Maybe Bob Dylan is a prophet after all. On stage in Omaha back on Jan. 25, 1980, Dylan, in the midst of fierce controversy over having become a Christian, said, “Years ago they…said I was a prophet. I used to say, ‘No, I’m not a prophet.’ They’d 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.” But some contemporary resonances in a couple of those Christian songs suggest that the old folkie was on to something.
Dylan’s three explicitly Christian albums, Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981) were derided by critics at the time. Rock music critics then and now are generally secular Leftists and dope-smoking hippies with scant regard for religious fervor, and even today these albums are considered minor parts of the Nobel laureate’s canon. But Slow Train Coming contains some striking passages — not passages that were striking in 1979, but passages that are striking in 2023.
Consider, for example, “When You Gonna Wake Up?” This song became a particular object of Leftist ire with its suggestion that Dylan had not only become a Christian, but a right-wing one at that: “Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts / Karl Marx has got you by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots.” Well, yeah, that’s right, Bob, and even more so in 2023 than in 1979. Kissinger makes Old Joe Biden look as if he is in the bloom of youth; he’s 99 years old and still pontificating on foreign policy, with his realpolitik perspective firmly ensconced in the State Department.
The same song contains this uncanny foreshadowing of the age of Fauci and Birx: “You got innocent men in jail, your insane asylums are filled / You got unrighteous doctors dealing drugs that’ll never cure your ills.” Yeah, and banning the drugs that would actually cure your ills.
“When You Gonna Wake Up?” also contains this line: “Adulterers in churches and pornography in the schools / You got gangsters in power and lawbreakers making rules.” Now here, you gotta wonder. Adulterers in churches? We had those in 1979. Jimmy Swaggart’s prostitution scandal was still nine years off when Slow Train Coming came out, but no one who heard the album thought Dylan was way off base about that.
The “pornography in the schools” line, however, was another thing altogether. In 1979, the idea that there would be pornography in the schools, other than a girlie magazine snuck in by some unruly boy, was beyond inconceivable. Fast forward 44 years, however, and we have the husband of the homosexual secretary of Transportation furious that a state authority is actually acting to remove pornography from the schools.
The president of the United States, meanwhile, appears to be the head of a crime family that has been benefiting to the tune of millions of dollars from shady business dealings around the world. “Gangsters in power,” eh, Bob? And “lawbreakers making the rules” puts me in mind these days of the Jan. 6 Committee pursuing its witch hunt even when it knew that its entire “insurrection” narrative was a hoax.
Then there is this line from the song “When He Returns”: “Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask.” In the context of the song, he is calling upon the listener to renounce his arrogance and self-obsession, abandon his pretense, phoniness, and hypocrisy, and turn to God. But the bit about the mask has a new resonance in this age of COVID hysteria.
Of course, there is no way that Dylan foresaw the pandemic and mask madness, and he has a preoccupation with masks anyway; he wears one in the opening scene of his disastrous, appalling, and delightful four-hour movie from 1978, Renaldo and Clara, and his underrated dark comedy movie from 2003 is entitled Masked and Anonymous. Still, the lyric has a new and unintended resonance: don’t rely on masks and the CDC and Fauci; what ails you is far deeper than COVID, and the cure is not a natural one that some doctor can prescribe.
Bob Dylan, of course, couldn’t possibly have really foreseen any of this. But one of the hallmarks of great art is that it does express permanent truths about the human condition. It looks as if Slow Train Coming did just that, more perceptively and precisely than anyone realized at the time.
Miranda Rose Smith says
There was nothing new, in thr ’70s, about adulterers in churches. Ever hear of Henry Ward Beecher? Edward Wheeler Hall? How about King David? (Some religious Jewish authorities insist that Bathsheba and Uriah were divorced, but still, the whole thing looks suspicious..)
Don’t forget about Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism!
lol…no way were they divorced or King David could’ve married her but instead wanted him to sleep with his own wife Bathsheba tho would not out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers still on the front lines = likely he was a better man then David himself and David knew this yet murdered this richeous man to cover his sin…!
Nor was Bathsheba innocent taking naked baths in the kings sight every night whew…!!!
She likely could’ve put Shophia Loren to shame in her heyday《Loren at 64 seen by Ben Afleck +Matt Damon almost fell over seeing her for the first time at the Academy Awards not knowing who she was = google it》
I keep saying “Lord I didn’t mak’em like that you did” ~ tho is why the NEW TESTAMENT admonishes women to be chaste in adornment, actions and purpose but attend to the things of the heart being of great value to God not use looking good the priority to hunt men…!
Robert McClain says
King David ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOo2HbNESNo ) regretted the deaths of Uriah and his son until he died. Nevertheless, David was a man after God’s own heart. (One of my favorite ballads about David, enjoy).
Algorithmic Analyst says
Dylan was certainly a genius. I saw him at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1965, when he was transitioning from Acoustic (the first half of the show) to Electric (second half). Mind blowing.
I think Mike Bloomfield was in the band backing him up.
Brooklyn Pride says
Appreciate your creative, original ideas, as usual. Thanks for the Bob Dylan memories and food for thought at the upcoming Passover holiday. What a great way to start the weekend.
The man was ahead of his time.
El Terryble says
Bob Dylan is genius well deserving of his Nobel Prize.
Bob Dylan is still way under-appreciated by the general public. His lyrics and music speak of the human condition as insightfully and clearly as Shakespeare’s plays.
Andrew Blackadder says
Back in 1983 in NYC Dyland was asked what was the worse thing about being Bob Dylan…
He answered…”Believing Im Bob Dylan.”.
Actually, it is kind of amazing! He told the future without his knowing that’s what he was doing. As they say “stranger than fiction”!
Bob Dylan, 20th Century troubador, cultural philosopher, reader of the Zeitgeist, insightful social and political critic… unparalleled creative
Finnbar MacGowan says
This essay brings to mind that great Dylan website rightwingbob.com. I wonder whatever happened to it. I guess it got cancelled before it was a fashionable thing to do.
Spurwing Plover says
We don’t see or head anything more about the Har Kristians or Rajnish Pram and nothing more of burning down black churches and we no longer see anything about Neo-Nazi Skinheads either. I guess the M.S. Media is way too busy covering this false charges against Trump to be bothered
Horace Yo says
Dylan is true genius and as enlightened as can be. The evil represented by pornography in the schools is just more visible now. It was always present but hidden. Dylan is in tune with the human condition and is generally right about everything.
Rob Pue says
I wrote this a couple weeks ago re: Bob’s song —