Sometimes it feels like Bob Dylan says: "I practice a faith that's long been abandoned, ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road"

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Bob Dylan's "With God on our Side" - an analysis

Bob Dylan’s   “With God on our side” –an analysis by Kees de Graaf.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said: "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right". This statement says it all.

This well-known protest song was written somewhere in 1962/ 1963 and recorded for the album “The Times they are a-Changin’ “. The melody of the song is identical to “The Patriot Game”, a song written by Dominic Behan, the melody is borrowed from a traditional Irish folk song. The song was written in strenuous days, in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October-November 1962, which led the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. This nuclear threat still looms large in the background of this song.
”God’s own country “is a name which a lot of Americans liked to give their country. In the face of this high- pitched pretention that the nation is indeed “God’s own country”, this song is an attempt to confront the American nation with its own bloody history. Once a nation is convinced that it has a special chosen position in the eyes of God, almost any political or military action to expand and consolidate this high position is in the end justified and sanctified with an appeal to the will of God. ”If God is for us, who is against us?” the Bible says in Romans 8:31. “I’m gonna do whatever circumstances require” Dylan wrote in “Honest with me”. This Machiavellian inspired line was and is used as a shibboleth to justify any political or military action, in disregard of the basic human rights of other nations and people and in disregard and disrespect also of the biblical principles of justice and love for your neighbor. Any moral scruples, those who are involved in this kind of war may have, are in the end waved aside and silenced by the overruling principle: ‘we have to do it because God is on our side’.  Dylan shows us, in the first seven stanzas of this song, the horrible consequences of such a narrow minded world view. In ‘Cat’s in the well’ Dylan wrote: “grief is showing its face, the world’s being slaughtered and it’s such a bloody disgrace”.  That is exactly the picture Dylan confronts us with as he walks through the short American (military) history. In the final two stanzas Dylan draws some sort of a conclusion. He then does some deep thinking on the relation between the will of God – destiny – and our own personal, individual, responsibility. We’ll’ deal with that later in this article. Let us first deal with the first seven stanzas. The picture Dylan shows us is crystal clear, so we do not need to dwell on details.

In the first two stanzas the poet starts with the very beginning of the American nation. ”Oh my name it is nothing, my age it means less, the country I come from is called the Midwest” is a somewhat ironic statement from the poet. These words sound like mock modesty and are in contrast with what the average Midwesterner stands for and is proud of.  In the very beginning of the American nation it was the very Midwest region which took the initiative and from there on the early pioneers from the Midwest spread and expanded westwards. At the beginning there was no organized social structure or coherence and everybody had to stand up for his own rights, it was really the” survival of the fittest” and even today Midwesterners are still proud of their pioneering spirit which guided them through those rough times. The poet “is taught and brought up there, the laws to abide, and the land that I live in has God on his side”, which means that he is a typical product of the American soil of the 20th century. The poet was taught and brought up in a society where law and order were predominant. There were a lot of hard working, law abiding, orthodox Christians and obviously there was nothing wrong with that. At the same time, among those law abiding people, there was a strong undercurrent of nationalistic feelings which easily led to conformity and to the idea that the Americans are a chosen nation and that “the land that they lived in had always God on its side”. There was a strong sense that no matter what happened, they Americans were always ready to stand up for their country and to fight and to do whatever circumstances required; with only one goal: to defend American material or immaterial interests, not only in their own country but all over the world. The consequences of this ideology were disastrous as the following verses show us. Let us a take a look at the history books:

“Oh the history books tell it, they tell it so well. The cavalries charged, the Indians fell, the Cavalries charged, the Indian died”. It was well recorded in the history books. This is again an ironic statement. The history books show us a rose-coloured picture of the facts when the history books say that the Indians “fell”. It looks as if this were some kind of a heroic fight where unfortunately soldiers have “to fall” for their country. The fact is that the Indians were slaughtered. When the poet repeats the same words “The cavalries charged” but then adds: “”the Indians died”, this is really an understatement, which was presumably inserted for the sake of making it rhyme with “side”. He meant to say that the Indians were butchered, slaughtered and murdered. In the year 1500, just after the arrival of Columbus, there were said to be 12 million Indians in America, in the year 1900 there were only 237.000 left. The Indians were wiped out in one of the greatest genocides of all times, although it is also true that many of them died because of foreign diseases like smallpox, a disease which the Europeans imported from Europe. “Oh the country was young, with God on its side” ironically suggests that as a nation you have an excuse to commit a crime when you are still a young nation, like it says in Psalm 25:7: “Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions”.  Two things are stated here as an excuse to kill the Indians: 1. We were young. 2. If the first excuse does not convince you, you have to remember that God was on our side. 

“Oh the Spanish-American War had its day”. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a war between America and Spain about the independence of Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean area. Officially troops were sent to Cuba to stop brutal killings by the Spaniards but the real reason for the war has been an attempt ‘to create a new imperial empire’, the U.S. gained control over Cuba and colonial control over Puerto Rico. Number of casualties: more than 4000 in battle and 5000 through disease.
“And the civil war too, was soon laid away” The Civil War (1861-1865) was a war in the United States of America. Officially the goal of the war was to have slavery abolished in the 20 rebelling Southern States of America.  In reality however, economic motives triggered off this bloody Civil War. Number of casualties on both sides: between 618.000 and 970.000. Both the Spanish-American war and the Civil war were officially fought for idealistic reasons, but when you take a closer look, these idealistic motives were only a pretext to start these wars. The Civil war soon laid away, collectively forgotten, but what remained are “the names of the heroes, I’s made to memorize, with guns in their hands and God on their side”. It reminds us of those old war photographs in black and white, but most of the time in a brownish color.  On those old pictures you see these so-called heroes, proudly stand with guns in their hands. The Civil War was a brother war. It is hard to imagine that the ’enemy’, the 20 Southern States called ‘The Confederacy’, could equally show you the same pictures of their heroes, also with guns in their hands and also thinking that God was on their side. It reminds us  of another anti- war song Dylan wrote in 1963: “John Brown” where it says: “But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close, and I saw that his face was just like mine”.  “It was the brother you never had” Dylan wrote elsewhere.

“Oh the First World War, boys, it closed out its fate. The reason for fighting, I never got straight.  But I learned to accept it, accept it with pride, for you don’t count the dead, when God’s on your side” On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot dead in Sarajevo. This event caused a chain reaction in which more and more countries became involved, within weeks the major powers were at war; via their colonies, the conflict soon spread around the world. The First World War was a fact. Total death toll of the First World War: about 37.5 million people. Although the poet could not really figure out why this war was fought in the first place - this war was called the bloodiest ever – he learned to accept it with pride. Nationalistic pride obliterates both your sense of reality and compassion with the result that you do not count the dead, God is after all on your side isn’t He?

“When the Second World War came to an end, we forgave the Germans and we were friends. Though they murdered six million, in the ovens they fried, the Germans now too have God on their side”. The poet shows us the shocking image of the holocaust. Six millions Jews were murdered and burnt in the ovens of the Nazi regime. The total death toll of the Second World War is estimated between 62 and 78 million people. After the war these staggering figures did not prevent the Allied Forces from drawing the Germans into their camp. After the war Germany had become a democratic republic and joined the Allied Forces, in particular the U.S., in their fight against Stalin’s communism. Ironically, the poet says that the Germans were forgiven and that they became friends. This was obviously only for political reasons. First the Americans fought against the Germans, with God on their side. Now the Americans fought with the Germans in the Cold War against Communism also with God on their side. It is as if the poet ironically says: ’God is always on the side of America, and any nation who joins America may be assured that God is on their side too, no matter what crimes such a nation may have committed in the past’. Just like Dylan said in “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues”: “Now we all agree with Hitler’s views, although he killed six million Jews, it don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist, at least you can’t say he was a Communist! That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria”
 It is also reminiscent of what President George W. Bush once said in 2001 in the fight against terror: “You’re either with us or against us”. As if he said: “If you are with us, God is also on your side”.

“I’ve learned to hate Russians all through my whole life. If another war starts, It’s them we must fight, to hate them and fear them, to run and to hide and accept it all bravely, with God on my side”. This verse is somewhat rendered out of date by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent ending of the Cold War. The poet grew up during the so-called McCarthy era, when thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or having at least sympathy for communism. These Americans became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning by the authorities. In those years of witch hunt against communism, paranoia and hatred against Russia and its communism was continuously pumped into the American society, as Dylan shows in his song “John Birch Paranoid Blues”:” I wus lookin’ high an’ low for them Reds everywhere, I wus lookin’ in the sink and underneath the chair, I looked way up my chimney hole I even looked deep down inside my toilet bowl
They got away . . .”


“But now we got weapons of the chemical dust. If fire them we’re forced to, then fire them we must. One push of the button, and a shot the world wide, and you never ask questions when God’s on your side”. In this verse the narrator confronts us with the unthinkable, the total destruction of all human civilization through a nuclear war. As said, this song was written around the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, which took the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. Although some people call the ‘balance of terror’ between America and Russia a blessing in disguise, this balance of nuclear power is also a very delicate one. If conflicts escalate, one push of the button is enough to set the world ablaze, not to think of what may happen if nuclear weapons get in the hands of terrorists. But also in the most unthinkable scenario, you never ask questions, when you are sure that God is on your side. 

“Through many dark hour, I’ve been thinking about this, that Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss. But I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide, whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side”.  The poet has now gone through the whole of the American military history and comes to a conclusion. All the things he was taught ever since he was a schoolboy pass through his mind’s eye: The ‘war’ against the Indians, The Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the First and the Second World War, the Cold War and the nuclear threat. When he sees all those people killed, all the casualties pass by, the misery and upheaval which all those wars have  caused, then it is getting dark, ‘It is getting dark, too dark to see’ The poet starts to knock on heaven’s door for an answer. Amidst all darkness the poet starts to think on a higher level. What is it all good for? And who is behind all this? If there is a God, who is responsible and why doesn’t God stop this? He tries to find the answer in the Bible. He finds that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, the Son of God, by a kiss (Luke 22:48). How could God ever have allowed that a kiss, which is a token of love and friendship, would be turned into a device of betrayal of His own Son? It gets complicated when it is at the same time clear from the Scriptures that Jesus had to be “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) Acts 1:16 says about Judas: “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus”. All that happened to Jesus and all that Judas did was in accordance with God’s plan. Is Judas able to get away with it? Could he have said: “I can’t be blamed for this, I did it in accordance with God’s plan, I have God on my side, you can’t blame me at all!? It reminds us of a song Dylan wrote in those same days: “Who killed Davey Moore”. It proves that Dylan at the time was very preoccupied with the question of human responsibility and destiny, the will of God. When in this song “Who killed Davey Moore” everybody denies responsibility for death of boxer Davey Moore it says: Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’ It was destiny, it was God’s will”.
The Bible makes it also clear that in spite of the fact God has foreknowledge of all that happens on earth and that everything goes according to his plan and will, the personal human responsibility to do what is right, remains. Judas and every other human being is personally responsible for the ethical decisions that he or she takes. That is why Dylan says: “But I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide”. It is as if Dylan says: “Each individual will have to draw a personal conclusion that although what Judas did was according to God’s foreknowledge and plan, Judas is nevertheless and at the same time personally responsible for the bad choices he made and the bad things he did”. The masters of war that build all the guns, that build the death planes, that build the big bombs, they can no longer hide behind their walls and desks, but they will  have to come out and they will be held personally responsible for all they did. Blessed as the American nation is, this blessing on itself never sanctions unethical and immoral motives to wage a war. No matter how blessed America as a nation may be, the slogan ‘God is on our side’ is a slogan no nation can ever take for granted.

“So now as I’m leaving, I’m weary as Hell, the confusion I’m feeling ain’t no tongue can tell. The words fill my head, and fall to the floor, if God’s on our side; He’ll stop the next war”. The problem – the problem of God’s predestination and foreknowledge - is still hard to tackle for the poet. A man is trapped in the fires of time and space. Man misses an extra dimension God has. The divine dimension to understand that two things which seem contradictory are at the same time both true. The concept that although everything that happens on this earth is 100% in accordance with His plan and His will,  man nevertheless remains  100% moral responsible and accountable for his actions and the decisions he makes, either good or bad. When he looks around this world and he sees all the evil things that happen, he feels terribly confused; it wears him down beyond words. The words fill my head, and fall to the floor, there is a moment when you think you know the answer to all the problems you face, but the next moment however, when you are confronted with the harsh reality in this world, you find out that it does not work; your words fall to the floor. But the poet concludes that there is one thing that will always remain true: God is a God of peace; He does not want war between people. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The poet does not say that a defensive war is by definition always wrong, such a war may sometimes be forced upon a nation and may therefore be inevitable, a government has the duty to protect its citizens against aggression (Romans 13: 1-7), but he does say that God is on the side of the peacemakers. And if you are a peacemaker as a nation, you will be careful not to wage war for wrong, unethical and immoral motives. If that is your attitude, if that is the moral basis on which you stand as a nation, God will not only stop the next war, He will prevent it from starting in the first place.
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What does Bob Dylan really believe?

What does Bob Dylan really believe? –by Kees de Graaf

Ever since Dylan was converted to Christianity in 1979, there has been a lot of controversy among fans – believers and non- believers- focusing on the question whether Dylan in some sort of a way has adhered to his decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ, or that he has abandoned this faith a long time ago. For those who feel that he has abandoned his faith in Jesus, one may ask the question if there is enough evidence that proves that he has in fact given up his faith in Jesus. A clear statement that he has in fact given up his faith would be very helpful for them. A statement which could run like: There was a time, a brief period, a couple of years, when I thought I believed in God and in Jesus, a time when I believed that the Bible was right, but not anymore. I was confused at the time but later on I realized that it was all just a hoax. Forget the whole thing; there is no God and there is no heaven, the only thing I now believe in is myself and in the spirit of creativity”. But the fact is that such an unequivocal statement does not exist. Those who believe that Dylan has given up on Jesus were forced to take resort to all sorts of ‘circumstantial’ evidence to proof that they are right or to make it at least credible that Dylan’s faith in Jesus is passé. We mention some of these arguments:

 1. It is true that during his so-called Christian period (1979-1981) Dylan often talked about Jesus and the Bible, not only in his songs but also during raps on stage and in interviews, but in later years he is elusive about his faith in Jesus and hardly ever explicitly speaks about Jesus or the Bible, not in his songs, not on stage or in the press.

 2. Dylan denounced Christianity and returned to some sort of Judaism; he attended the Bar Mitzvah ceremonials of his children; he frequented (s) synagogues, in 2007 he went to Chabad- Lubavitch for Yom Kippur, where he got an aliyah to the Torah. (an ‘aliyah’’ is an “ascent” and represents the immigration of Jews to Israel and Chabad- Lubavitch is a philosophy, a movement, and an organization. It is considered to be the most dynamic force in Jewish life today).

3. Dylan no longer believes in Jesus or in the Bible as the word of God, but he finds solace in the religiosity and philosophy of the music and the songs. This is apparent from an interview that Dylan gave in 1996 for the magazine Newsweek. Novelist David Gates asked Dylan what he believed. Dylan replied, “I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like ‘Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain’ or ‘I Saw the Light’—that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”
“Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book,"
Bob Dylan said in 1997, after the release of his album "Time Out of Mind" which was his first album of original material in seven years. Dylan said "All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from `Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain' to `Keep on the Sunny Side.' You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.' I've seen the light, too”. Also somewhere in 1997, Dylan gave another interview about American roots music-like the songs of Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, some of these songs were on his set lists. "That's my religion," he said. "I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists .I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity."

What may be the counter- arguments of all those who believe that Bob Dylan has not denounced his faith in Jesus and is as committed to Jesus as ever before?:

1.There was indeed a time (1979-1981) when Dylan was very overt about Jesus. However, If Dylan would have continued to spread the good news of the gospel in the same way like he did in the years 1979-1981 his influence would have been minimized. His message in the years 1979-1980 was so unequivocally uncompromising that it alienated a large percentage of his fans. If he had continued in the same way- also by performing only his Christian repertoire-, he would not only have lost his worldwide influence as a secular artist but at the same time his sphere of influence would have been reduced to a small gospel scene only. Although Dylan later on said that what he did in 1979 and 1980 was something he had to do, those gospel songs had to come out, in 1981 however, Dylan started again to incorporate songs from his pre-born  albums into his shows and from then on also his songwriting took a new turn. The new lyrics became less and less overtly Christian and more and more all kinds of universal and secular elements were introduced in his lyrics. The message was more and more hidden and fellow believers had to learn to read the same old message of the gospel between the lines. From then on it also meant that his new songs could be interpreted in various ways, not always necessarily only in a Christian way; the new lyrics were open for debate. The debate about the interpretation of his new lyrics between believers and non-believers began, and has continued up to this very day. As the internet progressed in the nineties, a worldwide forum was created where this discussion has been going on.
The fact is that Jesus, in some sort of a way, did the same thing. There was a time when Jesus- just like Dylan did in his own way and on his own level in 1979 and 1980- spread the message of the Kingdom of God overtly and openly, but when Jesus met with a lot of hostility and resistance (Matthew 13:13-15) he started to use parables to spread the message. A parable is a comparison, a similitude; specifically, a short fictitious narrative of something which might really occur in life or nature, by means of which a moral lesson is drawn. What did that mean?
Firstly, a secret is hidden in the parable (Matthew 13: 10). Secondly, it takes effort to find the message which is hidden in the parable, you have to study, you have to ask to find the solution (Matthew 13:36) and thirdly, although the public at large does not come to grasp the message hidden in the parable, the parable in itself, as a story, is palatable for the public at large. The parable of ‘the prodigal son’, (Luke 15:11-32) is an example of this. As a story, this parable is fascinating on itself.
The road which Dylan has been following in his song writing process is comparable with what Jesus did. It may also have to do with the bargain, the deal, which Dylan said he made with God. For more information on this subject, we refer to my analysis of "When the deal goes down"- Part 1     

2. Christianity does not exclude Judaism; in fact the historical roots of Christianity are in Judaism. If someone converts from Judaism to Christianity, he or she is not forced to denounce his or her Jewish roots. One may say that converts expand and enrich their view and experience of God. And that is something which happened to Bob Dylan. In the Bible we read that when the Apostles spread the good news of Jesus all over the world, the first place in any town they visited on their mission tours was always the Jewish synagogue. The apostles never asked the Jews to give up their Jewish lifestyle but they only begged them to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, which was promised in the Torah and by the Prophets. Somewhere on a forum I read: "Dylan is in some ways an ultimate Christian. Why? Because he started as a Jew! Like Mary; Like Jesus. As Christ says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." (King James, Matthew 5:17). The events of the New Testament are not merely a sequel to the Old, they are intimately related."

3. If somebody would say: “I find the religiosity and philosophy in the Book of Common Prayer. I don’t find it anywhere else. If we would like to know what such a person believes, the only thing we have to do is to take a look and see what’s in that Book of Common Prayer and what it refers to. When Dylan says: ““I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else” and “Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book," we just have to take a close look at those songs to find out what Dylan actually believes. Let us make and effort.
Chris Gregory in his commentary on the songs of ‘Modern Times’ has also made an effort and writes about the bluegrass spiritual: “Hallelujah I’m ready to go”: “his concert performances in the late 90s and early 2000s of bluegrass spirituals by the Stanley Brothers and others can be seen as affirmations, not of the religion they proselytize as such but of Dylan’s ‘faith’ in the songs themselves. …Hallelujah!… he sings, in the Stanley Brothers song he’s covered most of all …I’m ready to go!…”. This statement of Chris Gregory hardly seems to make any sense, to say the least of it.  Does Gregory want to suggest that with ‘I’m ready to go’ Dylan intends to express that he is ready to abandon the traditional faith? If that were true it would be only wishful thinking on Gregory’s part and I’m sorry to put it that way, but this would be sheer nonsense. If it is not the message expressed in the lyrics of the song the poet has faith it, what else is there left in this song to have faith in? Take away the message of the song and there is nothing left in the song to believe in. The message of the song is crystal clear: The poet is ready to go (to God) because ‘he let his Savior (Jesus) in, and he saved his soul from sin’ and he is ready to go because ‘he is a wonderful Savior to know, I fell down on my knees and he answered all my pleas’. The message of the song is: Jesus is a wonderful Savior, he saved my soul from sin and because of that I’m ready to meet God. That is what the poet believes.(‘One sweet day, I’ll stand beside my King’) Apart from that, I’m a little surprised to read that according to Chris Gregory  this is the Stanley Brother’s song Dylan’s covered the most. ‘Hallelujah I’m ready to go’ was covered 38 times. But ‘I am the man Thomas’, however, was covered 59 times. In this song Dylan introduces Jesus in the “I” form. This song about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is even more overtly Christian than “Hallelujah I’m ready to go”, and touches upon the very center of the Christian faith.

The message which the bluegrass gospel songs deliver is basically the same in most of the songs of that kind. This message is that we are all sinners by nature. But we have a wonderful Savior, who loves us and has paid for our sins. If we go to Him, he takes away the burden of sin and fills our hearts with great joy. This is also the case in the bluegrass gospel songs Dylan says he believes in, and of which Dylan says that in these songs he finds his religiosity and philosophy and that these songs are his lexicon and prayer book. For instance, Dylan mentions Hank Williams’s “I saw the Light”. What does this song say:
I wandered so aimless , life filled with sin.

I wouldn't let my dear Savior in.

Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night.

Praise The Lord, I saw the Light”.

We conclude that the bluegrass gospel songs Dylan refers to, focus on the very heart of the Gospel. The center and the heart of the Gospel is, that there his redemption for man through the Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore it seems obvious to me that when Dylan says that he finds his religiosity and philosophy in these songs and these songs are his prayer book and lexicon, he wants to make it clear – in his typically Dylanesque, somewhat elaborate and elusive way- that he is still committed to Jesus as his personal Savior. This is just an inseparable part of the deal, the bargain he said he made with God a long time ago. It is true, Dylan is a stand- alone Christian. No generation, no church, no denomination, organization, political or social movement can claim Dylan as spokesman. On the other hand, there seems to be a growing consensus, also among non-religious scholars and historians – as you may for instance read in Professor Sean Willentz’ latest book ‘Bob Dylan in America’ – that Dylan, in his own way, adheres to the basic principles of Christianity.  

Furthermore, I’d like to draw attention to something else Dylan said in the 1997 interview we referred to above. Dylan says: “I believe in a God of time and space. Again, this is a very Dylanesque statement. No matter how enigmatic  this statement may look at first glance – in the same way as Dylan calls Jesus the ‘The Commander in Chief ‘Dylan  in his 2004 CBS interview – it nevertheless gives us an important clue to understanding Dylan’s conception of God. “I believe in a God of time and space is just another way of saying that Dylan believes in a personal God. God entered our time and space when He incarnated in his Son Jesus Christ. God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. The eternal becomes temporal. What Dylan may have had in mind with this statement could not be better formulated than John Allister did in 1999, when he wrote an article about God, Space and Time. We quote:  
“All of that (that God is a God of time and space) doesn't make God any less real than us. In fact, if anything, it means that he is more real than we are. We have a beginning as people and, at least in this world, an end as well. God doesn't. We are constrained by time. He isn't. When God revealed his name in the Old Testament, he said he was "I am". Apparently the Hebrew for that means "I am, always have been and will continue to be". God is the one true constant, going beyond the universe. What is amazing then is that in Jesus there is someone who is God and yet is confined within space and time. People could literally see and touch God. It is not amazing that God could do this - after all, he is omnipotent. Rather what is amazing is that he loves us so much that the eternal Second Person of the Godhead became confined within space and time for us”.
It looks as if, when in this interview Dylan said: “I believe in a God of time and space” Dylan somehow must have realized in the back of his mind that this was quite an enigmatic statement. That may be the reason why he impulsively tries to clarify and simply this statement by saying,” but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.' I've seen the light, too”. This is as if Dylan said: “If you want to know what I mean when I say that I believe in a God of time and space, take a look at these songs. These songs point to the Light, these songs point to Jesus, my Savior, he is the One who entered time and space for me”.
 
Finally, to wrap this up the following: Chris Gregory in his analysis of Dylan’s ‘Ain’t  Talking’ writes: “A number of commentators (particularly on Christian or ‘faith-based’ culture-commentary websites and blogs) have referred to the plethora of Biblical allusions on Modern Times as ‘proving’ Dylan’s continual ‘faith in Jesus’. But this is surely just wish-fulfillment on their part”. Through this article I hope to have shown that my personal conviction, that Dylan is still committed to Jesus is no wishful thinking on my part but may have some solid grounds in the facts. To deny this may equally be qualified as wishful thinking. There is something to choose, or it may be like Dylan once said: It's either one or the other or neither of the two”.  Please press ‘reacties’ below if you are willing to respond to this article.

 

Bob Dylan's "When the deal goes down"- lyric analysis - Part 3 - final part

Bob Dylan’s “When the deal goes down” – lyric analysis – Part 3 – Final part- by Kees de Graaf

In this 3rd and final part we take a closer look at the verses 3 and 4 of this song and we draw a conclusion.

C. Verse 3
The moon gives light and shines by night
I scarcely feel the glow
We learn to live and then we forgive
O'er the road we're bound to go
More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down.

“The moon gives light and shines by night, I scarcely feel the glow”.
This line is inspired by Henry Timrod’s poem “Two portraits” where it says: “Still stealing on with pace so slow, yourself will scarcely feel the glow”. The moon, unlike the sun, is not a source of light so it does not produce any light but it only reflects the sunlight to the earth. Also unlike the sun, the moon does not radiate any warmth to the earth so you cannot feel any glow. The whole expression is therefore poetic. It is used to express a feeling. The sun and the moon represent an important place in Biblical apocalyptic literature.  At the day of the Lord, Judgment day, “the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood” (Acts 2:20). The Apocalypse, what will happen on the so called Latter Day, is also a main feature in Dylan’s works, e.g.: “Darkness at the break of noon shadows even the silver spoon, the handmade blade, the child’s balloon, eclipses both the sun and moon” and “the moon is almost hidden, the stars are beginning to hide”.  
Here however, the word ‘moon’ is not used in connection with the Apocalypse, it does not foreshadow any immanent doom.  On the contrary, the word ‘moon’’ is used here in a positive way. The moon shines by night and it gives light by night. This moon is not supposed to harm you, but to protect and to guide you, like it says in Psalm 121:5, 6: “The LORD is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night”. The warmth of the sun and the glow of the moon are a demonstration of the favour of God towards mankind but the poet hardly feels this favour right now, he feels depressed, lonely, cold, deserted by God and man, and that is why he says: “I scarcely feel the glow of the presence of God and man”.

We learn to live and then we forgive, O'er the road we're bound to go”. We do not know by nature how we should live. Through a process of trial and error a man grows up from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to maturity. We try to learn from whatever crosses our pathways of life. But that is not enough to learn to live. Life is an art. Life is a continuous growing process which takes a lot of pain and agony. No matter how marked a man’s life may be because of all the hardships he has experienced in his life time, when left on his own, man is unable to learn to live. The poet needs help from above to learn to live. (cf.” Who says I can’t get heavenly aid” – Ain’t Talking). We already found out that true wisdom only comes through strife. The same may be said of ‘learning to live’. When a man is left on his own, the process of learning to live is bound to fail because a man does not look in the mirror in the proper way. His judgment about himself is biased. He is incapable to see what he looks like and who he really is. He does not see that by nature a man is full of revenge, unwilling to forgive and full of envy. Like it says in Proverbs 14:30: “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones”. The first phase of learning how to live consists of an ever growing awareness of how much a man has been forgiven. Like it says in the LORD’s prayer: “forgive us or debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”(Matthew 6:12). Once a man has realized how much he has been forgiven, he starts to live, he learns to live. The more he learns to live, the more he is capable to forgive others. ‘’True love tends to forget” Dylan once wrote, we may also say: ‘true love tends to forgive’. It is the reason why the poet states that first we must learn to live and then, only then, we can start to forgive. True life, true love starts where a man begins to forgive. The ability to forgive is something we can only acquire from heaven; it is a gift from heaven.
 
It all happens O'er the road we're bound to go”. It all has to do with the ‘destiny thing’, we talked about earlier. As said Dylan strongly believes in destiny: “Every step of the way, we walk the line, your days are numbered, so are mine”. It is true; there is an element of tragic and intransparency in the word destiny and the way in which Dylan uses this word in his works. (“There ain’t no going back when your foot of pride comes down”- in ‘Foot of pride’- or “some on their way up and some on their way down” – in ‘Can’t wait’) Elsewhere Dylan calls it the ‘foggy web of destiny’. At the same time Dylan has made it clear through all of his works that destiny and ‘’the road we’re bound to go’ does not take away a man’s responsibility for the deeds he does and the choices he makes. Dylan has always made a clear distinction between good and bad, right and wrong based on Biblical principles of love and social justice. Here he wants to emphasize that it is essential that one first has to learn how to live and only then one may start to forgive and that these are necessary processes on the road we are bound to go. It is a process guided from heaven. It may be a painful road but it is nevertheless a road which will ultimately lead to glory: “There ain’t but one train on this track” and, “all rails leading to the west”; it is a slow train coming but this train is bound for glory.

More frailer than the flowers these precious hours, that keep us so tightly bound”. This line is inspired by Timrod’s poem "A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night" who has “A round of precious hours Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked and strove, with logic frailer than the flowers” Earlier we came already to the conclusion that the “You” of “I’ll be with “You” when the deal goes down”, is supposed to be Jesus or God. Accordingly, the “us” in “that keep “us” so tightly bound very likely must be the poet and Jesus or God. Dylan says in ‘’Precious memories”:”In the stillness of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold”. On the one hand Dylan seems to have had – and there is enough reason to believe that he still has - a very close and tight relationship with Jesus; these are those precious hours when he is closely connected with God. On the other hand this relationship is at the same time also fragile and frail, even frailer than the flowers. This may be caused by the fact that once a widely acclaimed public figure like Dylan has made a controversial choice, a lot of counter forces may come into action to pull him into the opposite direction, just like Dylan elsewhere says: “A lot of things get in the way when you’re trying to do what’s right’. As far as his faith is concerned such controversy and public pressure may easily lead him into a crisis with God or Jesus. We have good reasons to believe that he is hanging on to his faith, no matter how frail his relationship with God may be at times. This pressure is put into words when Dylan says: “I look away but I keep seeing it, I don’t want to believe, but I keep believing it”. God from his side keeps on knocking at his heart’s door when he goes on to say:  You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies. This line is again inspired by Timrod who has in his poem: "A Vision of Poesy - Part 01": “A strange far look would come into his eyes, as if he saw a vision in the skies". A vision may generally be described as a religious or mystical experience of a super natural appearance. The poet needs reassurance that he is still on the right track, he needs strengthening of his wavering faith and somehow he gets a heavenly signal, a vision, that gives him power to go on and not give up on the deal he once made with God.

D. Verse 4
I picked up a rose and it poked through my clothes
I followed the winding stream
I heard a deafening noise, I felt transient joys
I know they're not what they seem
In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain
You'll never see me frown
I owe my heart to you, and that's sayin' it true
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

I picked up a rose and it poked through my clothes, I followed the winding stream”. Roses are ancient symbols of love and beauty. As an expression of how much he misses love and being loved Dylan wrote “Everybody got all the flowers, I don't have one single rose” in the song “I feel a change coming on”, but here he finds at least one rose to pick up and poke through his clothes as he follows the winding stream. The stream is ever winding, so you don’t know what is ahead of you and you can’t see what is behind the bend. Amidst the uncertainty of a dark and grim future, it is difficult to follow the track; he therefore needs help and reassurance from above. As he follows the winding stream the rose is here a symbol and token of God’s continuous love, support and guidance for the poet. This heavenly guidance enables him to endure all the hardships and temptations which he encounters as he follows the winding stream, on his way to the place where he will be with God and the place where at last the deal will go down. In Biblical imagery a stream or a river is an expression of the abundance of life God gives. Dylan once wrote in “Father of Night” that it is the heavenly Father who “turneth the rivers and streams” and elsewhere “God knows there is a river and he knows how to make it flow”. If you follow the stream or the river you are bound to reach the sources of life. There you will find that stream, that river, “bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb”(Revelation 22:1). That is the place where the deal will go down.

I heard a deafening noise, I felt transient joys, I know they're not what they seem” The album ‘Modern Times’ is full of Biblical imagery, including some violent imagery taken from the Old Testament. Dylan has been preoccupied with the Apocalypse for almost his entire career. As far as his thinking on the Apocalypse is concerned it would seem that the book of Revelation has had the most impact on Dylan’s works. This book has been a major source for his apocalyptic tainted material.  This line reminds us of Revelation 19: 6 and 7 where it says: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder peals, crying, “Hallelujah!” For the Lord, our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come”.  All the elements of this line are reflected in those two verses of the book of Revelation. ‘Deafening noise’ is the sound of many waters and the sound of mighty thunder peals. The “transient joys” which the poet feels is the joy of the outcry: “Hallelujah” and “let us rejoice”. At the same time this joy is ‘transient’. ’Transient’ means that the vision from the sky and the subsequent outburst of joy and euphoria only remains for a brief moment, in the same way when Dylan wrote in ‘This dream of you’: “In a curtain gloom, I saw a star from heaven fall, I turned and looked again, but it was gone”. A vision from the sky doesn’t go on for a long time. It is transient, it is here, than there and the next moment it is gone again. The vision is enough however, to strengthen the poet so that he can go on.
I know they’re not what they seem” refers again to that same Revelation 19:6: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a multitude”, etc. What John he Revelator saw in his vision was of such incredible awe, magnitude and beauty that it was hard to put this into intelligible words and images. “I know they’re not what they seem” means that the reality of what is being described in this metaphor is always incredibly more beautiful and splendid than one can ever imagine.  It is like it says in 1 Corinthians 2: 9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of a man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

“In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain, you'll never see me frown” 1 Corinthians 10:26 says that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”. It is His domain and Jesus is in command of the earth. (See Matthew 28:18)Earlier we already argued that this is may be a good reason why Dylan calls Jesus ‘’the Commander in Chief”. In spite of the fact that it is Jesus’s domain, the domain is full of disappointment and pain. Paul writes in Romans 7:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now”. The creation suffers the pangs of childbirth. This causes a lot of pain and anguish. But it will not stay that way. It is just like a woman who no longer remembers the anguish of labor when a child is born (John 16:21), or just like Dylan said in “In the Summertime” almost literally quoting Romans 8: 18: “But all that suffering was not to be compared with the glory that is to be”.  It is the reason why Dylan now concludes: “You never see me frown”. He does not have any second thoughts, no matter how painful his existence here on earth is. He submits to the will of God, he is hanging on,  knowing deep down inside, and in spite of all the sufferings,  that in the end things will turn out as planned and everything’s gonna be alright, although there were times when he did not know what ‘’all right” even meant.

“I owe my heart to you, and that's sayin' it true, and I'll be with you when the deal goes down”. The deal he made with God is not a business deal, a deal in which the personal attitude of the parties towards each other is not relevant. In this deal, in this covenant, it is essential that the parties give each other their heart. In this deal, this covenant, God is the first and the last. He takes the initiative. God graciously calls man from the darkness and invites him to enter his Kingdom of light. The only thing a man must do is to surrender his heart to God. That is why the poet says: “I owe my heart to you”. It is the same as if  he would say: “I owe God my love and dedication and in essence that is the only thing I have to do to make it work and to make it possible that the deal will go down. That is the only truth in the world that counts; the rest is only of secondary interest.

3. Conclusion.
Chris Gregory in his commentary on this song writes: “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”. I disagree with Chris Gregory. Where did Dylan say that he made a deal with ‘the spirit of creativity’? And what is ‘the spirit of creativity’ exactly? Can you make a deal with such a vague notion as ‘the spirit of creativity’? In the first part of my analysis I referred to the 2004 60 minutes CBS interview, in which Dylan made it convincingly clear that he made a bargain, a deal with the Commander in Chief on this earth and in a world we can’t see. There are very solid reasons to assume that this Commander in Chief is Jesus or God. The whole interpretation of the song stands or falls with the interpretation of the “You” in “I’ll be with you when the deal goes down”. It is true, Dylan makes art which can stand on itself and may be interpreted in various ways. This makes his work accessible to believers and non-believers; it also makes his work subject to a large variety of debate. Personally, I am convinced that there is consistency in his work and that the frame work of his thinking, also in ‘Modern Times’, is drawn from the moral principles of the Bible. Gregory and others feel that a Christian interpretation of the songs in the album ‘Modern Times’ is only ‘wishful’ thinking. With this analysis I hope to have shown that a Christian interpretation is as valid as any other interpretation. Finally I would like to say the following: ‘Let the echo decide who is right or wrong’.
As always please feel free to respond to this article. Please push ‘reacties’ below.   

 

  



Bob Dylan's 'When the deal goes down' -lyric analysis - Part 2

Bob Dylan’s: ‘When the deal goes down’ – lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 2

2. Analysis of the  verses


A. Verse 1
In the still of the night, in the world's ancient light
Where wisdom grows up in strife
My bewildering brain, toils in vain
Through the darkness on the pathways of life
Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air
Tomorrow keeps turning around
We live and we die, we know not why
But I'll be with you when the deal goes down

We do not know if Dylan had the expression ‘’Ancient Lights” somewhere in the back of his mind when he wrote this first line. He could just be using a play upon the words here. Anyway, "Ancient Lights" is a colloquialism for the "right to light," guaranteed under English law, whereby windows that have seen twenty years' worth of "uninterrupted" daylight cannot be blocked by the construction of new buildings.
In the still of the night, in the world's ancient light” takes our minds back to the early days after the creation of the world, to the time and place where wisdom was first born. ”Wisdom” is personified here. Wisdom has been defined to be “the quality of being wise; knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it, is the use of the best means for attaining the best ends''. Wisdom therefore implies the selection of right ends as well as of right means.'' Hence, wisdom implies the union of high mental and moral excellence. ”Knowledge”, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive term; it signifies the simple apprehension of facts or relations. Wisdom, however, is so much more than knowledge, for wisdom it takes tossing and turning and often strife to come to the right decisions. Wisdom is such a precious gift that it can only grow up and thrive in the stillness of the night, in the world’s ancient light, when it all began.  In the stillness of the night, when God alone was there in the flickering ancient light, he created the earth by wisdom, like we read in Proverbs 3:24 “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens”.
“Where wisdom grows up in strife”
. When Dylan wrote this song he must have been inspired by the poetry of Henry Timrod (1826-1867). In this song we find a few lines which are very reminiscent of this poet. In his poem “Retirement” the poet Timrod writes: “There is a wisdom that grows up in strife and one - I like best – that sits at home and learns its lessons of a thoughtful ease”.
“Wisdom grows up in strife” means that, although there is a wisdom that is acquired easily like in Timrod’s poem, most of the time true wisdom is never acquired in an easy way. It takes a lot of pain, struggle and strife to find true wisdom. In the world’s ancient light, when God created the earth through wisdom, wisdom was incontestable and irrefutable but when man was corrupted, true wisdom can usually only be acquired through strife.
“My bewildering brain, toils in vain, through the darkness on the pathways of life” Although the poet will eventually find consolation when the deal will go down, he is still on his way. Darkness, misery and pain is all around him and no matter how hard he tortures his mind, he is unable to understand or to come to terms with all this misery and hardships he encounters in this world. He has no alternative but to walk that lonesome valley, the dark pathways of life which are so puzzling and uncertain.
 
“Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air”. It was Paul Simon who once wrote: “Prayers are the constant memory of God”. There is a constant flow of prayers to the throne of God, like a continuous flow of clouds through the air. Prayers are not visible but yet very powerful. They resemble clouds of incense. Clouds of incense are mingled with the prayers of all the saints and the smoke of the incense rises with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. (Revelations 8:3-4). Invisible prayers from the saints spark off a lot of heavenly action: peals of thunder and flashes of lightning coming down from the clouds and even earthquakes (Revelation 8:5).
“Tomorrow keeps turning around”. This line is also inspired by Henry Timrod’s poem “A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night”: “I am so happy! That is all my thought. Tomorrow I will turn it round and round”. Things will take a turn for the better tomorrow. The effect of prayers is often invisible to the naked eye but yet behind the scenes these prayers are answered and they turn things around.
“Tomorrow keeps turning around” may also mean the same things keep on coming back over and over again. For everything there is a turn, for everything there is a time in a seemingly never ending cycles. That is what Dylan had in mind when he read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 from the Bible in his Theme Time Radio Hour Broadcast .
Everything and everybody seems to be trapped in fires of time when we read: We live and we die, we know not why”. Also here the lyrics seem to lean heavily on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 8:17:”Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the son. However a man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out”. Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over beasts; for all is vanity”. Ecclesiastes 1:13: “And I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with”. When a man is left to himself he cannot find any purpose in all that happens under the sun. Left to himself a man is unable to look beyond the horizon to understand why he was born and why he will die. For the bewildered poet there is only one consolation left now: ‘all I have and all I know is this dream of You which keeps me living on’. The confidence that at the end of the trail, when the deal goes down, he will be with God, keeps him going on

B. Verse 2
We eat and we drink, we feel and we think
Far down the street we stray
I laugh and I cry and I'm haunted by
Things I never meant nor wished to say
The midnight rain follows the train
We all wear the same thorny crown
Soul to soul, our shadows roll
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

The words We eat and we drink” are reminiscent of what Dylan once wrote in ‘Standing in the Doorway’: ‘’I’ll eat when I’m hungry and I drink when I’m dry, and live my life on the square”.” We eat and we drink, we feel and we think” seems to demonstrate that every human being, no matter what higher calling he or she may or may not have, is tied up to the earth. Our earthly existence, demands that our material and physical needs are met. Nobody can live without eating or drinking. In this respect we are like any other living organism, including animals. Although animals can feel, they cannot think logically, in the same way as human beings do. Man was created as a rational being. This enables man to feel and to think and to make his own decisions, whether right or wrong. It also makes him responsible for his deeds and for the choices he makes. At the same time there is some tragic and painful in these words. Although man was created with this beautiful and pure gift of reason, he chose to use this gift against his Creator and Maker. Man fell into sin and dragged down all mankind in his fall. This is the biggest catastrophe that ever happened to mankind. Everything is broken. This may be the reason why the poet cries out: Far down the street we stray”. Man is lost in dead and empty streets. Man is walking in the middle of nowhere in streets which are filled with people, who have lost all ray of hope. The call of the poet: ‘Look up, look up, seek your Maker before Gabriel blows his horn’ (Sugar Baby, see I Thessalonians 4:16) seems to sound hollow and empty in this desolate and forlorn world. The poet goes on to say:

I laugh and I cry and I'm haunted by things I never meant nor wished to say”. Whereas ‘feeling’ and ‘thinking’ may be predominantly inward human emotions, ‘laughing’ and ‘crying’ are more outward, extravert, emotions. As the poet grows older and wiser and comes closer and closer to the moment when the deal goes down, he is more and more marked by all the things he experiences in life. These may be joyful and humorous things: “I laugh”, even some sort of resignation or complacency, when you start to realize that there is no sense in trying to change the world all on your own and that it is no use bothering too much about it: “I used to care, but things have changed” shows this kind of resignation. But in life there is not only a time to laugh but also a time to cry. Like in the Broadcast  we mentioned above, when Dylan read Ecclesiastes 3:4: “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”. Dylan’s songs are full of the pain and distress, the alienation and estrangement of his existence on earth; rolling and tumbling and crying all night long. Often he feels lost in the crowd, feeling wretched to such an extent that all his tears are gone.

As the poet comes closer to the moment when the deal will go down, he also becomes more and more aware of his own fragility, weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings. The urge and necessity to repent knocks on the door of his soul and shatters the broken mirror of innocence when he says: I'm haunted by things I never meant nor wished to say”. ”Things which you neither meant nor wished to say” is taken from and inspired by Sonnet 13 of the poet Henry Timrod (1828-1867). In the context of this song these words sound like a penance. In the Bible this is called the process of inward renewal (Romans 12:2) which produces repentance, like it says in 2 Corinthians 7:10: ‘for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation”. At the same time there is something tragic in this. You cannot unring the bell. “You can’t turn back, sometimes you push too far” (Sugar baby). It is like Dylan says in Mississippi: “So many things that we never will undo, I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too”. If a man cannot make amends for the things he has done wrong, if he missed the mark and overstepped the line,  the only thing he can take refuge to is the saving grace of God.
“The midnight rain follows the train”. In Dylan’s “Chronicles” we read that from his earliest childhood Bob Dylan had been familiar with trains and the spectacle and the sound of trains had always given him a feeling of comfort and security. Dylan writes that in the place where he was born, you couldn’t go anywhere without having, at least for a part of the day, to wait at grades and crossings for long trains to pass by. The sound of trains in the distance made him feel more or less at home, as if wanted for nothing, as if he were on some sort of neutral terrain, freed from any danger and as if everything had settled down in the right place. However, if the midnight rain follows the train, the train too must be a midnight train.  A midnight train however, has a negative connotation. The word has a connotation of loneliness and desolation. In a midnight train there are usually only few passengers, if any, on the train. The almost empty trains and deserted platforms at midnight may easily give you some kind of a spooky, unsafe feeling, like Dylan once said in “Standing in the Doorway”: “I’ve been riding the midnight train, got cold ice water in my vein”. With a few exceptions – e.g. “I fold my hands and pray for rain” in Maggies’s farm’-rain usually has a negative meaning in Dylan’s works and expresses pain and distress, e.g. ‘’Buckets of rain, buckets of tears”, I’m back in the rain and you are on dry land”.
We all wear the same thorny crown”. ”Thorny crown” is a reference to a.o. Matthew 29:19 where it says :”And when they had platted a crown of thorns they put it on his (Jesus’s) head and a reed in his right hand and they bowed the knee before him and mocked Him saying Hail King of the Jews”. The Crown of Thorns was woven of thorn branches and forcefully placed on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion, to humiliate and to mock Him. According to the Bible Jesus now reigns as King over this world, (see e.g. I Corinthians 15:24,25).Seen from this point of view, Jesus was quite correctly referred to as “The Commander in Chief” by Dylan in his 2004 CBS interview.(Referring to Matthew 28:18). The Bible also says that accession to the throne of Jesus went through suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection (see e.g. Philippians 2:5-10). The thorny crown forms a part of the road of suffering, the Via Dolorosa, which would in the end bring Jesus from suffering to glory. In this sense the expression is related to “wisdom grows up in strife”. The road to true wisdom is paved with pain and struggle and strife.
The poet says:” “We all wear the same thorny crown”. Again, from a Biblical point of view this is a correct statement of the poet. Not only Jesus, but also his followers will, in a figurative sense, wear that same thorny crown. Romans 7:17 confirms this when it says that if we suffer with Him (that is Jesus) we will also be glorified with Him. 2 Corinthians 1:5 says For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ”. The Bible makes it clear that all the followers of Jesus will suffer and wear the same thorny crown as long as they live on this earth. The Bible also says that it will not stay that way .One day the thorns on the crown will not be longer there and from that day on they shall reign with Jesus (Revelation 22:5). ‘Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my King’, then I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down’.

Soul to soul, our shadows roll”. I read somewhere that ‘the eyes of our souls only then begin to see, when our bodily eyes are closing’. The poet now takes us (like he also said in the 2004 CBS interview) to ‘a world we can’t see’, but which nevertheless does exist. When a man dies his soul is separated from his body. The Bible says that whereas the body of a man returns to dust, his soul is lifted up into heaven. In Revelation 6:9, 10 we read that souls rest under the altar, waiting anxiously for the Day of Judgment, the restoration of all things. Modern Times, more than any previous album, is heavily immersed in Biblical imagery taken from the Old Testament. Death is in the Old Testament referred to as a shadow. A ‘shadow’ in this sense means that it is not clear yet what exactly will happen after a man dies. In the Old Testament this is not as clearly expressed as in the New Testament. That is why the word ‘shadow’ is used in the Old Testament in connection with ‘death’. See e.g. Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil”.
Having said this, the best interpretation we can come with for “soul to soul, our shadows roll” is that the soul of the poet, together with the souls of fellow believers, drives, impels and rolls forward like a shadow, waiting anxiously, both in this life and in a world we can’t see, for the great day when the deal will finally go down.
Next time we will deal with verse 3 and 4. Your comments will be appreciated, please press the link ‘reacties’ below.



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.

 

Dylan's"Highlands" - lyric analysis- Part 4 - final part

Bob Dylan’s “Highlands” – lyric analysis – Part 4 (final part) by Kees de Graaf

5. The verses dealing with his pilgrimage to the Highlands – after the Boston Restaurant intermezzo.

‘Every day is the same thing out the door
Feel further away than ever before
Some things in life, it gets too late to learn
Well, I’m lost somewhere, I must have made a few bad turns
‘.

‘Every day is the same thing out the door’. Having left the Boston restaurant all of a sudden and thrown back into the busy streets, he is once again confronted with the seemingly purposelessness and monotony of every day’s life. In a live version of the song he adds: ‘Try to repair what went wrong the day before’.  He is again disappointed as he expresses in ’Can’t wait’: ‘Skies are grey, I’m looking for anything that will bring a happy glow. Night or day it doesn’t matter anymore where I go’.  Nobody in the busy streets seems to be going anywhere.  Everything is again exactly the way that it seems. Those busy streets look like a giant ant-hill. A lot of criss-cross random activity, but what‘s the use of it all? Every day is like the day before. Feel further away than ever before’. It makes the poet feel more lost than ever before. The suffering feels as if it is unending. On his way to the Highlands every nook and cranny has its tears.

‘Some things in life, it gets too late to learn’. The high-tech cyber society demands you to catch up with any new development or hype but he knows that for some of these things you are just getting too old to learn. This is like he expresses in the song ‘Unbelievable’: ‘It is unbelievable like a lead balloon, it is impossible to even learn the tune.  Every nerve is analyzed, everything is criticized’. Apart from this, it is hard to tackle some of the bad traits of character which have been grinded in his soul ever since early childhood. He concludes: Well, I’m lost somewhere; I must have made a few bad turns ‘. Deep down inside he knows that one of the preconditions to enter the Highlands is to admit that you are lost. To admit that you are in need for help to get there. You have made some bad turns and you are stuck. He feels lost in the rain, as once in Juarez, when it was Eastertime too.

‘I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They’re drinking and dancing wearing bright-colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I’d trade places with any of them, in a minute if I could’.

In this and the following verse he really feels like that stranger who was walking in the park in the song ‘Mississippi’. This stranger was walking through the leaves, falling from the trees and was feeling like a stranger nobody sees. All the laughter of those drinking and dancing people is just making him sad. He envies those people wearing bright-colored clothes, and all the young men and women looking so good. He just can’t live a life like that. For him, no bright colored clothes but only the cloak of misery is left and suffering, the frozen smile on his face that fits him like a glove. He knows he can’t trade places with those people. He is a stranger in a strange land, but he knows that is where he belongs. His utter misery is getting worse in the next verse:

‘I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full-length-leather coat
Somebody just asked me if I’m registered to vote’.


‘I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog’ The mangy dog reminds us of poor Lazarus in Luke 16:21 who, full of sores, desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table, and the dogs came and licked his sores. This is what happens if dogs run free. In ‘Meet me in the morning’’ the poet was able to outrun the hound dogs but here a mangy dog has the edge over him and compels him to cross the street to get away from this dog. A mangy dog, like flies to a rotten corpus, is attracted to a dirty ragged tramp that lives on the street. Talking to myself in a monologue’ is what happens to a lonely homeless tramp, so alone, with no direction home, the only one left to talk to is himself. I think what I need might be a full-length-leather coat’ .The only thing a gambler needs is a suitcase and a trunk but this lonely homeless hobo needs a full-length leather coat to protect him from the cold and the rain.

Somebody just asked me if I’m registered to vote’. Some states in the USA prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from voting. Some states prohibit voting when on parole and/or probation but allow voting after. Some states have a lifetime ban from voting for ex-convicts.  One may register wherever one has an address.  In most states, one must register, usually 30 days before a given election, in order to vote in it. The reason why the poet is asked if he is registered to vote is because he is out there on the street and looks like a homeless tramp without any address. 

6. The turning point in the song.

“The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that it used to be
The party is over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes, everything looks far away”

The sun is beginning to shine on me’. Quite rightly this verse may be interpreted as the turning point of the song. For the pilgrim, at least up till now, there has been nothing but trouble and deep agony on his way to the Highlands, but suddenly the sun starts to shine on him. All of a sudden the future looks bright for him. ’But it’s not like the sun that it used to be’’ Those who interpret ‘the sun’ here not as the ordinary sun, the ecclesiastical body that shines on him, but as ‘The Son’, Jesus, may have good papers. Likewise, there are also good reasons to believe that the phrase in ‘Not Dark Yet’: ’I still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal’ may be read as: ‘I still got the scars that the Son (that is Jesus) didn’t heal’. Son instead of Sun. The sun cannot heal scars; on the contrary, prolonged exposure to sunlight makes scars worse instead of healing them. The poet wants to make it very clear that it’s not like the sun ‘that it used to be’. This ‘sun’, this light is different. This light is God, Jesus. God is a shining light like it says in Revelation 22:23: ‘And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb’.  The ‘lamb’ stands for Jesus.

The poet is now on the brink of entering the Highlands, of entering Heaven. That is why he says: The party is over and there’s less and less to say’. He has nearly reached the end of the trail. Whatever he had to say has been said. Like he says in ‘’Standing in the Doorway’: ‘I see nothing to be gained by any explanation, there’s no words that need to be said’ or like in ‘Thunder on the mountains’: ‘I’ve already confessed, no need to confess again’. From now on it is: ’Ain’t talking, just walking’. The book of Ecclesiastes says in Chapter 3:7: ‘There’s a time to keep silence, and a time to speak’. The game, the party, is now over. The camera zooms out; he is lifted up in heaven, as he ascends from the world, the earth moves ever further away from him, till he is clear out of sight.

‘I got got new eyes’. Earthly eyes, they just tell you lies (as he said in ‘License to kill’) but these new eyes enable you to see what everybody in the world is up against (as in ‘Sugar Baby’’); enable you to lay down your weary tune and to trust your fate in the hands of God (as in ‘Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum’’) . ‘Everything looks far away’ means that the poet has freed himself from the chains of his wretched earthly existence; he now looks from above, from an ever growing distance down to the earth and is less and less concerned and troubled with earthly matters and is more and more wrapped in heavenly peace and serenity.

7. The learning process of the poet as he progresses towards the Highlands.
There are five verses (verse 1, 4,7,15 and the final verse) in the song which dwell on the Highlands and they all start with: ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’. It is clear that his heart, his sympathy is not in this world and the poet has listened to what Colossians 3:2 says: ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’. Now as the song progresses the poet experiences a sort of learning process; he is getting more and more ready for life in the Highlands (Heaven).

In verse 1 it says: ‘I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go’. Mentally he is not ready to go yet at this point. He first needs to go through a process of inward renewal and purification a process which takes time. This is a process may even take a lifetime.

In verse 4 he feels sure that the Highlands (Heaven) is the only place where he belongs: ‘wherever I roam, that’s where I’ll be when I get called home’.  Rambling and gambling for the one he loves, he yet finds no comfort in a world where beauty goes unrecognized. In fact he knows for sure that spiritually he lives another world, where life and death are memorized and where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls. You don’t determine yourself when you will go there. Born at the right time, God will call you home at the right time. The poet goes on to say that you can only get there one step at a time’.  This is again the learning process you have to walk through on this earth. To grow from childhood to maturity takes a lot of pain. Even Jesus suffered in the process as Hebrews 5: 8 says: ‘Although he was the Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered’. We all wear the same thorny crown but deep down inside the poet knows that he needs all those hardships and sufferings, as necessary steps on his way to the Promised Land, the Highlands of Heaven. Step by step he is getting closer and closer.

In verse 7 he has made a lot of progress on his way to the Highlands. The night has passed and he finds himself now at the break of dawn. He sees the light of the dawning day on the horizon. And he realizes: ‘Behind the horizon, behind the sun, at the end of the rainbow, life has only just begun’. He is not there yet but the poet concludes that there are no other options left now; the Highlands is the only place left to go’. In verse 15 he confirms this once again: ‘Can’t see any other way to go’.

In the final verse he has gone past the break of dawn, it is now the break of day. He feels a change coming on and the first part of the day is already gone. ’Over the hills and far away’. He has passed the hills and has mentally reached his destination: The Highlands. He is at almost the same stage as he is in the last verse of ‘Ain’t Talking’: ‘Up the road, around the bend. Heart burning, still yearning, in the last outback at the world’s end’. Peace and quiet is starting to fall down on him. For all those who have eyes and for all those who have ears he has the following message: there a way to get there’. He does not explicitly say what that way to heaven is, but he is nevertheless absolutely sure that such a way exists.

I’ll figure it out somehow’ means ‘I have already figured it out and if you want to, you can figure it out too’. The secret is in what Jesus says in Matthew 5:3,4,5: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Highlands), Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. Those who suffer now will be blessed.

I’m already there in my mind, and that’s good enough for now’ wraps it all up. Still living on earth physically, spiritually he is already in heaven. His heart is already in the Highlands. Like it says in ‘When the deal goes down’: ‘I owe my heart to you (to God) and that’s saying it true, and I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down’’. That is the place where my heart is. Don’t throw this picture back at me and say: It don’t look a thing like me’’. Accept this please. ‘Ain’t talking, just walking’. That is all I have to say. ‘That is good enough for now’. Goodbye and fare thee well!
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Bob Dylan's ''Highlands" - lyric analysis- Part 3

4. The Boston Restaurant intermezzo.

‘I’m in Boston town in some restaurant’. Although there seems to be a restaurant in Boston called ‘Max and Dylan’s restaurant, this restaurant – at least as far as I know -has nothing to do with Bob Dylan or this song. It looks like we are drawn into a sudden detour, some side-path, off the main road leading to the Highlands. At first glance there seems to be no connection with the main theme of the song at all. But when you take a close look at it, this scene fits in well within the song. In fact, the whole scene is typically Dylanesque. The poet has some vague idea that – on his way to the Highlands - he has a mission to fulfill, going to this Boston restaurant: ‘I got no idea what I want, well maybe I do but I’m just really not sure’. It is as if some heavenly force has sent him to this restaurant but he has no clear idea yet why he is being drawn into it. On the other hand, he has some misgiving that he will be drawn into something which he just isn’t going to like at all. Especially when we read: ‘She studies me closely as I sat down’. He doesn’t like to be looked at and scrutinized. It resembles a little what he says in ‘Not Dark Yet’: ‘I don’t even remember what it was; I came here to get away from’. His saying to the waitress: ‘Tell me what I want’ (or ‘tell me what’s good today’ – in a live version) not only shows that he is unable to put his purpose of going to this restaurant into words. Maybe he silently hopes that the waitress will not ask him any nasty, inquisitive questions and that she will leave him alone. But as the conversation with the waitress progresses, it becomes apparent for him that there is no escaping and the story is getting more and more relief and purpose, ostensibly against the will of the poet.

‘Nobody in the place but me and her’ and ‘It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around’ sounds strange. During a holiday one would expect a crowded restaurant but this is obviously not the case.  The section on the hard boiled eggs makes us believe that the Easter holidays are meant here. On his saying ‘Tell me what I want’ the waitress replies: ‘You probably want hard boiled eggs’. In some live versions he seems to sing ‘soft boiled eggs’ but here – on the official recording - it is clearly ‘hard boiled eggs’. Why does the waitress think he wants hard boiled eggs? Probably the waitress has some vague notion in her mind that the visitor in front of her is either a Jew or a Christian. Hard boiled eggs have a connection with both Easter and Passover. Both Easter and Passover revolve around the idea of rebirth. At Easter Christians celebrate that Jesus resurrected from the dead and the Jews celebrate at Passover that they were once freed from slavery in Egypt and reborn into freedom. Both holidays draw in the idea of birth or rebirth with Easter eggs and the hard boiled eggs served on Passover. Eggs are seen as the seed of life and are symbolic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While the poet acknowledges the suggestion made by the waitress and says: ‘that’s right, bring me some’ she unexpectedly replies by saying:  ‘We ain’t got any, you picked the wrong time to come’. How is this possible? It is Easter time and yet there are no (hard) boiled eggs on the menu. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. The reason may be that in this town there is nobody left who believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is a thing of the past in this town. It is also the reason why there is nobody around. Nobody celebrates Easter any more. It reminds you of what Dylan would later say in the song ‘Ain’t Talking’:’ I practice a faith that’s long been abandoned, ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road’. The whole scene exacerbates his pain and loneliness on his way to the Highlands.

It is not getting any better when the waitress turns things around. Instead of receiving orders she gives him an order: ‘I know you’re an artist, draw a picture of me!’ The poet does not deny that he is an artist but he is very reluctant to consent to the demand of the waitress. He comes up with a number of apparently lousy -and at the same time humorous -excuses not to make a drawing of the waitress: ‘I would if I could, but I don’t do sketches from memory, I don’t have my drawing book, I don’t know where my pencil is at’. Why does the waitress insist on having Dylan drawn a picture of her? Out of vanity? Could be. She has something to show. She has a ’pretty face and long white shiny legs’. She knows she is pretty and does she want some confirmation from him? I think that there is more to it. She seems to live in – what Dylan elsewhere calls - a world of steel-eyed death. A world where hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel. A world of the end times where wickedness is multiplied and were most men’s love has grown cold (Matthew 24:12). The waitress has some faint hope that this weird, spiritual stranger has something to offer, that he is able to give her some comfort, some self-confirmation, something that is missing in this desolate world, something that has been has long been abandoned but is yet of great value. She wants him to draw a picture of her and the world she lives in that might give her some sort of consolation. At the same time, it must be a picture she likes. She wants reassurance from him but certainly no appeal for repentance or even self-criticism. But the poet is not willing to consent. He knows that she is not going to like the picture he has in mind. Therefore, like Jonah once, he wants to get away from it all, he feels very uncomfortable about the whole thing but in spite of all his efforts he just can’t escape from her.

When at last, he very reluctantly draws a few lines on a napkin and shows it for her to see, she is very disappointed. She takes the napkin and throws it back and says: ‘That don’t look a thing like me’. It is not so much that in the picture Dylan has drawn she does not recognize herself and the world she lives in but she actually says: ‘I do not accept the way you look upon me and the world I live in.  Your world view as an artist and as shown on this picture is completely unacceptable to me. Accepting and recognizing him as an artist is one thing, but accepting his deepest motives and beliefs is another thing. She wants him to be like her and the world she lives in. Like Dylan says in Maggie’s farm: ‘I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them’. There can be no doubt in my mind that Dylan’s moral principles heavily draw upon on Biblical principles and as a result of this, the Bible has had a huge impact on his works to this very day. Large numbers of fans – like this waitress - recognize him as a great artist – one of the most powerful and creative artists of our times –but at the same time reject and throw back the Biblical picture he draws of them and the world and say: ‘That don’t look a thing like me’. 

Having drawn this picture, the poet is not willing to pull back. He has drawn this picture against his will. But once he has drawn it, he is not prepared to modify the picture and persists in his stance: ‘Oh kind Miss, it most certainly does. She says: ‘You must be joking’ I say: “I wish I was”. For the waitress there is only one resort left now. She either acknowledges and respects him, and the message he stands for, and asks no further questions and leaves him alone, or she puts him away as a backwards man, as somebody behind the times, as an unworldly stranger, having old fashioned world views which have not been emancipated.

She chooses to do the latter and does so by accusing him of not being emancipated. She says: ‘You don’t read women authors do you?’ He rejects her retort as completely irrelevant: ‘How would you know and what would it matter anyway?’ Is reading women authors really a must and does it change anything? She makes one last attempt and retorts: ‘You just don’t seem like you do’. She sees a contrast in him. It looks as if the way he is, his character, is in contrast with what he does. His act, his gestures are quite secular but it does not reflect what he is deep down inside. Deep down he is not secular at all but deeply dedicated to the moral principles he believes in. Again he denies: ‘you’re way wrong’. It is as if she now says: ‘prove to me that I am wrong’. She is not willing to give in: ‘which ones have you read then?’ Dylan is now more or less forced to prove to her that her argument is wrong and irrelevant and says: ‘I read Erica Jong’. Jong as a novelist is the icon of the sexual emancipation of women .It is now clear that Dylan has read Erica Jong. In fact, from his song writing it is quite apparent that Dylan has a broad based knowledge of all sorts of modern literature.

The Boston restaurant conversation appears as suddenly as it disappears: ‘She goes away for a minute and I slide out of my chair; I step outside back to the busy street but nobody’s going anywhere’. He now has a chance to escape from her without any fuss and immediately takes this chance. The conversation and the whole scene ends abruptly and unfinished. Yet, all that needs to be said has been said. It is the only time the poet enters into contact with the outside world. He has made his point. From now on it is going to be: ‘Ain’t talking, just walking’. He steps back to the busy streets, back to his lonely pilgrimage to the Highlands.  Ostensibly nothing has changed. Everything seems as irrelevant and as purposeless as it was before: ‘I step back to the busy street but nobody is going anywhere’.

Conclusion.
At the beginning of this article we argued that this Boston restaurant scene is typically Dylanesque. Why is this? One of the reasons – in my opinion – may be that Dylan has never regarded himself as the spokesman for whatever culture or movement. He never wanted to be a spokesman for the sixties counter culture or for whatever later religious or non -religious movement, organization or church. But that does not mean that Dylan doesn’t have a set of moral and religious rules by which he abides. He certainly has that set of rules. He once said that it is all in the songs. He wants to be recognized for his works – as an artist - but as a person he wants to remain at a distance, you simply cannot annex him for your own private purposes or moral principles. The waitress in the Boston restaurant tried to do this and to draw him out of his comfort zone and make him her spokesman and that of her generation: ‘Draw a picture of me’. His reluctance to do this might have given her a clue, not to attempt this. But she wouldn’t listen. Therefore the outcome for the waitress and for a lot of fans cannot be anything but disappointing. Next time we’ll continue to follow the path of the pilgrim on his way to the Highlands. Your comments on this article will be appreciated. To respond click on the link below.

 

 

Bob Dylan's ''Highlands" - lyric analysis- Part 2


Bob Dylan’s “Highlands” – Lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 2.

3. The verses dealing with his pilgrimage to the Highlands – before the Boston Restaurant intermezzo.

 ‘Windows are shaking all night in my dreams
Everything is exactly the way that it seems
 Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page
Same old rat race, life in the same old cage’.

‘Windows are shaking all night in my dreams’. It is obvious that here on earth the poet is locked in tight, locked in this earthly domain full of disappointment and pain. Life is like a bad night’s sleep when some distant shaking windows nag you and irritate you all night long and prevent you from coming to rest. Like in a bad dream one would like to scream: ‘is there anybody around who can close that rotten window’? This feeling represents something which lingers deep down inside of almost every human being. A remote feeling that something is just not right. It may be the memory of decay. You can’t do anything about it, yet it keeps on haunting you. ‘Everything is exactly the way that it seems’; he is caught in the ever turning wheels of predictability and monotony of every day’s life. When everything becomes the same, life loses its challenge and surprise. Few unexpected things happen. A man needs new challenges, something new to look forward to.
‘Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page’.  The deception is big, when he wakes up in the morning and finds himself looking at the same old page. Nothing has changed: ‘You’re trained to take what looks like the easy way out’. But you can get no relief; you are forced to participate in a rat race; ’same old rat race, life in the same old cage’. A rat race is a race which is exhausting and unremitting, where the competition is keen, where the city is just a jungle; you either eat or are eaten. The rat race triggers off a warning: ‘All the sweethearts you can hold, that don’t come back with stories untold, are hanging on a tree’. He is caught in a cage which he cannot leave. We are all boxed in, nowhere to escape.

I don’t want nothing from any one, ain’t that much to take
Wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake
Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery
I wish someone would come and push back the clock for me

‘I don’t want nothing from anyone’. It is true, the poet has been a highly gifted artist all of his life, so he doesn’t need anything from anyone; he is indeed completely self-sufficient and independent. However, it is sour and cynical to say: ‘Ain’t that much to take’. It insinuates that there is nothing you can learn from other people and implicitly puts you on a higher level than other people. On the other hand, in the song ‘Mississippi the poet confesses that he himself has not much to share with mankind.’: ‘Got nothing for you, I had nothing before; don’t even have anything for myself anymore’ The same idea of feigned modesty we find in ‘Born in time’: ‘In the hills of mystery, in the foggy web of destiny, you can have what’s left of me’.
’Wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake’’ Not knowing the difference between a real blond and a fake is a typical example of self-mockery and humor. This statement is quite contrary to his feeling in the song ‘Most of the time’: ‘I can follow the path, I can read the signs, stay with it when the road unwinds’. But here he is so far off the road that he feigns to have forgotten the difference between his right and left hand. ’Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery’. As if he participates in some sort of mysterious Nintendo game. He is locked in so tight; he is so far out of range and completely isolated that he feels like a prisoner in a world that has gone wrong and does not seem to have a meaningful purpose at all. ’I wish someone would come and push back the clock for me’, is only wishful thinking, some sort of nostalgia as if things were any better in a long forgotten past. As if you would do things better and differently if only you could start all over again.  But he knows like he said in ‘Sugar Baby’’: ‘you can’t turn back, sometimes you push too far’, you can’t unring the bell; such an attempt is as fruitless as what he wished in ‘Shelter from the storm when he said: ‘If only I could turn back the clock to when God and her were born’.

I’m listening to Neil Young; I gotta turn up the sound
Someone’s always yelling turn it down
Feel like I’m drifting from scene to scene
I’m wondering what in the devil could it all possibly mean

The Neil Young verse is a humorous excursion within the song. Excursions to all sorts of topics within songs are common practice in Dylan’s work; a lot is said in odd moments. The sad bluesy, melancholy timbre of most of Neil Young’s music boosts the sad mood of the poet himself. By turning up the sound he unconsciously attempts to hammer his own dark mood into the ears of anyone listening; to such an extent that people get irritated and frustrated and urge him to turn the music down and to stop moaning. ’Feel like I’m drifting from scene to scene’: The poet has no control over what happens in his life and all around him. He seems to float on an endless ocean ‘Time is like an ocean and it ends at the shore’. Seemingly there is no purpose in what happens in this world. Here it seems that Dylan has been inspired by the of the book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, All is vanity (Ecc. 1:2) and in 8:17: ‘then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out; even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out’. A man, drifting from scene to scene wonders in great despair: ’what in the devil could it all possibly mean’. What evil force is behind this all? Is the devil obliterating my view so that I cannot see the purpose behind it all? Is there not some kind of perfect finished plan behind all that seems so purposeless at first glance? And if there is: why can’t I see it? But his mood is getting darker when in the next verse Dylan writes:

‘Insanity is smashing up against my soul
You can say I was on anything but a roll
If I had a conscience, well I just might blow my top
What would I do with it anyway
Maybe take it to the pawn shop’

‘Insanity is smashing up against my soul’. Solitary confinement may easily drive a man to insanity. Likewise, a man of genius has a tendency for insanity. One may even say that sometimes genius comes close to insanity. A man of genius may be on such high levels that it may be pretty lonely up there. The poet has to deal with that. This insanity smashes up against his soul. It tries to destroy his soul. It prevents him from functioning ‘normally’, on a social level. In some ways his genius stands in the way. Therefore he says: ‘I was on anything but a roll’. ‘To be on a roll’ may be defined as: ‘To be engaged in any activity with success and ease and in any activity which is taking up your attention at the time of the activity’.
‘If I had a conscience, well I just might blow my top’ His self-esteem is on such a low level that it even obliterates his conscience. In fact his soul is so vacant and numb that it feels as if he has no conscience left at all, let alone that he would be capable of ‘blowing his top’, to show any emotion at all. ‘To blow one’s top’ means ‘to lose one’s temper or composure’. The whole scene reminds you of the feeling he once had when he felt like he was stuck inside a painting that’s hanging in the Louvre, his throat starts to tickle and his nose itches but he knows that he can’t move.
’What would I do with it anyway. Maybe take it to the pawn shop’ He values his conscience so low that the only place to take it to, as a last resort, might be a pawn shop. A pawn shop is place where you take something valuable you own and trade it in for cash. You don't sell it there, the idea is they keep it for a certain amount of time, and if you acquire enough money to pay the sum you got from them (+ interest), you "buy" your property back. If not, they sell it. If somebody would say: ‘What pawn shop would take my conscience? , then the speaker means that his conscience has so little value that no pawn shop would give you any cash money for it. That is exactly how the poet values his own conscience, his whole existence as a human being, at least at this point and at this stage on his way to the Highlands.
Next time we will discuss the Boston Restaurant intermezzo in detail. For more analyses of Dylan songs, please press the Bob Dylan button on the left. Feedback to this article will be very much appreciated. Please respond by clicking on the link  down below here and write your response.

 

 

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