Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Slow Train Coming: Dylan's Christianity

Sister, lemme tell you about a vision I saw
You were drawing water for your husband, you were suffering under the law
You were telling him about Buddha, you were telling him about Mohammad
in the same breath
You never mentioned one time the man who came and died a criminal's death

-A verse from "Precious Angel"

With Dylan's conversion to Christianity in 1979, a move which drew the derision of the rock community, he released a collection of songs with deep Christian themes entitled Slow Train Coming.  Dylan's righteous tone marked a striking contrast to his work in the 70s and a return to his swaggering pronouncements of the mid-60s.

The Grammy Award winning "Gotta Serve Somebody" offers a simple warning: ego and pride have nothing to do with salvation. Regardless of wealth or status, everyone must answer to their creator. The Day of Reckoning will arrive regardless of fame or the size of one's bank account. 

Dylan's old frenemy John Lennon wrote a scathing response to "Gotta Serve Somebody" entitled "Serve Yourself" with the refrain, "You gotta serve yourself/Ain't nobody gonna do for you." Their schism among the 60s icons barely registered by the 1980s, but its curious Lennon seemed so vexed with Dylan.  The lyrics decry any system designed to control thought, much in tone with Lennon's dismissal of Dylan and all ideologies on his song "God." Lennon suggests Dylan praise his mother instead of Jesus.

But even in Dylan's early protest music like "Masters of War" there's a theological component to his lyrics. Slow Train Coming Dylan adopts Christianity as an iconoclastic world view. On 'When You Gonna Wake Up" he sings of "counterfeit philosophies" steering everyone in the wrong direction - away from the teachings of Christ.

"I Believe in You" confronts the struggle to maintain faith in a broken world. Faith promises solace, a theme Dylan would return to again and again, especially on Time Out of Mind.

Slow Train Coming would be Dylan's final release of the 70s, and it really does feel like an end of 70s record.  In America the zeitgeist changed and the pendulum begin to swing back on the 60s.  The loss of John Lennon, the election of Ronald Reagan, and Madison Avenue's use of counterculture rhetoric spelled a brave new world.

I believe Dylan was sincere in his new found faith and he does sound revitalized and more confident on Slow Train Coming, in contrast to the wishy washy Street Legal.  Jerry Wexler's production and the amazing group musicians Dylan brought together created a work of real beauty.


  1. Wishy washy Street Legal? These songs don't seem that to me.
    Changing of the Guards
    Where Are You Tonight?
    Baby Stop Crying

    1. Some of the tracks, at least the tone on some of them such as "No Time To Think" or "True Love Tends To Forget." It's just my subjective view of course. I like Street Legal, especially the songs you mentioned. I did a review on that one a few months ago.