I’m a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it. --Bob Dylan, 2022 Interview with Jeff Slate
Wow. Another great essay. Your research is superb. I like the way you don't panic when faced with Dylan text that is like the intuitive strokes of paintbrush rather than a high resolution photograph and so has multiple readings (plus we are multitudes and have our own readings). Dylan.fm@fmc_dylan just posed some important lines for Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Vision of Sin on twitter (rumor has it your not "there" on twitter--good for you!) about the intuition of the artist, the pictoral and emotional picture, rather than the detailed intention. If you can't find the page numbers, I'll give it a try. Meanwhile, on the subject of stripping things down and the unsaid. Dylan was doing this from the early days. Ricks also points out no where does the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll mention black, negro or other references to African American. But we know! We know we the sudden realization that we know because of the history of racism. That is not just stripping down but actually a dramatic moment in hearing the song. And one other early song that hides and then tells: Boots of Spanish Leather, where the two voices, one stronger, one sadder, are not assigned a gender until the 7th stanza. Which voice is Dylan's? Usually it is the male who goes off to seek a fortune; many women friends have expressed surprise when they come upon "her" in that 7th stanza. And also in that song: the title gets us curious from the beginning. What do boots have to do with it? Is this a reference to the old song Gypsy Davie? And here Dylan creates meaning with an added seemingly unnecessary word. Not only Spanish Boots but Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather. For the boots MUST be genuine, just as the lovers calling each other "true" love suggests a genuine purity that hid an underlying split, the boots desired to try to fill the gap...and maybe to walk on away from there. The meaning of the title appears doesn't appear until the last line of the last stanza of the song.
I wish I could be your student. There is so much information in this piece that I have never studied or overlaid on top of Dylan's work. My interpretation of Dylan is a one lane highway void of the Bible and great literature. I see him through the small lens of my life and understanding of human nature. Thank you for such an illuminating essay.
Happy New Year
I enjoy your thinking and writing. Intuitive, metaphysical, rational, all qualities needed to probe the work of the Bard. Not many are responding on all these levels. The idea of a “regenerate Cain,” “no longer in exile,” is fascinating, and put me in mind of these lines from “My Own Version of You”:
I say to the willow tree - don’t weep for me
I’m saying the hell with all things that used to be
The singer is no longer in exile in Babylon, as in Psalm 137, no longer weeping and remembering Zion. No longer in captivity. He’s back in action, like J. C. But which one? Back in action, like those other influencers, Marx and Freud, but damnation, that didn’t turn out so well, did it?
See the raw hide lash rip the skin off their backs
This idea that we exist in the balance between Heaven and Hell. I think it accounts for so much of the violence in the songs, the phrases that get called out, superficially, like “stab you with a crooked knife,” as if it implies some dark intention by somebody they call “Dylan.” Silly. I don’t know about that guy, but Bob has got his head in the scriptures, and another one on a “silver tray,” trying to “do it upright” like he did back in ‘80, so he can “be saved by the creature that I create”:
By His truth I can be upright
By His strength I do endure
By His power I’ve been lifted
In His love I am secure
He bought me with a price
Freed me from the pit
Full of emptiness and wrath
And the fire that burns in it
I’ve been saved
By the blood of the lamb
Marx and Freud? Guess they fell off the wrong side, into that pit. Or got pushed, by a million crazed monsters they created.
Cain is right there next to us all the time, ready for action. Right there inside. It’s a battle. It’s a work of art. A “creation,” still in process. We are always returning from exile:
But there’s violence in the eyes, girl, so let us not be enticed
On the way out of Egypt, through Ethiopia, to the judgment hall of Christ
Now there’s spiritual warfare and flesh and blood breaking down
Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground
Yeah, there something about the outlaw that’s attractive, necessary, Christ-like even, but maybe where I disagree with you (or Scorsese?) is the implication that Cain is forgiven before the moment of the sin.
It’s a choice, every moment. Hanging in the balance. Cain f**d up.
Spiritual warfare. J. C. or J. C.?
You can’t accept betrayal by your followers. By your monster.
“I don’t believe you! You’re a liar!”
What did he say more recently? Something like, “the worst insult that can be hurled?”
The Ancient embraces the dichotomy. I think the singer says we gotta choose:
Oh you poor Devil - look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill
Thanks for your work, Grady!
I just reread this piece. I had a thought of Robert Zimmerman as Abel who had to be killed off by Bob Dylan (Cain) to fulfill the destiny that God laid out for Dylan as the one who is destined to wander.
Just purely brilliant, Graley! Thank you so much for your posts as they reveal, again and again, how to read this book. One minor thread I picked up was Dylan's use of the phrase/concept of the "rugged individual" in the "Jesse James" chapter (47). It made me think of MLK's proposition "This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.," but more appositely that -- as you more eloquently line out above -- that violence is the backdrop of American self-making ("rugged individualism"). So in the chapter on "El Paso" the outlaw's murder is preordained: "To not have done so would be a violation of an age-old custom, practically a sacrilege." A violation of the American ethic not to brandish the gun and pull the trigger? To violently, ruggedly carve out one's own place is ironically to succumb to a predestined fate. Opening the "Nelly Was a Lady" chapter he writes of the prototypical American mythic working of the land: "You're hauling the timber on the grand river, the big river, river of tears, manifest destiny." (113). Manifest destiny turns the wide open river into a trail of tears. Here's to more shadow chasing, Graley! And thank you.