From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan: Born again and again

(Dylan at St. Lawrence University)
After 70 birthdays, it seems that Bob Dylan just keeps being born again and again.

The first time around, he was born as Robert Zimmerman to a Jewish family from Minnesota.  Thirteen years later, he was born into manhood at his 1954 Bar Mitzvah.  In 1971, well after being born again as folksinger Bob Dylan, Zimmerman visited Israel and met with Rabbi Meir Kahane of the Jewish Defense League (whom he called “a really sincere guy”).  At the time, Time Magazine also reported that Dylan was returning to “his Jewishness” and “reading all kinds of books on Judaism.”

All that was before Dylan boarded the Slow Train to be born yet again as a Christian.  In the late 1970s, he began earnestly studying Christianity after a hotel-room conversion experience.  Upon noticing that Dylan looked quite ill during a concert, a fan had tossed a silver cross upon the stage.  He picked it up and took it back to his room that night.  Dylan later said that Jesus appeared to him as a palpable and divine presence - right there in that Tucson hotel room.  He then studied for months under the tutelage of the Vineyard Fellowship, a Bible-based ministry.  During this time, he also read the apocalyptic works of Hal Lindsey.

Born out of this intensity was Dylan’s acclaimed 1979 “gospel” album, Slow Train Coming.   The most famous song from this album was the Grammy-winning Gotta Serve Somebody.  Throughout the lyrics, Dylan reiterates that – no matter who you are (or who you think you are), “you’re gonna have to serve somebody” (be it the devil or the Lord).

Wikipedia reports that by 1984 Dylan was “distancing himself from the ‘born again’ label.”  He denied ever
being an agnostic in the first place; therefore, “born again” did not seem the right term to him (he also disliked its media-driven triteness).  When asked by Kurt Loder during a Rolling Stone interview whether he belonged to any church or synagogue, Dylan “laughingly” replied:  Not really.  Uh, the Church of the Poison Mind.

Although Dylan has returned in part to his Jewish roots (with some involvement in the Chabad Lubavitch
movement) , he also put out an album of very heartfelt Christmas songs in 2009.  When told during an interview with Bill Flanagan that he delivered the song O Little Town of Bethlehem “like a true believer,” Dylan replied:  Well, I am a true believer.


Copyright May 24, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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