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

1 comment:

  1. So for these past few weeks I have read twenty or more reviewers who try to frame this as Dylan's "Christian period", but he got over it and quickly returned to "secular" music or other some lame reasoning to stamp out the very thought that Dylan is still a believer. Are these people not listening to the man's songs or statements? So I found your thoughts on this new release very refreshing. Thank you for your truthful review.