abba's way

 On reading reviews of Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks

I have been reading these reviews with great interest. Partly because I was more than likely the first writer to understand the possible theological relevance of Bob Dylan. My article “Bob Dylan as Theologian” appeared in Renewal, the magazine I founded, in 1965. I centered my analysis on two songs in particular: “It’s Alright, Ma” and “Gates of Eden”. Each of these songs seems to me to establish Dylan as aware of the limitations of belief in anything that can be understood on the surface. Dylan emerged for me as someone who understood what idolatry is and flagged it. My best response came from Hibbing – a card from Dylan’s dad asking for a copy of the article on “my son ‘Bob Dylan'” The quotes were his.

I was not impressed by Dylan’s Vineyard detour though there were aspects of the Vineyard during that time which were apposite as a criticism of moribund mainline Christianity. It is the later Dylan that most impresses me. Not merely songs like “My God They Killed Him” and “Death Is Not The End” but also “”Every Grain of Sand”, “License to Kill”, “I and I” and “Blind Willie McTell”.

Dylan’s influence cannot be minimized. There is one song that seems to me the equal of “Every Grain of Sand” – Robert Hunter’s “Ripple”.

As to placing Dylan in the rarified ranks of poetic eminences, the Bard is so superior among them that it is to him alone that I would want to compare Dylan. I feel that the Bard did something Professor Ricks may not have seen, since Ricks appears to have conceived sin and virtue in classical Christian terms. If I read Hamlet correctly, I believe he represents the tragedy of the Aristotelian world that we associate with a vanishing Christendom and the need to move beyond it.Whether like Hamlet Dylan has more to tell us – had he but time – I do not know. But I do know that, like the Bard, he has bumped up against the salient edges of modernity, of human immanence and human freedom. To do that as someone who, like myself, was weaned on Harry Smith, is a pleasure to think about. I cannot imagine someone with a mind as active as Dylan’s having the fortitude to actually survive in the world of power, greed and corruptible seed that he has delineated so well.


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