Seeing Bob Dylan and/or Divine Revelation, p.3
December, 2001

Now, some may not want to equate “the love of the world” with “the love of God.” But I sure do. The God which I understand is felt, in part, through the radical amazement we experience at the world. When the chords play right and the drone kicks in, and the music takes you to another place – that is a place I identify with God. The “steep and lofty cliffs, That on a wild secluded scene impress/Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect/The landscape with the quiet of the sky.”

It’s Wordsworth, not Dylan, but you get the point. Except for those two Christian albums, rare references to Judaism (mostly on Infidels and Oh Mercy), and the frequent religious imagery like the bit in Sugar Baby above, Dylan’s usually elliptical about it. I think the closest Dylan ever came to expressing his religious outlook was John Wesley Harding, with its Biblical metaphors and oblique tales of human good and evil. (Not to mention the notorious Yahweh acronym in the title, which Dylan denied having intended.) There’s no direct talking of God on JWH, but Frankie Lee & Judas Priest just feels like either a Biblical allegory. Or at least a fable. The title track seems to be about a Christ figure. All Along the Watchtower, with its Biblical images of apocalyse amid old-sounding references to modern sin. Seems to be, feels like – Dylan is evoking these resonances without speaking of them in a way that cheapens them into something that can be expressed, bought and sold.

And love – what better way to talk about the whole fucked-up world than love. Who cares if there’s a real woman who inspired lines like

The ghost of our old love has not gone away
Don't look like it will anytime soon
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Under the midnight moon

(Standing in the Doorway) There’s no better way to talk about depression and fear than this. This is being sensitive to the world, and how we relate to it, addressing it in the form of a person -- it is what religion is about. No better way to talk about yearning and hope than

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

even if what’s really on his mind cannot be expressed in our language, if Make You Feel My Love is as much about wishing to be young again, and tired of being old, as Cold Irons Bound. Think about how many songs on the “death” album are ostensibly about love – the ones just mentioned, Love Sick, Million Miles, Till I Fell in Love With You, Can’t Wait. Many more than are about death either directly (Trying to Get to Heaven) or indirectly (Highlands). But when Dylan says “love sick,” he’s telling us he’s “life sick.” That’s why we care.

And we can project whatever our own troubles are onto the words of love, because they all seem to fit. Because God is not only inherent in Wordsworth “motion and spirit that impels all thinking things” but in love as well – because the bonds of love, if we are privileged ever to feel them, are from the same root as the impossibly intricate designs of our world, and the moral good we can feel, and the ecstasy we seek. Love is more than just a placeholder for all the joys and sorrows in the world – it is a close relative also.

We are all searching for love and immortality, through our careers and our wars and our families and our social clubs in drag disguise. If we open ourselves to the possibility and quiet the distractions, the world itself exudes something very close to it. The knowing nod of the moustachioed music man who looks out from the back cover of Love and Theft – that isn’t just the nod of the con but the nod of one music lover to another, that something about the way we talk and play is related to something about what makes life worth living. This is as close to religion as Gotta Serve Somebody ever got. We know, you and I – he seems to be saying. We know that what we feel in the music, and what we sing about in the familiar words of love, is the same thing, and it’s something we would never demean by speaking of it.

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jay's head
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