Bob Dylan was no Presbyterian

I love Bob Dylan. Always have.

I’m not one of those guys who tries to analyze the meaning in his songs (although I probably did in college). But I have all his albums and have seen him perform many times.

I started listening him in the mid-1970s, when I was about 14. I was probably aware that he was Jewish, although his Jewishness did not play an overt role on his classic albums that I was devouring at the time.

Then, bang, he became a Christian. It was Big News.

In 1979, he released Slow Train Coming, a hit-you-between-the-eyes Christian album on which Dylan thanked Jesus for taking away his sins, rejoiced at the prospect of a second coming, and warned of what was in store for those who did not believe.

dylanmuseum3.jpgWhat was so striking was the directness of the message. Dylan, after all, was known for lyrics that were anything but direct.

Funny thing was, the album yielded Dylan’s first hit single in some time, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

In 1980, Dylan released Saved, an all-out Gospel record. The title says it all.

On one song, he sang: “You have laid down Your life for me/What can I do for You?”

In 1981, came Shot of Love, which included only one unmistakable Christian song: “Property of Jesus.”

And then it was over.

Reports had Dylan returning to Judaism. There was extensive media coverage of a visit to the Western Wall.

But as best I can tell, no one really knows what religion Bob Dylan identifies with today (if any) — even though one of the dominant themes on his recent records is mortality.

So I am very intrigued by “Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years,” a new documentary that includes interviews with musicians and others who were around Dylan during the Jesus Years.

A trailer for the film shows fans walking out of his early Jesus-oriented concerts. “He don’t sing nothing like he used to,” one guy complains.

One fellow in the trailer notes that Dylan was rather evangelical at the time: “It’s not like he turned into a Presbyterian or something.”

The movie is being screened on Saturday (Nov. 1) at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St. in New York City, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is Free.

Regina McCrary, who sang on Slow Train Coming and toured with Dylan during the Jesus Years, will perform.

And there will be a panel discussion featuring McCrary, bass player Rob Stoner (who played with Dylan then), and Mitch Glaser, a founding member of…Jews for Jesus and president of Chosen People Ministries, a group that evangelizes Jews.

In the trailer, Jerry Wexler, the famed Atlantic Records producer who died this past August, says this about working with Dylan on the Slow Train Coming record: “I had no idea it was going to be wall-to-wall Jesus.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.