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Dylan Sings About The Signs Of Our “Times”

posted by kris rasmussen

While not necessarily a huge fan of his music, I have been reading with great interest the different interpretations that publications like Rolling Stone and the New York Times have been giving the “Modern Times”, the new CD by iconic blues-rocker Bob Dylan, which dropped in stores this week. It seems no one can miss the dark apocalyptic tone of “Times” and the way it marks a return by Dylan to overtly spiritual musings about the meaning of life. But while God does make an appearance in a few of the songs, anyone looking for an answer to the years of speculation over Dylan’s much publicized conversion to Christianity in the late 1970s–and the subsequent debate as to whether he has held to that faith, returned to his Jewish roots, or abandoned all of the above–will not find the answer here.

On listening to “Modern Times” the first time through, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed. I didn’t feel the urgency and vibrancy of some of Dylan’s early music, and several of the songs seem to center around his love-hate relationship with women. But on a second listen, the real depth of Dylan’s lyrics started to sink in, and I realized anew that Dylan is not someone you can appreciate on the surface level; he requires you to dig deeper.

In the song “When The Deal Goes Down,” lines like “We all wear the same thorny crown / Soul to soul, our shadows roll / And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down” could be referring to a a human relationship or a relationship with God. Similarly, in the song “Beyond the Horizon,” Dylan seems like he is talking about a human relationship until the end of the song, when he states, “I’m wounded, I’m weary / My repentance is plain / Beyond the horizon o’r the treacherous sea / I still can’t believe that you have set aside your love for me.” At that moment , these poetic images turn the meaning of the song around and indicate this is really a love song to God.

When Dylan is not preocupied with love in some shape or form, he certainly is fixated on how our world is coming to an end, and if this CD is any indication, Dylan believes the world’s demise is soon. The prophetic “The Levee’s Gonna Break” is the CD’s shining moment, song not only about what happened in New Orleans a year ago, but which also serves as Dylan’s warning that worse times are ahead. He laments: “If it keeps on rainin’, the levee’s gonna break / Some people still sleepin’, some people are wide awake.”

Overall, the thoughts and images that Dylan creates through his songs on “Modern Times” are subtle and mesmerizing. While Dylan doesn’t answer the question of exactly where his spiritual sensibilities are these days, he does make a statement to all of those who are wondering. In his last song, “Ain’t Talkin’, Just Walkin,’” Dylan quietly croons, “I am a-tryin’ to love my neighbor and do good unto others / But oh, mother, things ain’t going well / Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’ / through the world mysterious and vague.”

So am I, Mr. Dylan. So am I.



  • Susan Reif

    Have you ever heard of Bob Dylan’s album “Slow Train Coming?” He has been singing and writing about his belief’s in God for decades. Also, the song “the levee is going to break” is far from original to Bob Dylan. That is a very old song, done by several people, in particular Led Zeppelin in the 1970′s.>

  • D A

    Take note Mr Rasmussen- Dylan defines his spiritual beliefs in his continuing openness to an abundance of highways. His iconoclastic stance, his distinctive characteristic, challenges you to examine your own unique beliefs. It so simple to follow the paved road of paint-by-number theologies. He asks you to confront your own soul, and follow the faith that you find within. I would not look for answers to which direction, roots, or faith he is following. The answer likely will not fit into any mold. I would look to his example and be open to what unfolds on your own path. “He requires you to dig deeper.” Amen, Mr Rasmussen. As he has said: “Don’t let me change my heart, Keep me set apart From all the plans they do pursue. And I, I don’t mind the pain Don’t mind the driving rain I know I will sustain ‘Cause I believe in you.” D.A. Hodgkins .>

  • Al Briggs

    I have kids and that attitude is not inspiring. Jesus warned many to not concern them selves with the apocolypse>

  • Al Briggs

    Don’t get me wrong I love Dylan just the same! I mean I am not him, for the sake of art he has his ‘throne,’ no doubt!>

  • lou

    the genius of dylan has always been his amazing ability to have people search their souls….he is filled with wisdom that many of us yearn to posess but hes had it since he was a kid…if only all that he says could be appreciated now what a wonderful world it might be…………..>

  • Richard

    As to some of the comments above. There is a difference to concerning ourselfs with the “end times” and knowing what they are and being ready for them, telling others of what is to come. Revelations the last book of the Bible dealing with the apocalypes means to open /reveal. There is nothing wrong with looking to the inner self but we must keep in mind as a guild line the wrintings of the Bible. Other wise we will mislead ourself into all kinds of popular beliefs. I have not heard Dylans “new music” yet.>

  • Helen Ketcham

    There are some things on Modern Times that, to me, offer interesting hints as to Dylan’s present spiritual condition. No interpretation can be certain unless it comes from Dylan himself (and he doesn’t do that) but, just for the sake of something to talk about, try taking these lines from “Thunder on the Mountain”: “Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my king I wouldn’t betray your love or any other thing” and consider them as a possible gloss on “Ain’t Talkin’” If you listen to this powerful song with an ear for Biblical echoes, you can hear it as a journey from Eden, the “mystic garden” where “the wounded flowers were danglin’ from the vine” to the other “mystic garden”– the place of Joseph of Arimathea’s emptied tomb. “Excuse me, ma’am, I beg your pardon There’s no one here, the gardener is gone.” Anyone who has ever tried to walk the pilgrim way will recognize the landmarks.>

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