Bob Dylan: a pilgrim caught in a Tempest

John J. Thompson

Paul Q-Pek
September 12, 2012

It's refreshing to see that you have John Thompson reviewing new music. In my opinion he is the foremost authority on spiritually minded music and artists. As far as Dylan goes, it's amazing that an artist in his 70's is still making waves with his music. And I don't think he's done yet.

Martin Grossman
August 16, 2017

Joseph Farah, writing for World News Daily, a site I find less objective than even CNN, cites Scott Marshall’s latest book on Dylan’s “spiritually” as proof that the debate over whether or not Dylan is a Christian is officially over. I doubt thet even Scott’s book makes such a definitive claim.

As much as I respect Scott Marshall’s writings on Dylan’s encounter with Christianity (we respectfully disagree on its meaning), I don’t think the opinion of Carolyn Dennis cited in his book proves anything one way or the other about Dylan’s current beliefs. Dylan is often inconsistent, even contradictory, and purposefully ambiguous when he speaks about the matter. That she mentions three movies in the conversation she remembers him means only that, if accurate, only reflect how he was feeling at certain movement. And liking a movie is not a declaration of faith. It may just be one more example of how Dylan enjoys playing with people’s minds.

Being taken with the “figure of Jesus” doesn’t mean he believes Jesus was divine rather than “only” an extraordinary human being. His friend Leonard Cohen also was also impressed with the life of Jesus but remained a Jew. He was quick to point out that he didn’t worship Jesus, although he was moved by his human example. Perhaps will have to wait until Dylan’s inevitable passing when we will learn if Bob is buried with full Jewish rites as Leonard was.

I look forward to reading what Scott has to say about Dylan’s well-known admiration of Chabad. Dylan has frequently been sighted at Chabad events and religious observances over the past 30-some years, including a recent Yom Kippur service where he was called to the Torah, something that would never be sanctioned by a Chabad rabbi if Chabad still considered him an apostate. Dylan hasn’t worshiped with the Vineyard Fellowship in decades. Nor has he ever been known to attend a so-called messianic church.

Perhaps he expressed his true point of view when he told Spin Magazine in 1985 that “Whether you believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah is irrelevant, but whether you’re aware of the messianic complex, that’s … important … People who believe in the coming of the Messiah live their lives right now, as if he was here …”

What believing Christian would ever say that “Whether you believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah is irrelevant”? His ambiguity remains. Perhaps we will learn more when his lifelong friend, Louis Kemp’s forthcoming book (written with a little help from Kinky Friedman), The Boys from the North Country: my life with Robert Zimmerman & Bob Dylan, is published. Kemp remains one of Dylan’s closest and most trusted friends and has indicated Bob is fine with the book. Kemp is an Orthodox Jew and davens with Chabad, as does his son-in-law, singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman.

I am leaving out quite a bit since I don’t have time to write more tonight. Let me end here: There is a very detailed record of Dylan’s involvement with Kemp and the Chabad of Pacific Palisades community. When the song & dance man shuffles off the mortal coil, I am guessing that only then will all our questions will be answered.

August 16, 2017

This is a beautiful summation: 'On balance, Tempest is a fascinating if frequently inaccessible study on the human condition as seen through the eyes of a cultural anthropologist and master musicologist who is haunted by the Lord of Hosts.' I often think that I'd like to play this record again but when I realize that means having to hear 'Roll On John' and 'Tempest', I find myself reaching instead for 'Together Through Life'. That said, I thoroughly agree with Mr Thompson's thoughts on 'Pay in Blood' and 'Duquesne Whistle'.

Timothy Casey
August 18, 2017

The first song, 'Duquesne Whistle' has its reference point in the song, 'Slow Train' from the "Slow Train Coming" album (1979). The train is no longer, up around the bend." It is here, you can hear the whistle blowing and you can see the lights and its an introduction to an album of which the theme is the judgment of God on our nation. The selection of the word, tempest, to name the album is from the King James version of the Bible. Job 9:17, Psalms 11:6, Isaiah 28:2, Isaiah 29:6. In all these verses, it is used to describe 'judgment.' The reason the song, 'Tempest' has so many verses is that Bob wishes to show that judgment is personal. He names many that are meeting their destiny. It's bad if you are not ready and it comes to those people in destructive ways. However, Bob is not going to leave us hopeless. In the song, 'Duquesne Whistle' there is the line, "I hear a sweet voice calling, it must be the mother of our Lord." This line from the song could be referring to the gospel of John, chapter 2, verse 5 where Mary states her only 'commandment,' "Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you.

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