Want to watch a really interesting fight?
Put a bunch of Bob Dylan fans -- true believers -- in a room with a really good sound system. Make sure the flock includes old-guard Rolling Stone subscribers, a couple of academics with doctorates in literature, some born-again Christians and some Jews -- cultural Jews and Jews who practice the faith.
Ask this question: Is Bob Dylan (a) a Jew, (b) a Christian, (c) some other brand of believer, (d) a mystic who has faith in faith, period, or (e) all of the above.
Each person gets to play three songs to help make his or her case. Let the arguing commence. Yes, the arguments will only get louder after Dylan the poet receives his Nobel Prize.
I'll state my prejudice right up front. I have never interviewed Dylan, but I have talked to people close to him (including a family member) and here is what I think: I see no evidence has Dylan has lost faith in God. I see no evidence, in this public remarks, that he has lost faith in Jesus. I see lots of evidence that he has lost faith in Bob Dylan.
How do you write about Dylan without exploring the religious themes in his work? Beats me, but here is a New York Times super-short summary of his art, in a hard-news story about the Nobel Prize announcement:
Within a few years, Mr. Dylan was confounding the very notion of folk music, with ever more complex songs and moves toward a more rock ’n’ roll sound. In 1965, he played with an electric rock band at the Newport Folk Festival, provoking a backlash from fans who accused him of selling out.
After reports of a motorcycle accident in 1966 near his home in Woodstock, N.Y., Mr. Dylan withdrew further from public life but remained intensely fertile as a songwriter. ...
His 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks” was interpreted as a supremely powerful account of the breakdown of a relationship, but just four years later the Christian themes of “Slow Train Coming” divided critics. His most recent two albums were chestnuts of traditional pop that had been associated with Frank Sinatra.
Christian themes? That's it? What about the Jewish roots of much of his art?