Rough draft, typos to be corrected…
So, today I finally got around to watching Martin Scorsese’s documentary on the recent nobel laureate Bob Dylan. This was a stellar documentary and meant the coming together of two masters- a master director and a master artist; it is a work which we can all gain from.
During and after the feature length documentary, I was briming with enthuiastic feelings and grasping thoughts. A well of inspiration hit me and I have a vision in mind about what I want to articulate here. Yet, I fear I wont do it justice. This will take some work and time to wrench out of me, if God and my soul grant it.
Prophetic, poetic, personalist, Kingdom -political, time against simple progress.
Firstly and of prime importance, it is my conviction that the work of The Sprit is present and breathing in Bob Dylan’s life and work, which we can see he is amply open to and has long tried to follow- the commentator in the documentary made the comment that he wasn’t trying to be an accomplished person; which is in the small and more egortistical sense. Yet, by following the Spirit ‘on the way home’ Bob is more of a person, not less. This is the story of The Gospel and deomnstrated eloquently by Eastern Orthodox Theologians such as Lampert, Lossky and Berdyaev.
Other commensurate key themes include his unwillingness to be subsumed by politics or ideology, which is in line with the Biblical notion of Prophet- even if he never saw himself in that light.
This supposedly politically naive artist wrote some of the most enduring ‘political’ songs of the twentieth century by rooting them in the Spirit, not of the times, but of all time. This is juxtaposed in his work and personal life with a conversational narrative of the neighbour- again personalist and never or seldom ideological- see how he wrote about specific African American persons who were mistreated.
Mavis Staple’s interview was very telling, when she reflected how, as a young woman, she had thought that ‘what would he know of struggle? White people don’t know what it’s like to suffer’ before humbly and rightfully admitting that this was naivety and wrong. His story was the story of The Gospel, which presents us with persons throughout time suffering and in search of salvation fighting against a greater evil than racism- something he lived himself in his own way and shared with his kin through empathy and bearing witness to the Christian Truth of the suffering God of love, regardless of skin colour, in America or elsewhere. Notably, he took great inspiration in the Irish rebel songs, which are borne of intense suffering over many generations.
Today, we suffer from crushing ideologies that would accuse Dylan of cultural appropriation and this points to the strangling of The Spirit, because as we can see in his life and work the music is transcendent of crude, crushing monisms- taking inspiration from the Irish, African Americans, poets and folks from all over the states and The Holy Scriptures; making them his own and ‘knowing his song well before he started singing’, a state of mind which calls to mind the name that we will be given in The Book of Revelation. Moreover, we are called upon in this life to be part of the Transfiguring of the world in Christ though our word and work- Dylan did this and it had to be personal. It always has to be personal. This is where the language of ‘authenticity’ is not mere self indulgence but manifesting something real. It is also a way of Peace that The Good Lord has provided us with to make manifest the kingdom, speaking Pentecostally in a way that is ours but that can be truly heard by others.
People say that America has no history and would be happy not to acknowledge the living breath of Spirit that flows through people like Dylan, who it may be rightly said, as one commentator suggested, plays the role of the American collective unconscious as well as a Biblical conscience that stood in protest at the mistreatment of the maligned without swinging the pendulum to worldly solutions.
He’s a guy with an appreciation for roots but a sojourner in the land- this Christian in the world but not of the world spirit, allows him to avoid idolattry. See for example his song ‘With God on our side’. The satire in the song demonstrates this beautifully.
”The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side”
What was Dylan’s response then to the broader dreadful nihilism of Sartre and the idea that there is no exit?
”there’s no exit in any direction
‘Cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes.” (Series Of Dreams)
A memorable snippet from Allen Ginsberg in the documentary.
“(There is a) very famous saying among theTibetan Buddhists, if the student is not better than the teacher then the teacher ‘s a failure, and I was really knocked out by the eloquence [of Bob Dylan] , particularly, “I’ll know my song well before I start singing”..”where all souls shall reflect it”.. you know, stand on the mountain, where everybody can hear. It’s sort of this Biblical prophecy. Poetry is words that are empowered that make your hair stand on end, that you recognize instantly as being some form of subjective truth that has an objective reality to it because somebody’s realized it and then you call it poetry later.”
There’s also a great humour in how he sees himself, as presented here by Joan Baez, and it’s wonderfully comical to see how he reflected on how people would see his songs; suggesting that they’d see this and that in it, when he himself ‘didn’t know where they came from’.
His witness is an humility to The Spirit, which cannot be grasped and which the Orthodox call a Mystery.
Bob Dylan recording- https://www.theguardian.com/music/gallery/2017/apr/01/portraits-of-a-young-bob-dylan-in-pictures
Fresco of The Throne Of Preparation- https://iconreader.wordpress.com/page/4/