Bob Dylan's 'When the deal goes down - lyric analysis- Part 1
Bob Dylan’s: ‘When the deal goes down’ – lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 1
1. What does ‘when the deal goes down’ mean?
This song was written by Bob Dylan in 2006 for the album ‘Modern Times’. The melody is reminiscent of Bing Crosby's staple hit, "Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” The whole interpretation of the lyrics of this song very much depends on how you interpret the refrain of each of the 4 verses of the song: “I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down”. Before we can start analyzing the verses of this song in more detail, we first need to have more clarity on this key line in the song. Who is this ‘you’ that the poet will be with when this deal goes down? Is this some other person, a woman perhaps? Or even God? And what is this ‘deal’ exactly? Is this some sort of business deal, a deal with a woman, or some kind of obscure agreement? And what does it mean when a deal ‘goes down’?
First of all, I think that the 60 minutes CBS television interview Bob Dylan gave in 2004 might give us an important clue on how we should interpret this song. In this interview Dylan is asked why after so many years he still out there on stage, performing all of his songs on tour. After emphasizing that he doesn’t take any of it for granted, Dylan gives the following reply: ‘’It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end’’. On the question what his bargain was Dylan answers: ‘‘to get where I am now”. And asked whom he made that bargain with he answers: “With the Chief Commander, in this earth and in a world we can’t see”.
How should we interpret this statement? From this statement, it seems obvious that the ‘Chief Commander’ must be Jesus or God. However, some people on the internet have argued that Dylan had sold his soul to Satan, and that he had Satan in mind when he talked about the Chief Commander. Some have even scrambled or distorted his 60 minutes interview to make it look that way. In Matthew 28: 18 Jesus says about Himself: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’. So there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dylan meant Jesus or God with whom he made that deal with a long time ago.
Earlier in the interview it is said that he knew even then that he was destined to become a music legend. "I was heading for the fantastic lights," he wrote in the Chronicles. "Destiny was looking right at me and nobody else." How does Bob Dylan describe the word "destiny"? Dylan says: "It's a feeling you have that you know something about yourself - nobody else does - the picture you have in your mind of what you're about will come true,".
A ‘bargain’ is defined as ‘an agreement, especially one do to something in return for something else’. A ‘deal’ may be defined as ’an arrangement to the advantage of both sides, often in business’. In this sense these two words – ‘bargain’ and ’deal’ are quite synonymous.
We learn from this interview that Dylan once made a bargain, or a deal, with God. But one may ask the question if a human being – in this case Dylan himself – is in a position to make a ‘bargain’ or a ’deal’ with God? Usually a man makes a bargain or a deal with one’s peer, one who is equal to you. But does the Almighty God make a deal with a mortal human being?
To answer this question we first need to introduce another word here. This word is closely related to the word ‘bargain’ or ’deal’. It is the word ‘covenant’. A ‘covenant’ is defined as ‘a formal solemn agreement between two or more people or groups’. The word ‘covenant’ is often used in the Bible. In Genesis, Chapter 17, we read that God has made a ‘covenant’, a ‘deal’ with Abraham. Abraham’s part (obligation) of the covenant with God was to ‘’walk before me and be blameless’’ (Genesis 17:1). God from his end promised Abraham that he will be multiplied exceedingly and that Abraham will be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4). A deal that has gone down, and has been put into effect. In the song ’Covenant Woman’ – released on the album ‘Saved’ – Dylan once said: “I’ve got a covenant too”.
‘To go down’ has various meanings. When used in combination with the word ‘deal’, ‘to go down’ means: ‘to put into effect’. Let me give an example to clarify this. One may say "When the deal goes down, I'll be waiting for the merchandise in the alley!” In this example drugs are exchanged for money. The drugs deal has been put into effect. Both parties can now separate from each other because what was agreed and promised has been delivered. The drugs deal has gone down.
Having said this, let us now try and apply this more specifically to what Dylan might have had in mind when he says: “I’ll be with you when the deal goes down”. When his deal with God will have been accomplished he will not be separated from God but he will stay with him: “I’ll be with you”. What was Dylan’s part of this ‘deal’’ exactly?
His answer to that question is a little enigmatic and typically Dylanesque: “to get where I am now”. I feel it as a missed opportunity that the 60 minutes interviewer Bradley did not dwell on this subject and asked Dylan in reply to this:” What do exactly you mean by that?”.
’To get where I am now’ in my opinion means that Dylan feels he follows the path, he walks the line. Apparently God has a plan for Dylan and Dylan sticks to the roadmap God has made for him. That is supposed to be Dylan’s part of the deal, the bargain. ’To get where I am now’ is as if Dylan says: “ So far I have followed the roadmap God has made for me a long time ago, and if I had not held up my end of the deal, I would not be here at this point, at this stage of my career. I do what I have to do. Being here proves that I am holding up my end of the deal. At the same time it implies that there is still a road ahead of me. Nobody knows how long this road is going to last, I take nothing for granted, but when I die the deal will have been fully accomplished, and then the deal will go down. And if that happens, at the end of the trail, I’ll be with You in heaven”.
It all seems to demonstrate that Dylan doesn’t do anything at random. He feels there is a divine purpose, a plan behind everything he does as an actor. He seems to believe that his songs, his shows, the set lists, the albums, all are a part of some sort of ‘a perfect finished plan’, a carefully selected process for which he has guidance from above. He feels that as an artist he officiates as ‘watchtower’ to warn people, in some sort of a way like the old biblical Prophets once did, that this world is doomed. This idea is supported by the fact that the song ‘All along the watchtower’ has run like a continuous thread through almost all of his shows for so many years. As per today’s date there have been more than 1900 performances of this song.
Also the fact that the background décor, - the all-seeing ’eye’- looms large on audiences all over the world, in the so-called Never Ending Tour, might give us an important clue. Somebody wrote: ‘the eye represents the watchful state of those who serve in constant vigil of a most pivotal event in earth history, and one that which must surely come to pass. The crown represents the regal countenance of the King who has been foretold by prophecy, and who is still yet to come. The lightning that is all about the symbol realizes the circumstance in which the King will be recognized, and as seen coming though the ethereal sky, and through that of time and space’.
To sum this up, I think that if you wish to understand what Dylan means when he says in this song: ‘When the deal goes down’ , you simply cannot ignore what Dylan said in the 60 minutes CBS Television interview in 2004 about destiny and about the bargain ,the deal, he said he made with the Commander in Chief, God. Next time we are going to take a further look at the individual verses of the song. Your comments will be appreciated. Please follow the link ‘reacties’ below.
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First, Jesus, is the Jesuit counterfeit of Christ. No such name.
No J in Hebrew or Greek, that was invented by the Jesuit cult.
Second, obviously you're not tight with the Scriptures, Torah, or even Yahweh.
The only "god" or "cheif" "IN THE EARTH" is Satan as he was cast down from Heaven to serve duty on Planet earth. God is NOT IN THE EARTH. The yardbirds sing extensively about this in their 1966 (666) album "Over, Under, Sideways Down aka Roger the Engineer" as another 1966 pop culture nod to The Cheif Commander , Lucifer aka Satan , the Dragon. You are either deceving people intentionally or you are not at an educated level to write such an article. doubt is cast by Satan himself.
The symbol Robert ZIMMERMAN has used for the last 10 years on his 'show' is the Ra one eye symbolism with 666 clearly surrounding it and it is the common symbol for Satan ..as that's who the Pharoas were really paying tribute to with their high magick culture (now seen as the NWO) and human / animal sacrifice ala the days of Noah with the Cannanites..same thing. ..Horus is not God. Bob Dylan is not mincing words any more. He's being very direct. Tighten up online writer!
— Oats24-11-2019 01:50
What nonsense to place Dylan either on the side of God or on the side of the the Devil rather than being an artist examining the human condition. ...a continuing seeker of knowledge rather than one who believes that it's all over now.
— Larry Fyffe14-03-2019 08:36
Hi Again Keesdegraaf
You speak as one who sees with only one eye.
The 'All-seeing-eye' you refer to is the eye in the capstone of the New World Order pyramid, it's well agreed. The one plastered everywhere throughout the entertainment industry, promoting all the UNGodly misbehaviour and lawlessness and depravity.
Was God looking on with joy and content when Bob got stuck into the illegal substances? I'm sure no. Or when he sang about casual relationships (one night stands) in this manner 'Lay, Lady Lay - Lay across ma big brass bed!' What was that about - a simple photoshoot - or immorality? And why did the photoshoot last 'til the break of dawn'... ?
Bob hasn't exactly been a shining light of Godly behaviour, has he? Or Godly wisdom, for that matter. I'd say he has fitted in with the old adage 'sex, drugs, rock'n'roll' pretty well. So come on, stop dreaming. Bob has no connection with the REAL God at all. That's why he uses all the Satanic props and backgrounds, like all the others under satan's sway. Madonna, Keisha, Beyonce... the list is almost endless. All Satanic. Praise them and glorify them at your own peril. Remember, you have to answer to the REAL God on Judgement Day! Wakey, wakey. Evil prospers while good men do nothing (but 'go along').
— Andrew16-03-2017 12:49
If you think Bob is toeing the line with God, and not Satan, so he can 'go to heaven' check out these Bible quotes
John 3:13: '...no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.'
Acts 2:29: 'Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day'.
King David, a real 'man after God's own heart' is NOT IN HEAVEN!
Are you saying Bob Dylan is more favoured than King David?
And what did Jesus say you have to do to have eternal life?
Matthew 19:17: And He said unto him... if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Does Bob obey the 10 Commandments?
No matter what deal Bob thought he could do with God or Jesus, they DON'T 'do deals' in order to make people great!
Acts10:34: Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: (not even Bob)
Finally what does God say about Satan's position and influence in this world, politics, entertainment, etc.?
Revelation 12:9: And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which is deceiving the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
What did he do on earth after that?
2 Corinthians 4:4: ...the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
Satan blinds and deceives. Satan the god of this world was renowned for his musical talent and ability. He went bad. What do you think he has done to the musos and 'music' of this world in his hatred of God and everything good?
What then is God's warning to His true and faithful believers?
Revelation 18:4: And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
The plagues are coming to punish this world and its societies, which Bob is a very typical member of.
After all this evidence, do you still say Bob made a deal with God to get where he is? Is he in God's good books, or Satan's clutches. The latter, I'm sure! But the good news is God so loved the world including him (and still does) He has a plan to save Bob from the Devil and himself. But it will be on GOD's terms, not Bob's....
We one day will ALL be keeping all the 10 commandments - or if we choose to disobey, we will cease to exist. Go check it out in your own Bible, but don't pick a twisted perverted new age bible. Look for the Truth of God.
— Andrew16-03-2017 12:29
For several years Dylan started his shows with a gospel song: I'm ready to go, Waiting to see the light, Serve somebody or Somebody touched me. This means that he dedicated these shows to God.
Satanists never sing christian songs while gospels are part of Dylan's repertoire since the earliest days of his career.
Besides, your spam code sucks.
— Pieter Lemmens20-05-2016 19:15
No offesne, but the one who wrote this article is blind. The chief commander of this world is satan and if one sells his souls to him, he can have everything he desires, but the price is too high. Jesus have all authority yes, but he does NOT make bargains or deals. He can only give us promises and give us a condition we must first obey. God bless you all.
— JesusIsLord14-05-2016 13:43
In my opinion Bob Dylan has made a "deal" with his own destiny by following it. Neither God nor Satan were involved. He just does what he is supposed to do by his own "destiny"...
— Olesya21-08-2015 14:17
Thank you very much for your article and for the good comments. I'm sure that dylan is talking about Jesus. Other interpretetions comes from moralists minds
— Pablo04-01-2015 22:43
He is Jewish. A vow is to keep. I was surprised to read people thinking this was a vow with the evil one. I listened to this humble man in that interview and heard him say he was keeping his part of the vow, just like a marriage vow, with the Creator of heaven and earth.
Maybe its one of those things were a person hears what is in their own mind and heart when there is an unclear statements made. (ie they fill in the blanks with what they know or feel)
— Tess23-10-2014 17:43
Its interesting to me that everyone assumes that Dylan is talking about a deal that he made In order to get to where he is now (that is, in order to become famous, rich, whatever). When I heard the interview I assumed that Dylan meant that he had been given something else in exchange for his life's work, that he traded in his freedom to retire in peace in exchange for a deeper more lasting, more real peace. He has made it abundantly clear his entire life that he doesn't care about or even want to be famous, idolized, and the center of attention.
He feels that long ago he was given something of such tremendous value that he feels responsible to continue giving from his own life in return. He sees his enduring role of icon, celebrity, and endlessly touring musician as his end of the deal that he is trying to hold up obediently. "To get where I am now" is what HE promised to DO, NOT the reward he has received in return.
— NateW12-12-2013 20:30
Yea, I don't agree that Bob Dylan meant he made a deal with God, our Heavenly Father has NEVER made any deal with humans, God directs, instructs, prophecy, sends annointees, establishes covenants on Gods terms-Never, Never has God ever needed to make any deals with Humans. Book of Enoch; "God is worshiped by Angels 10,000 X 10,000 but he needs NOT their counsel."
Neither God nor Jesus would ever allow their Reputation to be associated with a Military rank, God is INFINITELY above COMMON military rank; God is the Holiest of Holy's and Creator of the Universe.
Dylan's Chief Commander is Satan, same as the crossroads legend of Satan's dealing with so many other music legends.
— mac02-05-2013 02:44
When I was editing a nesapwper, we had a reporter who could do a perfect imitation of the voice of Pope John Paul II. When His Holiness appeared with His Bobness at the Eucharistic Congress in Bologna and did a midrash on Blowin' in the Wind our reporter strolled the office reciting other Dylan lyrics in John Paul's voice: Eez there a hole for mee to be seek een?
— Vishnu15-10-2012 00:49
Not a bad article, but I don't want to dishearten all you 'believers' in believing that Dylan meant Jesus or God when he says 'Chief Commander'.
The bargain that he is holding up, is from the 'bargain' he made with satan for fame and fortune, just like any other big artist of today and the last 80 years or so.
'Chief Commander' is just Dylan's code name for satan, just like the Beatles call him 'Sgt. Pepper' etc.
Money is the root of all evil, and I'm sure God or Jesus would not make a 'bargain' with a human, so that person can live rich with fame and fortune.
Have any of you saying that are saying it is Jesus or God even read the bible? If you have, you would clearly see there are many verses in the bible where Jesus speaks against money/wealth.
Just a few examples below:
'No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money.'
'Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
'Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." '
It was quietly spoken of back in the day with artists and actors making a 'bargain' or 'selling their soul' for the fame and fortune, but you can frequently see artists and actors of today saying they've done so on videos etc.
— John09-10-2012 16:22
You may be interested in this paragraph which I copied from a discussion on expecting rain.com about your article:
[BF: Hearing you sing ADESTE FIDELES reminds me of being an altar boy at Midnight Mass. The priests all had to lead the singing, and it didn’t matter if they were singers or not, they belted it out. Have you ever sung in a foreign language before?
BD: I've sung in French,Italian, and Spanish....
This exchange took place BEFORE the question came up about Bob sounding like a true believer when he sang "O' Little Town of Bethlehem".
By the time that question came up, Dylan knew that Flanagan was Catholic, so he knew what the phrase "true believer" would mean to Flanagan. Yet Dylan went ahead and said "I am a true believer". I am sure we can agree that Dylan is not sloppy with his words. He knew exactly how Flanagan would interpret his statement "Well, I am a true believer". He said it, then had the interview posted on his website. ]
— Kim29-07-2011 21:48
Thank you for your excellent article. I believe you could apply this interpretation to any number of the songs on Modern Times, as well as other of his later songs. To any one who doubts that Dylan is referring to God (Jesus Christ) when he speaks of the " Chief Commander" here is a quote:
Bob Dylan talks to Bill Flanagan about Christmas In The Heart published by the North American Street Newspaper Association:
BF: You really give a heroic performance of O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM The way you do it reminds me a little of an Irish rebel song. There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.
BD: Well, I am a true believer.
Looking forward to the rest of your articles. thank you
— Kim25-07-2011 21:13
Good to see you keeping up this work. When The Deal Goes Down is an interesting choice, however not too unexpected - I remember you were alluding to it in your interpretation of Highlands. Just like Highlands, I understand why you would choose this particular song in order to make an interpretation that is somehow connected to faith and religion (if you keep this chronology I'm predicting the next song to be Beyond Here Lies Nothin', although perhaps it would even more difficult to interpret as a positive statement concerning religion than Highlands was..)
Anyway, I'm not going to post any critique i might have on this interpretation yet, because it's in the first phase. However, I still don't agree completely with the order in which you tackle things.
I think an interpretation of the lines 'i'll be with you when the deal goes down' can only be made in relation to the rest of the text in the song, and not outside of that context.
Also, I think the relation between this song and something Dylan has said in 2004 is far from obvious or logical, and that you too easily connect everything he has said as if it is somehow 'really' related to each other. I recall him singing with reserve or even disdain about religion, in With God On Our Side for instance, or It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), for instance. Or, to pick an example closer to the one you picked, Dylan has also stated that he now places his faith not in any deity but in
the old songs he constantly revisits and refers to in his art.
The sources you pick (without explaining why you pick those, and not others) very clearly, and in this case I think even a bit forcefully, push your interpretation in a certain direction. This is also obvious in the way you interpret Dylan's 'Chief Commander' as Jesus or God. You write:
"How should we interpret this statement? From this statement, it seems obvious that the ‘Chief Commander’ must be Jesus or God."
Does it? As you point out, not everybody agrees with this. The Chief Commander could be a lot of things. The reason you give is that Jesus himself has stated once that all the authority in Heaven and Earth is given to him:, but this, of course, doesn't prove anything at all, because anybody could state this. It might appear to be very likely, but it is not certain that Dylan is talking of Jesus/God here.
In fact, one could wonder why
Dylan wouldn't just say Jesus or God if he means Jesus or God (just like
one should wonder, as i commented before, why he would choose to sing of the Highlands instead of
Heaven). Why use the awkward term 'Chief Commander' at all?
I think it's because he means something else or, if you will, not exactly that what you think he means: but mostly I think he wants to prevent you from pinning down what he means, so that it is to be left undetermined. In this interview, i'm pretty sure he didn't want to say anything about his personal belief, because, well, it's private.
Using this as proof for an interpretation of one of his songs, then, seems hazardous, because you ignore this carefully built up hesitation Dylan displays time after time. You succeed to get your interpretation into a realm that you're comfortable with (a specific religion), but this means paying a price: it means partially destroying the subtlety present in his work.
On a finishing note i would like to point you to an interpretation of this song by Chris Gregory, who, I think, pays a lot of attention to exactly this carefulness with which this (and other) Dylan songs position themselves in relation to the Christian religion:
(( His take on When The Deal Goes Down, and i wholeheartedly agree, is that "what makes the song so moving is the way it depicts a struggle for, and
perhaps a final attainment of, a kind of grace, or spiritual
enlightenment, achieved not through any conventionally ‘religious’ path
but through making a personal ‘deal’ with the spirit of creativity." ))
— Jesper25-07-2011 16:20
Interesting article although somewhat short. In my opinion 'The Deal' is the promise fortold by St.John in 'The Book of the Revelation of St. John the Theologian' and Dylan even alludes to the book called 'The Apocalypse' In the Teachings of Ancient Christianity' by Archbishop Averky Taushev and Father Seraphim Rose that takes you through a scene by scene interpretation of 'The Book of the Revelation of St. John the Theologian', by refering to St.Herman's Church in his song 'Thunder on the Mountain' ('I've been to St. Herman's Church, I've said my religious vows, I've sucked the milk out of a thousand (Holy) cows', as 'The Apocalypse' is published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood whose postal address is in Platina, California, not far from Dylan's Malibu home - Real 'fire and brimstone' stuff eh:)?
— Paul Robert Thomas24-07-2011 20:47
Thank you, your article is a very interesting read. However, I think it is important to note the influence of Robert Johnson's song 'Last Fair Deal Gone Down' upon the the refrain. Many of the lyrics in Dylan's most recent albums seem to be references to American music of the early 20th century at some level. I shall be interested to read the following parts. 'When the Deal Goes Down' is one of Dylan's most Beautiful and tragic songs in my opinion.
— Angus Gibson24-07-2011 17:21