Monday, September 9, 2019

Is Bob Dylan Pro-Life?

“Why would I want to take your life?
You’ve only murdered my father, raped his wife
Tattooed my babies with a poison pen
Mocked my God, humiliated my friends

I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love.”

The question for discussion with stark lyrics like these is, What modern-day barbaric practice could the poet laureate of Rock and Roll be referring to with such lyrics?  He has told us, “That it is all in the Songs.” 

So since this song was first played on July 1st, 1981 we would want to look for additional evidence from this period to help us understand what it means to “Tattoo babies with a poison pen.”

There is an altered version of the song called Dignity (known as Version #1 from 1991) on the great album Tell Tale Signs that has these interesting altered lyrics:

“The Soul of a nation is under the knife
Death is standing in the doorway of life, (a mother’s womb could be described as ‘the doorway of life’)
In the next room a man fighting with his wife
over Dignity.”

Ok, so we may have some confirmation here….What else can we find?   How about something about from the magnificent song Foot of Pride: which has the copy write of 1983: 

“They got some beautiful people out there, man
They can be a terror to your mind and show you how to hold your tongue
They got mystery written all over their forehead
They kill babies in the crib and say only the good die young
They don’t believe in mercy”

And while we are on the subject of mercy there is the great song Political Word from the Album entitled "Oh Mercy" from 1989:

"We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank
We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last"

Alright Doug, you got a few hints and cryptic clues here and there, but you can’t show me anything from say an interview from this period?  Oh Yes, I can! I can give you a clear declaration from this very period but I want to give some context so we are clear on what the poet Laurette is really saying:


Herman: Last night in Earl's Court, here in London, I guess there were about twenty people in there and when I kind of saw them, I guess it was when you did 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' and every last one of them in the place was standing on their chair and it was a pretty special kind of a feeling. I was reminded once again, that you really do have a very .., that you play a very special part in the lives of an extraordinary amount of people all over the world and I gathered that this has always made you a bit uncomfortable, that people hold you in a very special place?
Dylan: I don't feel uneasy with the part of it, that part of it, but the other part of it, you know the part where you're expected to ... go to parties ... and ... be somebody all the time, you know. That's what makes me feel uncomfortable.
Herman: Or the part that makes people presuming you have somehow a lot of answers that they might not have to a lot of questions?
Dylan: Well, if you ... the answers to those questions, they've got to be in those songs I've written. Someplace, if you know where to look, I think you'll find the answers to those questions. It's right there in the songs. Better than I could say it. ...

Herman: OK, well another thing is, ah, in The United States the abortion question is becoming one of the major political controversies at home.
Dylan: Well, that is just a diversion, though. Whenever you think about abortion, pro, con, you know, I think you should be thinking about those things, then they put you away with the bigger things, which you're not thinking about. So you get everybody thinking about abortion and they turn you back from it ... not to say that abortion is not important! But you can make something so ... you know cast a spell on something and make everybody look that way and then you come at them from another direction ...
Herman: But that sounds like it's conspiratorial?
Dylan: Yeah, it does, doesn't it?
Herman: Yeah, it does! I think it is, but I don't think people sit in rooms and say well, let's divert them with the abortion issue, and then we can slip this in while ...
Dylan: You actually don't think so??
Herman: That calculated? You think it is?
Dylan: I don't know ... Now abortion is important, I personally don't believe in it but ..., unless of course, somebody needs to have their life saved.

Here is an inspired performance by Benjamin Montmorency “Benmont” Tench III (born September 7, 1953) an American musician and singer, best known as a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It is great to hear these inspired lyrics again, this time very clearly enunciated.

And here is a nice alteration on Political World:

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Lost Gospel Masterpiece: 'Making a Liar Out of Me'

So the most dramatic revelation among the new songs which were released in last weeks’ effort to build interest in “Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13” is the great song "Making A Liar Out Of Me” which is officially available today.  Rolling Stone has already dubbed it “The Lost Gospel Masterpiece.”

Several commentators have noted that the song has something similar to the Rolling Stones’ "You Can't Always Get What You Want" going on. That resonance sounds right, it is a powerful anthem, but the first thing we need to do if we want to begin a proper interpretation of a song like this is to get all of the lyrics out on the table and get ready with all the tools needed for a careful dissection.

That has been done below.  The first thing we notice is that each verse ends with the same refrain: "But you're making a liar out of me" so this indicates that everything that goes before the refrain.... is satire. So this is like reading Jonathan Swift or The Screwtape Letters, where to get the author's true meaning, the first thing we have to do is translate it into its opposite. So when the song says, "Your money's good" it really means, "Your money's no good" when it comes to the eternal matters that are under discussion during this period.  And if I tell people that "I am just going through changes" the truth is that I am not really just going through changes... actually I was “stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb”  and now I have been, according to another song from this era, "I’ve been saved by the Blood of the Lamb." You can pretend that your being courageous when you "try to stand on them burning bridges, knowing that your feet are made of clay," in other words, when you really have no safe place to stand, and that bridge your standing upon is burning down and you know there is no escape, in your heart of hearts, and you really have no real protection with your "earthly = clay" feet.  You are gonna get burned unless drastic action is taken.

Similarly, I could say that “you’d not sow discord among brothers,” but that wouldn’t be true. 
“Nor drain a man of his integrity,” but you do that too all the time.
You said “you remember the cries of the orphans and their mothers,” but you’ve forgotten about them.

When I say that, “that ain't flesh and blood you're drinking,” but it really is.  As Jesus said while teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”  John 6:54-56

You can say that “your conscience has not been slain by conformity” but it clearly has.
You can say “that you stand up unafraid to believe in justice” but you are still afraid.
I can say “you never sacrificed my children to the false god of infidelity” but you did.
I can say “that it's not the Tower of Babel that you're building” but it really is.  And like that tower, the one you are building will never be completed either.

Are these rebukes to the culture at large?  Or is the artist rebuking himself for his own duplicity and hypocrisy?   Yes.   Like many of Dylan’s best songs, these lyrics work on both levels.

So now that we have the interpretive key, ...satire, we can translate the meaning of the song… being careful not to let our consciences, even our souls, be killed and destroyed, "slain by conformity."

One final thought for those who continue to discuss Bob Dylan’s “Christian Period” as if he no longer believes the content of the songs from this period.   One could cite the Christmas Album from 2009 where during the promotional interview he was asked, “You sing these Song like a true believer” and he responds, “I am a True Believer.”  Or when he puts his stamp of approval on the collection of Covers from this period “Slow Train Coming: The “Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan” (2003) where he added his own outstanding offering to the Collection by submitting one with his Gospel Singing friend Mavis Staples who is currently touring with him.

But the latest release carries with it its own further confirmation.  If you were embarrassed about how caught up you were when you were preaching the Gospel to audiences and claiming to be Saved, Would you really want to put all this further incriminating evidence out there on display for close examination again?  The Songs in this collection include some like “Dead Man, Dead Man” or “I Don’t want to go to Hell for Anybody” which contained the strongest medicine, and yet they are confidently included in here in the new release.  Call it a passing fad, or a period, for him if you want and if it makes you feel better, but the evidence is clearly otherwise.

“Come you writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin...

"When you Gonna Wake Up and Strengthen the Things that Remain?

I tell people, you just going through changes
And that you're acquainted both with night and day
That your money's good and you just being courageous
On them burning bridges knowing your feet are made of clay
Well I say you won't be destroyed by your inventions
That you brought it all under captivity
And that you really do have all the best intentions
But you're making a liar out of me

Well I say that you're just young and self-tormented
But that deep down you understand
The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented
That threaten now to overtake your promised land
Well I say you'd not sow discord among brothers
Nor drain a man of his integrity
That you remember the cries of the orphans and their mothers
But you're making a liar out of me
But you're making a liar out of me

Well I say that, that ain't flesh and blood you're drinking
In the wounded empire of your fool's paradise
With a light above your head forever blinking
Turning virgins into merchandise
That you must have been beautiful when you were living
You remind me of some old-time used-to-be
I say you can be trusted with the power you been given
But you're making a liar out of me

So many things so hard to say as you stumble
To take refuge in your offices of shame
As the earth beneath my feet begins to rumble
And your young men die for nothin', not even fame
I say that someday you'll begin to trust us
And that your conscience has not been slain by conformity
That you stand up unafraid to believe in justice
But you're making a liar out of me
You're making a liar out of me

Well I can hear the sound of distant thunder
From an open window at the end of every hall
Now that you're gone I got to wonder
If you ever were here at all
I say you never sacrificed my children
To some false god of infidelity
And that it's not the Tower of Babel that you're building
But you're making a liar out of me
You're making a liar out of me
Well you're making a liar out of me

Friday, February 5, 2016

What Good am I? And What is the Chief End of Man?

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

Oh, What can we say?  It’s a masterpiece.  You can’t analyze a masterpiece.  It is open to lots of interpretations.  You can’t break down the meaning of the Mona Lisa.   But can we at least provide some historical context?  Can we at least analyze the surrounding words?  Can we at least see how the song might fit with the rest of 1989 Oh Mercy Album?  Can we at least look at the way the artist uses these amazing five short verses to build to such powerful and masterful conclusion?   Yeah we can do all that.  So let’s get started.

Let’s start at the end.  Since this last verse seems to be the culmination and appears to contain the whole meaning of the song.

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Why would I want to say foolish things?     Popular culture, says foolish things all day long: 

The news of the day is on all the time
All the latest gossip all the latest rhyme

Reality TV and the Kardashians speak foolish things.  So much of life in our times is almost all about foolish things.  Ninety percent of what is on television is foolish things.   We don’t need any more foolish things!  Interviewers are constantly asking Bob Dylan foolish things.  He wants to get beyond foolish things.  How about getting into something significant and important?  How about something meaningful so that we can get an answer to that burning question that we all have continually bouncing around inside ourselves; it is really the question for all the ages, What Good Am I?  Or put another way,  Why am I here?   What is my Purpose?  Or turning it around, “What am I Good For?”  How can I find the Good?  And in my movement toward the Good, How can I stop this incessant problem that we all have of:

if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see

In these profound questions aren’t we really just asking for the singular and overriding end for which human beings were created, and for what purpose?  Isn’t this the same thing Plato and Aristotle sought after, the Summum bonum “the highest good”?  Or as it was so poignantly put in Seventeenth Century, “What is the Chief end of Man?”  We have got to get beyond the foolish things!   They won’t provide us with the answer to our deepest longing.  And If we never get to the answer of the critical question, What Good am I?, because we “freeze in the moment,” the moment for decisive action, like “the rest that don’t try” What Good are we?

What about laughing in the face of what sorrow brings?  In other words, pretending that we do not live in a sin laden, cursed and sorrow filled world with all the miseries of this life and always trying to put a happy face on it.  The problem with such an effort is that it is bound to fail because at bottom:

power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is

But now we come now to the hardest line in the entire song.   The last line:

And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Who is silently dying in this story?  We began in the second line by recognizing that we can’t just

just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed

to do that would be like

turning a deaf ear to the thundering sky

This is not an old woman on her death bed.  No! The way that she is dressed should turn our heads, not away but towards!   We need to respond in an appropriate way to this positive stimulus.

I think we can get some much needed help here from the other songs on this amazing Oh Mercy Album.  Another similar song that gets into the big questions, the questions about God and Man and Law is the very powerful Man In The Long Black Coat.   That one too has death as it focus, remember there  

was dust on the man
In the long black coat

The dust of death, and there’s also a soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry.  The woman in that story

She never said nothing, there was nothing she wrote
She gone with the man
In the long black coat

And it was not only because she was seduced, we should remember that she is the one who

she stopped him to ask
If he wanted to dance,

You’re telling me that she ran off with death personified?   Yeah, that is what he is telling us.   And similarly in our song we can’t let this happen, we can’t …

 just turn my back while you silently die

If we did, ….What good am I?

To do so would be to:

know and don’t do
to see and don’t say

These are called “Sins of Omission” and Freezing in the moment is just not going to cut it.  Nor will being like all the others, all the rest who don’t try.

So what do we need to do to stop turning our back on others while they silently die?   Or to get ourselves to stop Freezing in the moment? Or following all the rest who don’t try?

There is another important couplet in this oh-so-sparse, yet oh-so-dense song which is so filled with meaning:

If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

This verse is critical to the meaning of the song.  With this verse, the song takes a critical turn and the musical key changes here too.   There is recognition that there is a problem with being “fast bound in sin and nature’s night” as the hymn writer put it.  The image used here is reminiscent of another great English writer, C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia and specifically the volume called The Silver Chair.   In the story, Prince Rilian is strapped into a Silver Chair each night because during a certain hour of the night he raves and raves crazy talk.   Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle are instructed that under no circumstances are they to pay any attention to what he is raving about in the middle of the night.

But when they witness the beginning of the knight's transformation, the knight cries out, "I adjure you to set me free.  By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the Great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you!"  Once the name of Aslan, the Christ figure, is evoked they know what they must do.

The three cut him loose, and the knight is turned back to his normal princely self, and the new released prince then grabs his sword, and slashes the silver chair to pieces.

If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

Isn’t this the same bondage describe in Dylan’s 1979 Precious Angel:

My so-called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well”

The songwriter encourages us to ask some hard questions.   Why are we also so “fast bound in sin and natures night” Why?   Why are we so prone to:

know and don’t do   (hypocrisy)
to see and don’t say  (failure to act on truth)
to look right through you  (centered on self)

But the good news of the gospel that Bob so fully embraced in 1979 is that while it is true that we are unable to save ourselves, we can’t escape the bondage by ourselves, but our hands can be untied, and an end can be made of our bondage to sin and nature’s night.  And when it is understood that God sent his only son to die in the place of His people, they see that they are of great value to him, and as Bob sang often during this period:
Jesus is coming
Coming back to gather his jewels

This too is the explanation why Christians are always so compelled to share their faith by reaching out in love to other sinners, telling them about the wonderful, absolutely free salvation that they have found and offering them that same grace that is to be found in Christ alone.   They simply can’t:

just turn their backs while you silently die

If they did, they would then have to ask themselves the hardest question?

What good am I?

And it is the gospel that makes this fundamental transformation in a person, so that they can finally at last know the answer to life's most pressing question, “What Good … Am I?”

And that which you’ve given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you

I Believe In You, Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

By His truth I can be upright
By His strength I do endure
By His power I’ve been lifted
In His love I am secure
He bought me with a price
Freed me from the pit
Full of emptiness and wrath
And the fire that burns in it

Saved, Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

Monday, February 1, 2016

Entertaining Some Working Men in a Cabin in the North Country Fair 52 Years Ago

CBC TV Studios
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
1 February 1964
Produced by Daryl Duke.

Bob Dylan - Toronto by vicky7xthomas

 Dylan recorded a half-hour program as part of the CBC-TV series “Quest.” The half a dozen songs he sings: “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” “Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “Girl from the North Country,” “The Times They Are a-Chang in’,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and “Restless Farewell”  are all performed within the most incongruous of settings, a log cabin filled with working men pretending to pay attention.

Clinton Heylin (Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments Day by Day 1941-1995)

I have to disagree with English author Clinton Heylin in his Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments Day by Day 1941-1995 that this is “the most incongruous of settings, a log cabin filled with working men pretending to pay attention.”

Heylin, not being from the country that they called the Midwest, doesn’t have a reference for the cabin depicted in this great 1960’s video.
The Country that I come from is also called the Midwest, as I was raised in Wisconsin and we took many vacations in the early 60’s in Northern Wisconsin, in Upper Michigan, and in Northern Minnesota. Up in that forested wild country it was common to have a cabin such as this one for men who were working say in logging or trapping or hunting or just on a manly get-a-way from civilization with some other men, where they could make strong coffee, smoke their pipes, or roll their own tobacco cigarettes while they were maybe on a week long canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that divides Minnesota from Canada.
We used to also stay in a similarly appointed cabin and go skiing in that area in the winter. These cabins usually didn’t have any insulation but people could keep warm in them if they knew how to operate a wood-stove and these special places would be opportunities for great fellowship around the wood stove, feeding it with the abundant wood found around such a cabin, telling stories, singing songs, playing poker and sewing socks that had come apart during the day’s activities.
If there was a musician in the group, he would be encouraged to bring his instrument if it was portable enough, say an acoustic guitar and especially a lightweight harmonica was perfect for entertaining the group, as there was no television or other entertainment in those cabins without electricity.  Lit only by kerosene lanterns, the men would usually have a wonderful time passing those long winter nights, “a Laughin’ and a singin’ till the early hours of the morn.”
It was in a nostalgic moment remembering a cabin like this, that Bob wrote the 1963 Bob’s Dylan’s Dream remembering the good times with his friends in a cabin like this one in the North Country fair. Read these lyrics and listen for references to the scenes depicted in this great video:
While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had
With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of the morn
By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside
With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one
As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split
How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Monday, January 25, 2016

What inspired the Song: "In the Summer Time?"

On November 22nd, 2013, which was about two and half years ago now, Johan Connoway asks about the Song:  “In the Summer Time.”   He wants to know:  “What inspired this song?  One of my all-time Dylan favorites!”

I think I have an answer for Johan’s question.  The song has a copyright date of 1981 which follows closely on the heels of Dylan’s famous conversion to Christianity late in 1979.  So we have to consider his monumental conversion as one of the prime suspects in the case of just what inspired this song.   Much like the beautiful song, I Believe in You which was first played on November 1st, 1979, the song has dual referents.   Do they refer to a woman or to the Lord?  So there is a studied ambiguity here in both of these two songs.  The answer to this question of which of these two possible referents does this song single out, clearly has to be, “Yes.”  Both songs attempt to leave things a bit ambiguous.   But as the songs progress, the ambiguity begins to be left behind, as the meaning finally can only refer to the Lord.

It is a short song with only three verses separated by the refrain.  So there are not a whole lot of lyrics that we need to decipher here.   So let’s get started.

I was in your presence for an hour or so
Or was it a day? I truly don’t know

The idea of being in the presence of the Lord is a common Bible theme, as is its opposite, which is to flee from the presence of the Lord.  As in the Garden of Eden:
“and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”  Gen 3:8

“Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Gen 4:16

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Jonah 1:3

To be in the presence of the Lord is to be with the Lord in the garden or in heaven or in worship.   Some have been in this place of worship, or caught up to heaven and there is some serious mystery about what really went on:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”  II Cor 12:2

Where the sun never set, where the trees hung low
By that soft and shining sea

Where does the sun never set?  It’s in heaven of course:
“And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”  Rev  22:5

And to confirm that we are talking about heaven, the second line speaks about “that soft and shining sea”:
“and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”  Rev 4:6  that is a pretty "soft and shining sea!"

Now the second half of verse 1 is more difficult:

Did you respect me for what I did
Or for what I didn’t do, or for keeping it hid?
Did I lose my mind when I tried to get rid
Of everything you see?

Surely the Lord is the One who is the all the seeing one.   Man tries to hide as Adam and Eve did in the garden, but it becomes apparent, that we can’t hide from God.  He sees all, even into the depths of the heart of men and women:
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7
Now as we move into Verse two things start become clearer:
I got the heart and you got the blood
We cut through iron and we cut through mud
Then came the warnin’ that was before the flood
That set everybody free
Bob has the heart…. that was transformed.   Jesus has the blood…. that made the transformation possible by atonement for his sin.   Together they cut through the iron and the mud.   The heart that was like iron, or as slippery as Mud.
The warning that came before the flood [of Noah] was the call of the preacher Noah to repent before the great and terrible day of judgement coming before the flood.   Bob heard the warning, as have many others, and this warning, that God’s judgement is real and really coming is a gracious gift from God that taught his heart “to fear and that grace that fear relieved.”  The warning led to the “setting free.”   What is the Freedom?   It is the Freedom from the bondage of sin.  Freedom to see the truth of God’s Word.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36
Fools they made a mock of sin
Our loyalty they tried to win
But you were closer to me than my next of kin
When they didn’t want to know or see
In this period, Bob doesn’t know what is happening to his companions. 
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions
Are they lost or are they found
Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon?
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

Slow Train  Copyright © 1979
But you were closer to me than my next of kin
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Proverbs 18:24
Jesus is the one who is described as the friend who sticks close than a brother.  So Bob is saying that Jesus was closer to him than his “next of kin”… that is pretty close.
When they didn’t want to know or see
The Biblical teaching is clear on this, that man’s problem is not that He doesn’t know that there is a God.  The fact of the existence of God is clearly seen by simply looking out on the universe.  Every person knows that there is a God, because God has made it clear to all men and women.   But because we are sinners, we want to suppress this truth in unrighteousness.   So it is just as Bob says, “They don’t want to know or see.”
Strangers, they meddled in our affairs
Poverty and shame was theirs
But all that sufferin’ was not to be compared
With the glory that is to be
And I’m still carrying the gift you gave
It’s a part of me now, it’s been cherished and saved
It’ll be with me unto the grave
And then unto eternity
Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

So Bob has made it clear that it is a bit of a pain to be a famous person.   People have been “meddling in his affairs” since he first burst on the scene back in 1961. 

“Well, performers feel that.., they don’t feel they’re adversaries, but they do feel that…they feel a lot of times that their points are not taken the right way or they feel imposed upon to answer questions that have really little to do with why they fill halls or sell records.”
~Bob Dylan (to Dave Herman, July 1981)

But this suffering is not worth to be compared with the glory that is coming.  As the Apostle Paul puts it:

Rom 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

This is the hope of the Christian, that there is a better world coming, this is what makes suffering in the current life not worthy of comparison of what is coming for the believer.  So if you are enslaved, persecuted for your faith in Christ, maybe someone want to cut off your head simply because you believe in Jesus, all of this suffering is not worthy of comparison of “the Glory that is to be.”

Bob confesses that he is “still carrying the gift you gave.”   It is “a part of him now and it is cherished and saved; it will be with him unto the grave, and unto eternity.”  What is the gift that God gave him?   The greatest gift ever given is the free gift of eternal life offered in the Gospel.

Rom 6:23  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What does Bob Dylan mean when he says Jesus was “Struck down by the strength of the will”?

Well, there ain’t no goin’ back
When da foot of pride come down
Ain’t no goin’ back

Foot Of Pride
Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

You can listen to this great song here:

So there is this really amazing song called Foot of Pride which was written way back in 1983 and only released and buried in the massive release known as The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991 about 12 years later in 1991.  It is a very difficult song to interpret and requires a fully devoted and honest Dylanologist to help understand all that is going on.   This is high level graduate work for all those Bob Dylan interpreters and enthusiasts out there.   I don’t recommend this song for the weak or the young or for those being introducing to Bob Dylan for the first time.  This is not milk, this is strong drink.  And as the song says, “and drinks can be fixed.”  The words come fast and furious and they bite down hard and it is really difficult to drink them all in, and then there is the really important question of  "What do all these words actually mean anyway?"   This could be one of the toughest songs in the entire Dylan catalog to work through.   But this challenge is what makes listening to Dylan so entertaining!   You might listen to a song like this many times over the course of many years before something finally clicks and starts to make sense….. “Oh I see what he is getting at now” in a particularly difficult phrase or verse.  So here, 24 years after the first official release, which came 8 years, thus 32 years after the song was originally written, I am ready to boldly declare that I believe that I have put together some of the pieces of where this song is intended to be going. Quite a claim I know, but let me try to back it up.
The difficulty in the song was recognized with the first official release even in the liner notes by the late British journalist John Bauldie, who is a recognized expert on the work of Bob Dylan.  Here are his liner notes reproduced with some parts emphasized: 

Foot of Pride," from the liner notes of THE BOOTLEG SERIES - VOLUMES 1-3 by John Bauldie, 1991

As this collection has gone some way towards proving, there are many wonderful unreleased Bob Dylan songs, but at no time since the early 1960s was he so prolific as he was in 1982-1983 when he was preparing material for Infidels. As impressive a record as Infidels undoubtedly is, a handful of exceptional songs didn't make it on to the LP. Two of the outtakes were, it seems, at one time originally intended for inclusion. "Foot of Pride" is one of them, a lyrically enigmatic song in which Dylan shows once again just what a great singer he is, coping with the song's metrical complexities with impressive ease. Only one commentator has ever been bold (or foolhardy) enough to tackle an appreciation of "Foot of Pride." Writing in The Telegraph, Terry Gans fully admitted the difficulties that face the listener who hopes to come to terms with what's going on in the song. Nevertheless, he observed that "Foot of Pride" comes across as another of Dylan's "The wicked are gonna get it; propaganda all is phony; and those who allow themselves to be manipulated by those who would manipulate deserve what they get" songs.

Well please put me down as a second commentator willing to boldly go where few have dared go before…..but surely we can certainly do a little better than this short summary of Terry Gans in the Telegraph can’t we?
I first got really interested in this song after hearing Lou Reed perform it at the 30th Anniversary Bob Fest held in Madison Square Garden back on October 16, 1992.  Because he could not sing it quite as fast as Dylan could, I was able to hear more of the fascinating lyrics a little more clearly for the first time.  Reed also performed it with it such passion and verve.  Check out his really unusual choice for a Dylan cover and his masterful performance here:

To me the late Lou Reed really gets the urgency of this song.  This was because, as he reported afterwards, that he had "been listening to it almost every day for two months."  He puts the emphasis on all the right phrases as he performs the song, and he understands the critical place played by the refrain, "Well there ain't no coming back when da Foot of Pride come down.... Ain't a no coming back!"  and most importantly, when he shouts, "Struck Down the ...strength of the Will!"  

So the first question we should ask about this incredibly cool, complex and beautifully performed song is:  Where does the inspiration for the name of the song come from?   Well that question has a very straight forward answer:   In the Bible of course!  And it comes from the following passage:

Psalm 36:11  New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the Bible version is significant here.
11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

The second stanza in the Psalm lets us know that this song, and the Infidels album generally, is not a repudiation of Dylan’s embrace of Christianity.  A song like Man of Peace, properly understood, should put this false rumor to bed immediately.
We learn from the exact words that Dylan has used here precisely from what version of the Bible that Bob was reading at this time of composition which was 1983.   Further confirmation comes from another song written a few years earlier during the time of his conversion.

When You Gonna Wake Up
Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
Now compare Rev 3:2 (NASB)
Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 

Now interestingly when we compare the King James Version (KJV) or any other versions, we do not get the exact rendering that Dylan has used in the song.
“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die”

So we can be fairly certain in saying that Bob was reading from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which was very popular with Evangelicals during the late 1970’s and early 1980s, which was of course was when Dylan told us plainly, that he was “Saved by the Blood of the Lamb.”
Now let us go back to our sermon text Psalm 36:11from which Bob will be preaching today.

The symmetrical arrangement of parallel lines in this Psalm is typical of the Hebrew Bible where we often find lines that are about the same length often called “cola” or “stichs” and this is called Parallelism.   These lines in their meaning, grammar, syntax, and form, are designed to stress, balance and reinforce one another and this phenomenon constitutes the parallelism.  The cadence of the Psalms even in translation comes from these overlapping ideas which are semantic, syntactic, morphological and prosodic statements.  
In synthetic parallelism the second or third lines of the unit are not like other forms of parallelism such as synonymous or antithetic to the first line, but in synthetic parallelism, as we have here, they advance the thought that is being conveyed  in a variety of other ways.   As they do in Bob’s text for this sermon:

11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
So the second line would suit well the fella named Red and his side kick Delilah, who is a very early biblical femme fatale, in the song:

There’s a retired businessman named Red
Cast down from heaven and he’s out of his head
He feeds off of everyone that he can touch
He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash
He’s not somebody that you play around with much
Miss Delilah is his, a Philistine is what she is
She’ll do wondrous works with your fate, feed you coconut bread,
spice buns in your bed
If you don’t mind sleepin’ with your head face down in a grave
What an amazing torrent of words and pictures that come spewing of Bob’s mouth here.    Red is clearly a picture of the devil and "Miss Delilah is his," and what a lovely couple they are!   They epitomize the hand of the wicked in the Psalm which is the text for our sermon.    These promoters, these Albert Grossman, Col Tom Parker types who would sell tickets to a plane crash -- if they could -- these are some of the ones that you gotta look out for.   After all, just like Satan and his messengers in the Biblical account, they were cast down from heaven:

Rev 12: 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
I think we have all met people like this.  We heard about one recently in Donald Trump’s, hatchet man attorney, Michael Cohen who threatened the Daily Beast reporter:

"You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it."

Mr. Cohen is trying to be one of those guys that “you don’t mess around with much.”  I think we have all met people like this.

These guys are the same group that Dylan lashes out at in his song 1979 song Slow Train:

"Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition." 

Now spending time with “Miss Delilah” – and notice that she isn’t married – is not any safer, and in fact, messing with her can be even more as dangerous.  Be especially mindful of her “spiced buns in bed” which is an extraordinary double entendre going on here!  This sexual siren will pull you down (Main Route) and mess with you as much as Red, to whom she belongs.  

We learn from National Geographic that burying the dead face down in ancient times didn't mean RIP, according to new research that says the practice was both deliberate and widespread. Experts have assumed such burials were either unusual or accidental. But the first global study on the facedown burials suggests that it was a custom used across societies to disrespect or humiliate the dead.

But being disrespected and humiliated in death is not the only thing that the lovely Miss Delilah can do to you!   She can also “do wondrous works with your [eternal] fate.”   At first you think there has been some misprint in the lyrics, is “fate” the right word to be used here?  But if you see that Dylan is focusing on heaven and hell and one's eternal destiny in this song, then I guess this is the right word after all.  “When da Foot of Pride comes down, Ain’t no coming back!”

“How to enter into the gates of paradise
No, how to carry a burden too heavy to be yours”

When Lou Reed performed it, he understood that you need to shout the word “No!”
This thing about “carrying a burden too heavy to be yours” this is an important idea in Christian literature taking its most classic form in the book Pilgrims Progress where Christian, is carrying this heavy load around until he comes to the place where it is finally cut off and the burden rolls down the hill and is buried.   Christian is finally released from the burden, which somebody else loaded on his back, and he can then fully enter into the joy of his salvation.  I think we can all understand this was the great crime that the Pharisees were inflicting on the common people in Jesus’ day, these religious leaders were requiring all sorts of extra-biblical religious observance, things that they were not doing themselves." 

But we get to the crux of the song when we try to understand What does Bob Dylan mean when he says Jesus was “Struck down by the strength of the will”?

“Yes, I guess I loved him, too,
I can still see him in my mind, climbing that hill,
Did he make it to the top, well, he probably did and dropped,

Struck down by the strength of the will.”
This is the heart of the Christian message that most people fail to fully grasp.   That Jesus was struck down by …..   The strength of the will of God.  So it is the cross itself that must be understood in terms of God’s wrath against sin, of his imputation of our sin to Christ, and of the Old Testament sacrificial system of which the cross is the fulfillment

The prophet Isaiah spoke prophetically of this in the 7th Century BC, hundreds of years before the coming of Christ:

Isaiah 53:4-5Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

This is what Peter is declaring on the very first day of the first Christian Church when he preaches the very first Christian sermon, Peter declares:
Acts 2:23 this Jesus, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,…

God loved the world and gave His only son as the substitute for the sins of the “chosen few who will judge the many when the game is through.”
But for Red, Delilah and all those who follow in their ways….. and some of them pass the hat after preaching a false gospel and “put all that money from sin, into Swiss banks and build big universities to study in."  This is not the first time Dylan has gone after this crowd, again from the song Slow Train:

"But the enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency
All nonbelievers and men stealers
talkin’ in the name of religion
And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend"
for all of these…

“Your time will come; let hot iron blow as He raised the shade,”
Where does the hot iron blow?   Surely it is the fiery furnace of hell reserved as a place of punishment and torment for sinners like the ones described in this song.  

"God knows there’s gonna be no more water
But fire next time."

Now a furnace, in order to keep it nice and hot is always inside a container and to access it you have to open the door or lift a shade, so this is a reference to the land of endless torment "from now on this will be where you're from" for those who haven’t lived for Christ and instead spent their time scoffing at God and loving the pleasures of Red, Delilah and their ilk.  To these, the preacher [i.e. Dylan] warns……. “Your time will come.”