Fans who ‘missed the old Dylan’ criticize Bob Dylan’s faith in Christianity
Bob Dylan turned to God during a yearlong tour in 1978.
His 1977 divorce left the singer-songwriter drained, unwell, and worn out. A San Diego audience member threw a little silver cross onto the stage at the end of a play. Dylan, who didn’t mind fans tossing items at his concerts, picked up the sacred object and put it in his pocket. It accompanied him to his next concert in Arizona.
In a Tucson motel two days later, the Jewish artist had “a literal visitation from Jesus Christ.”
Book “Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine.” explores the Nobel laureate’s born-again era and other times from his decades-long career. It includes hundreds of Dylan’s rare images, draught lyrics, drawings, and more.
Bob Dylan Centre editors Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, edited the book. Dylan wrote “Mixing Up the Medicine” in “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
“This project has been six or seven years in the making,” Davidson told Fox News Digital. His early notebooks and draught draughts reveal an astonishing level of career predicting. His musical preferences and expertise have been omnivorous since he was a youth.”
“Bob Dylan: Mixing up the Medicine” book cover
Bob Dylan Centre editors Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel edited “Bob Dylan: Mixing up the Medicine”. (Callaway)
Longtime fans and curious listeners are nonetheless fascinated by Dylan’s religious period. His 1979 “Slow Train Coming,” 1980 “Saved,” and 1981 “Shot of Love” albums declared his religion.
“Dylan was on this long, gruelling tour where he had this enormous orchestra just because of the number of pieces in the band alone,” Fishel said. In the double digits. They’re travelling worldwide. Starting in Japan, it crosses Australia and New Zealand. After Europe, it reaches North America. The time when the cross is tossed on stage is the outcome.
“Clearly that had been a long year for him,” Fishel said. “Slow Train Coming” refers to the moment he receives the cross, which initiates his embrace of Christianity. He records gospel music, but he explored these topics before that cross was thrown on the stage in San Diego. He wrote draughts on hotel stationery between or after gigs before that.”
Dylan described his experience as “a presence… that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus,” according to the Independent.
“Jesus put his hand on me,” he told the site. “It was physical. It was sensed. I felt it everywhere. My entire body shook. His glory knocked me down and scooped me up.”
Fishel called this “a creatively fruitful time” for Dylan as he spent two years studying gospel.
“This hardcore embrace of Christianity starts to peter out,” Fishel said. “It broadens but never disappears. Dylan’s biblical motifs permeated his work from the start and occurred at various occasions. It gets more complicated as he works.”
On “Precious Angel” in “Slow Train Coming,” Dylan said “Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief / And there ain’t no neutral ground.”
Dylan’s public conversion wasn’t welcomed by all. Fisher said many sceptical listeners told him they “missed the old Dylan.”
Fans of Dylan as a folk poet, country crooner, and electric rocker abandoned him. Fred Tackett, Dylan’s lead guitarist from 1979 to 1981, told The New York Times that one front-row attendee held a banner reading, “Jesus loves your old songs.”
According to the book, Tackett witnessed protests by atheist campaigner Madalyn O’Hair and a man wearing a complete cross in front of the theatre.
The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards called the star a “prophet of profit.” San Francisco Chronicle critic: “Dylan has written some of the most banal, uninspired and inventionless songs of his career for his Jesus phase,” headlined “Bob Dylan’s God-Awful Gospel.”
“If you didn’t like it then, you won’t now,” Fishel said. “New Yorker writer Amanda Petrusich, a contributor to this book, published a terrific piece about America’s current state, why this wasn’t surprising, and evangelicalism’s ascent. Dylan could grab onto these threads. Despite fan reaction, it’s one of my favourite periods. Rich, complex, and dynamic. He played with his best band ever.”
“And he was embraced by the evangelical audience,” Fishel said. Dylan considered that for those who didn’t like it. Dylan’s 1980 tour radio commercial is great. Gospel music is his only genre. Random admirers saying, “I like the old Bob Dylan,” would be interviewed if you didn’t know better. I’m done with his gospel bullshit. A script was located in the archives, and these people were tapped to read lines describing their reactions to Dylan’s show.”
“He knows his audience,” Fishel said. Perhaps that’s why this period is so intriguing. His most memorable tunes are among these. The songs from ‘Shot of Love’ remain in his set list. Some may not be musically inclined, but they’re interested.”
After the 1983 album “Infidels,” Dylan told Rolling Stone, “I’ve never said I’m born again,” calling it “just a media term.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been an agnostic,” Dylan told the magazine. “I’ve always believed in a higher power, a fictional world, and a future world. No soul has died; all are living in holiness or flames. There’s probably lots of intermediate ground.”
“There’s no way you’re gonna convince me this is all there is to it,” he said. “I never believed that. I accept Revelation. If not already, international leaders will play God, and a guy will come who everyone thinks is God. He does things, and they exclaim, “Only God can do that.” It must be him.”
The book stated that Dylan “had rethought his specifically Christian devotion without abandoning biblical references and images of [the] apocalypse.” in 1983
“I’m not a fan of packaged programmes or news shows, therefore I don’t watch them,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2022. I never watch bad or stinky stuff. Nothing filthy or dog-a–. I’m religious. I meditate, pray, and light church candles while reading the Bible. I believe in predestination, damnation, and salvation. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Saint Invocation—everything.”
Davidson said Dylan continues to intrigue because “he has always defied expectations.”
Dylan’s conversion to Christianity and work on a trilogy of gospel songs may appear surprising at first. “The book shows how those seeds were planted,” added Davidson. “And I am deeply grateful for all the left turns that Dylan has taken throughout his career because it’s exactly what makes writing a book about him so interesting.”