Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: The Gospel According to Bob Dylan- Michael Gilmour [Vol. 4, #10.5]

“Not the Other Kind

A review of

The Gospel According to Bob Dylan:
The Old, Old Story for Modern Times .
By Michael J. Gilmour.

Review by Warren Hicks.

Gospel According to Bob Dylan - Michael GilmourThe Gospel According to Bob Dylan:
The Old, Old Story for Modern Times .
Michael J. Gilmour.
Paperback: WJK Books, 2011.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com

“There are only two kinds of music. Good music and the other kind”
-Duke Ellington

“All of these songs added together don’t even come close to my whole vision of life”
-Bob Dylan (quoted, 94)

As a child of the 1960’s and one who engaged the charismatic renewal of the 70’s as a teenager, I was very intrigued when this title came up for review.  I remember hearing the murmurings about Bob Dylan around my house, I even remember my dad and his friends playing Bob Dylan tunes on the guitar around campfires.  That didn’t seem so odd to me then, except that in looking back I know my dad and Dylan didn’t see eye to eye politically in those highly charged times of the 60’s.  Apparently, however, my dad, his friends and I recognized good music when we heard it.

Bob Dylan, with The Band, Chicago c. 1972 (Bob Kinney)
Bob Dylan, w/The Band, Chicago c.1972(Bob Kinney)

In The Gospel According to Bob Dylan, Michael Gilmour, associate professor of New Testament and English at Providence College in Manitoba, makes a persuasive case for Bob Dylan being a purveyor of the Gospel, that is ‘good news,’ even if today he doesn’t claim publicly the same sort of Christian fervor that he did during his Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love period of publicly espousing his ‘born-again’ Christianity.

Gilmour takes a long hard look at the body of Dylan’s work, spanning some 50 years and more then 30 albums, films, poetry and the 2004 publication of Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles: Vol. 1.

From his birth into a Jewish family in Hibbing, Minnesota to the resurrection(s) of a career thought to be moribund, if not dead, on more than one occasion, Gilmour weaves a tapestry of Dylan’s experiences and inspirations to show how God and particularly the texts of Scripture crop up in Dylan’s work.  Not only do they appear in the music, but they ‘hold together’ to support and compliment a view of spirituality that is consistent with both Dylan’s Jewish roots and his other forays into religious exploration and expression.

Gilmour contends, rightly in my view, that the text of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the Spirit of God that inspired them is never far away in looking at Dylan’s work.  Just as with Scripture, the richness and nuance of Dylan’s work and the experience that inspired it cannot be fully seen or appreciated when it is taken out of context to prove one’s previously held positions or understandings.

What comes out of a reflective engagement with Dylan, as Gilmour deftly demonstrates, is a sense of narrative and ‘coming of age’ in what Bob Dylan sees as ‘good news’.  At the end of the day, it bears a striking and faithful similarity to the Good News of God and deserves thoughtful consideration and reflection.  He summarizes this well when he says, “if we find answers in Dylan, it is because we are already asking particular questions,” (42).

As with all good art, including music, Dylan’s work allows enough space for our experience to guide our reception of the offering of the artist. The dialogue we have in question and answer and call and response with Gilmour’s book and Dylan’s music is good reading and listening.

Not the other kind.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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