Monday, November 18, 2013

It must be nice to hear something you wrote about 35 years ago suddenly rediscovered and sung by someone with the voice of an Angel:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bob Dylan has Got Charles Darwin Trapped Out there on Highway 5

In Bob Dylan’s High Water (For Charley Patton) which was released on "Love And Theft" on Oct 19, 2001 there is a remarkable lyric that few have really taken notice of.   Let me quote here in context, to get it out in front of us:

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
 "You can't open your mind, boys

 To every conceivable point of view."

 They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
 Judge says to the High Sheriff,

 "I want him dead or alive
 Either one, I don't care."

 High Water everywhere

George Lewis and Charles Darwin are some old bluesmen from the south right?  Friends of Blind Lemon Jefferson or something like that right?   No, I don’t think that is the reference.   He can’t be talking about Charles Darwin the English Naturalist, can he?  I mean this seems to be sort of a negative reference.   There was a time when Bob could warn about “Karl Marx having you by the throat and Henry Kissinger having you tied up into knots.”  But those days are long past for Bob, right?   Having Charles Darwin trapped out there on the highway and "wanted dead or alive?”   That is how we might talk about Billy the Kid or his outlaw sidekick Alias, but certainly not the distinguished English naturalist.
Dylan is not challenging the established orthodoxy of the university and the scientific culture of the Western World is he?  I mean if there is one thing that can’t be challenged in polite society in the twenty first century it has to be Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.  Hopefully Dylan isn’t still so “born again” that he is questioning this, the unquestionable verity?  I mean Neo-Darwinian evolution is accepted at every level, from the grade school, to the high school, in the university, graduates schools, to institutions of research, to the Smithsonian.  Come on Doug, you are not about to suggest that Dylan would be willing to question this overwhelming consensus are you?  To question this is tantamount to questioning the cultures’ overriding understanding of reality, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t go there, would he?  That would make him a rebel, and Bob Dylan is such a nice man, only occasionally “Preachin’ the Word of God, Putting out your eyes.”

Dylan understands the larger implications of this scientific theory, the larger worldview implications that arise from it.  Every worldview must answer the question, What is the thing or the process from which everything else comes?  A materialist or naturalistic worldview answers that question with reference to matter and energy and strictly material processes.   So Darwin’s theory provides a critical plank in this larger materialistic narrative or theory of being.   Is Dylan, with just a couple of words in a song, trying to undermine the very foundation of this very comprehensive and strictly materialistic view of reality?  In a word  …. Yes.   He claims this theory has a limited future:
Oh it’s rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow

Dylan has been critical before of those who would come to a place in their lives where “all they believe is their eyes, and their eyes just tell them lies.”  There is so much more going on in the world than simply what can be seen with our eyes.   We can’t even see the wind, only its effects, but we "don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows."

The artist has been concerned with this issue for a long time.  Forty three years ago on the New Morning Album from 1970 there was the interesting song called Three Angels.  The artist is sitting on a park bench observing things near 10th Avenue,  presumably Manhattan, and he is noticing everybody failing to ask basic questions….
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels
The Tenth Avenue bus going west
The dogs and pigeons fly up and they flutter around
A man with a badge skips by
Three fellas crawlin’ on their way back to work
Nobody stops to ask why…

And as a result, they are missing out on something real going on in the unseen world, the world beyond

The angels play on their horns all day
The whole earth in progression seems to pass by
But does anyone hear the music they play
Does anyone even try?
These are great questions by a sensitive seeker of truth, “In this concrete world full of souls” who can hear the music played by the three angels that is being drowned out by the whole earth passing by in progression, totally oblivious to what is really going on.

There is a bio-ethicist at Princeton, Peter Singer who is an advocate of the radical animal rights agenda and the denial of any qualitative difference between animals and man.  He says that we are just catching up with Darwin and anyone who puts any kind of distinction between “us and them” is not following the theory consistently.  It follows from that to assert anything like human dignity simply has no ground on which to stand.  To stand up for human dignity is just a form of “specism” Peter Singer says.   And this naturalistic way of thinking has a way of bleeding into our understanding of the other disciplines, sociology, political science, jurisprudence.
But Dylan reminds us that this way of thinking is headed in a bad direction in the conclusion to his song Ring them Bells,

Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they’re breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong

There is only a little distance between right and wrong when there is no distinction between man and the animals.  Tattooed my babies with a poison pen” i.e. murdering them, can be made to seem justified if the world is over populated and the gravest danger facing mankind is made out to be something as banal and commonplace as “climate change.”
 But Bob councils his friends,

"You can't open your mind, boys…….To every conceivable point of view."
You have to find some place to stand.   Maybe it should be on the “Solid Rock, made…. before… the creation of the World.”  Which is something to which "he won't let go, and he can't let go."


For a good live performance of this song, with some great harmonica work from July 27, 2011 visit:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bob Dylan is hanging in the balance, of a perfect finished plan

I have written on how from a theological perspective Bob Dylan has expressed some of the great truths of Reformational Theology, i.e. the Theology of the great Martin Luther or John Calvin when Dylan demonstrates for example, a sophisticated understanding of "the chosen few, who will judge the many, when the game is through."   Today I want to follow up on that thought with this important lyric change that is found in the following November 16, 2002 performance of a wonderfully reworked version of the masterpiece "Every Grain of Sand."  You can watch it here:

But before you do, consider with me the significance of the lyric change on the penultimate verse of this great tune.   The original release of the song in 1981 is "supposed" to concluded this way:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man  * (this half couplet I am calling penultimate)
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

This great song first appeared on the album Shot of Love and while the critics did not receive this album well, everybody had to acknowledge that this offerring, "Every Grain of Sand" stood apart and bore all the marks of a bona fide Dylan master stroke.

Now in the Boston Fleet Center performance of 2002 which I have provided a link to above, that second to last line of the song, has been significantly altered.   How do I know it has been altered?    You can check your lyrics at the official website of the artist at:

Now what is the lyric change, and why do I think is so significant?   I have blogged about Dylan's trip to China where he was opening with Gonna Change my Way of Thinkin,' not the version from the original Slow Train Coming release in 1979, but the Alternate version, which is now also posted on the lyrics page on the official site, which was released on the Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan  album which received the official imprimatur of the artist by including one of his own contributions.  Here he was changing what used to be:  "I'm going to put my best foot forward"  to "I'm going to put my best friend forward."   It just one word Doug!  Why are you attaching so much significance to it?  Well we know that the artist doesn't do these things for no reason, so we have to try to determine what the reason is.  It seems pretty clear the artist is talking about a personal relationship with a friend that he wants to put forward.   No longer a foot.  But a friend.  Surely the friend that is referred to is the same reference as that described in scripture as "there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother"  i.e. the Lord.

Permit me to comment on one more significant lyric change that I have been noticing in recent years on the well known, and frequently performed tune Tangled Up in Blue. The Song ends on the official site with:

But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

What I have been hearing in recent years is:  

But me, I'm still on the road
trying to stay out of the joint.....

What is the significance here?   Well in the original 1975 release of the song, there is a clever double entendre that references the artist's use of a certain popular hallucinogenic weed widely used at the time.  Now, it seems, in recent years, the artist wants to distance himself from this possible interpretation, thus the lyric change.

Ok that brings me to my reason for posting tonight, the lyric change on Every Grain of Sand.  Again it is only a small change.  From the original

I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man 
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand


I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Again just a couple of words, but thunderous in significance.   In the later version we are confessing that God is in control of everything, the plan is complete.  There are no loose screws.  Not the slightest chance that something could fall outside of the perfect finished plan.  God is completely and utterly sovereign.  He makes His plan, He finishes His plan, He works his plan out in time.   Time is an Ocean, but it ends at the shore....So that "whatsoever comes to pass" it is all part of God's perfect plan.  Which bring me to one of my favorite Bob Dylan lines of all time, from Man in the Long Black Coat:

There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way

This brings together comedy and deep philosophical and theological reflection in the space of a very short couplet.   If there are no mistakes in life.... as some people say..... then it can't be true "sometimes"..... it has to be true all the time.   And this truth about no mistakes in life is not some thing that you can "see it that way" in other words, something that is totally subjective to the interpreter.  This must be an objective fact.  So this way of putting things cracks a joke, and interjects some uncertainty at the same time.   We have to be a bit humble and reveal our uncertainty when we talk about these deep mysteries of God's sovereignty and the way it interoperates with man's responsibility.

So small lyric change, large significance.   No mistake.  At least some people say so.  And everything written above, is true sometimes, at least "you can see it that way."



Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dylan Debuts Slow Train Coming on Saturday Night Live

I remember very vividly watching this Broadcast by NBC-TV, on October 20th, 1979 of the program Saturday Night Live when Bob Dylan debuted three of his new tunes from the Slow Train Coming album.   It was stunning!   How could they let this dramatic presentation of the gospel on television?  And how could they do it on a show that was probably the most watched show in America at the time?  Something slipped through.  Where were the censors?   He can't do that!  That is the Bible he is talking about out there.  It was totally unbelievable that this would or could happen.  But I am witness that it did.  And you can watch these incredibly brave and unabbreviated performances at the following link:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bob Dylan - The Gospel Interview

Here is an authentic Bob Dylan Radio interview from when the times, they were a Changin'. There is all of the usual verve that you would expect in a Bob Dylan interview but the direction is decidedly new here. But I like the way the interpreter, for Bob always needs an interpreter, explains that much of what was going on in the so called "Gospel Period" was of a piece with what went before and what came after. One of the great things about Dylan is that he does what he wants -- not what fans or peers or advisors might want.