a landmark artist.  He says,“He broke all the rules of songwriting without abandoning the craft and care that holds songs together.”

I would admire Dylan without this desire for excellence with language.  But for this writer, an English teacher by trade, Dylan’s care for his use of the written word makes me revere him even more. Zollo compares the beauty of his poetry to Shakespeare, Byron, as well as modern greats.

Even though Dylan’s reference for his writings is hard to determine, Zollo’s piece hints at it.  He writes, “There’s an unmistakable elegance in Dylan’s words, an almost biblical beauty that has sustained in his songs throughout the years.”

The artist once known as Robert Zimmerman influenced the soul of other musicians in this regard. According to Zollo, John Lennon was inspired by the depth of Dylan’s music to write songs that concerned life and the soul and not just  “empty pop songs”.

Dylan’s approach to his vocation is not of the secular, lunch bucket, 9 to 5 variety. It has a more spiritual bent. He told Zollo that His songwriting has “never really been seriously a profession…It’s been more confessional than professional.”

Bishop Robert Barron, a Catholic prelate based in Los Angeles, is stronger in his assessment of the supernatural aspects of Dylan’s work.

“You have to read him as a spiritual poet,” says Barron. “You can read him politically. You can read him as a cultural commentator. All that is right, but I think ultimately the best way to read him is as a spiritual teacher.”

Barron notes that Dylan is like most artists in that they will be elusive in terms of explaining the meaning of their lyrics. “But I think you can see patterns in any great artist,” he says. “You see them clearly in Bob Dylan.”

“You know in the 80s he became explicitly biblical, explicitly Christian. But all throughout his career, from beginning to right now, the Bible has been the dominant influence.”

Dylan’s epoch song “Blowing in the Wind” exemplifies this effect of Scripture on his work. The hit tells the listener that the answers to our most abiding questions come only through the intervention of God, according to the bishop.

God’s influence on Bob Dylan is nothing new. Author Julia Cameron explains that channeling spiritual information has been a means of creating great works for hundreds of years. In her book “The Right to Write”, she quotes some other noted artists (past and present) who attribute their genius to God.

“Although we rarely talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer,” she says. “It connects us to the invisible world. It gives us a gate or conduit for the other world to talk to us whether we call it the subconscious, the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the Muse.”

While we may not seek to contact God as we write, as we actually engage in the process of putting ideas down we come into contact with the divine.

Cameron says, “Writing gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.

“We are an open channel.”

One critic on the public forum Quora calls Cameron’s work “creepy”, presumably because of  her spiritual approach to writing.  In “The Right to Write” she addresses those who feel that her thoughts about inspiration are too “New Age” or “airy-fairy”.

“Channeling? Julia, that word is so…

“I know. I know and I do not care because the word is artistically accurate,” she responds.

The author as a channel of the thoughts of God has an impact on how we go about writing. It also has  some surprise consequences on the lives of those who are willing to accept this concept of divine inspiration at face value and apply it to their work.

I will explain these effects in a future post.

 

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Filed under Bob Dylan, language, religion, Songs, spirituality, Uncategorized, writing

Home?

An advertisement I heard today on the radio says that home is where our story begins. But what if I don’t have one? Where does my story begin?

I do not feel at home in this world. I agree with my grandmother’s sentiments about life on this mortal coil. According to my brother, she did not fight a terrible case of pneumonia and died because she felt the world was a bad place.

In the last few years I have returned to houses I lived in before.  Two of these visits caused me great angst. There was just too much pain associated with those places.

One was in the neighborhood where I grew up. I had made trips to this house before, but this time I passed the area by because a dark spirit came upon me.  I sensed the times where things in our family were not so great and a deep pall came over me.

Another journey I took last week was to the house where my own family and I lived over a decade ago. The surrounding hills and climate were just as appealing to me as ever. I really wanted to stay back then, but due to some reverses we had to leave. The years since have seen some very tough times.

Though I have a roof over my head in my current town, and have been there for almost two years now, it doesn’t feel like home. It’s just a place to hang out and sleep. This could be because I have not furnished it. I live in kind of a Spartan and minimalist fashion. But I think there is something more to my feeling of being adrift.

It has to do with what I construe as “home”. There are tons of songs about home which inform me of its nature. Bards have sung about home forever. Christian composer Chris Tomlin wrote lyrics which I think echo my grandmother’s idea:

This world is not what it was meant to be
All this pain, all this suffering
There’s a better place
Waiting for me
In Heaven

But I’m not in heaven. Like all of us I have to go on with life.  Is there some place called “home” on this planet? I think not.

One characteristic of home in this world is explained well by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who popularized another song about it.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave, wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

These lyrics tell me that in this life home is an unknown. This is because the future is also an unknown.

You never know where “home” will be. Many times I felt I would be in one place and I ended up in another. Some of these places I would have never dreamt of ever living.

Such uncertainty can cause fear, as Phillips notes:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

As I have traveled down these unfriendly highways, I HAVE been filled with fear, which I know has come from evil, and trouble HAS dragged me down. In fact, there are times I feel like Humpty Dumpty. During those moments I believe no force on this planet can put me back together again.

Danny Gokey expresses how I feel at those times:

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Gokey advises me that the only thing to do when I get to this place in life is to willfully get up off the floor of my current “home”, lock up and move on to the next location in my journey.

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Furthermore, he tells of moving toward a new start in our trek here on Earth.

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through

So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

These poets talk in vague terms of a Someone who is helping me along in my current walk here on Earth.  Who is the “me” who says to follow him or the person who will find me in Phillips lyrics? Love is a broad concept, not a person, so who is the one Gokey says will pull me through my troubles.

To me, the One helping me and loving me as I limp through this world is none other than God.

A well-known song from 55 years ago by Jim Reeves guides  me in deciphering why I feel restless and ill at ease in the present reality.

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

What gives me hope is meeting  my friend Jesus at the end of life and being comforted by Him face to face. Tomlin speaks of the encounter I can expect once I depart from here.

I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Home
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
Home

Lay down my burdens, I lay down my past
I run to Jesus, no turning back
Thank God Almighty, I’ll be free at last
In Heaven
In Heaven

Heaven is my real home. Thus, my story begins there once I reach it. My story is is intertwined with His Story.  All that is happening to me in this life is just a prequel.

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Filed under Christianity, Home, religion, Songs, Uncategorized