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.”

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