The Gospel According to Bob Dylan
The Old, Old Story for Modern Times
By Michael J. Gilmour
Westminster John Knox Press – $15.00
In the ‘Concluding Thoughts’ of The Gospel According to Bob Dylan – The Old, Old Story of Modern Times, author Michael J. Gilmour writes: ‘’When we hear a song for the first time, it matters whether we are in love at that moment or broken-hearted, spiritually hungry or indifferent to matters of faith, looking to be entertained or forced to think, angry at the world or motivated to make it a better place – all such contexts and a thousand others determine our experience of songs and perception of meaning in the sounds and words we encounter.’’
Thoroughly spot on writing methinks, as the context through which we initially hear and experience music, is invariably crucial to our eventual understanding and (hopefully) ever-lasting appreciation of it. Thus, inadvertently explaining why a great deal of modern music is transiently considered powerful, when more often than not, it really, really isn’t. The Kooks, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and to a by far more disturbing degree, Take That, are all quintessential albeit moot instances.
Pop music, for all intents of a business like refrain, doesn’t need to be good anymore, in order to be considered remotely resolute or tribally dysfunctional. It can, and quite often is, complete and utter tone-deaf-wank-shite – of which there are several hundred thousand million examples, the two most crucial of which, surely have to be Cheryl Cole and Justin Sparkpants or whatever his name happens to be.
For amid the pristine essence of musical truth, he or she who is actually doing the singing makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. Especially when said singing is anchored to that of a cunning concoction of youth’n’yesteryear. Those lurky, murky, happy days, when we were all teenagers in love. And if not in love, then on the prowl and on the nickel.
When the gospel according to arrogance and hormones reigned supreme.
Just as there was never, ever a stasis st(r)ained time, when all things weren’t open to such quintessential conjecture, so too does the same ring true for a thorough understanding of Bob Dylan. To complicate matters further, as a result of the twentieth-century bard-cum-minstrel-cum-soothsayer-ad-infinitum having turned seventy this year, a deluge of books have hit the streets.
Each purporting to be in the know.
Each purporting to be telling it as it is.
What accounts for The Gospel According To Bob Dylan being a little different, and therefore, a tad more inviting to read than most, is the preface upon which it has been written. But even here, as Dylan makes clear and as Gilmour himself acknowledges, ‘tis all conjecture: ‘’‘’I’m not good at defining things,’’ he told Robert Hilburn in a 2004 interview […]. Musicians function as mediums, priests, stained-glass windows, or icons, pointing beyond themselves to something far bigger, but they cannot define that vague something for the listener.’’
It’s this vagueness, with which Bobheads and curious readers the entire world over, have always had to grapple, and eventually come to terms with.
Furthermore, the degree to which the ‘V’ word is vexed or volatile, vacant or viable, remains firmly entrenched within in the eye of the ever gullible, the well-read or the simply couldn’t care less. In the chapter ‘Are You Serious,’ Gilmour writes: ‘’Bob Dylan’s music moves many listeners out of themselves, out of their ‘’habitual, common-sense world.’’
Are we, upon reading The Gospel According to Bob Dylan, any closer to understanding Dylan’s dense, oft misunderstood, varying religious complexities? A whole lot depends on the degree to which one is prepared to take Gilmour, by way of literary default, at his word.