My intention had been to write a similar article about the 1981 album “Shot of Love” and then to go on and write a series of articles or a book about the albums and tours since then looking particularly at Mr Dylan’s use of Old Testament and New Testament imagery but also other imagery he used commonly across many years which helps us to understand and appreciate his work.
Unfortunately, I got bogged down in the article on “Shot of Love” which is still not finished although I keep returning to it and tinkering with it. I hope it will be completed as I think I might have some important things to say but who knows when.
This week, as has become his habit when a new album is due. Dylan’s staff published on his website a new interview he has given to Bill Flanagan:
Mr Flanagan seems to be a writer that Bob particularly trusts and he has given him several important interviews over the past decade. This new one is intended to herald his latest album of standards, the 3-disc set “Triplicate”.
I was in my mid-teens when “Saved” was released. I’d just begun to discover Bob Dylan’s music around then but, to be honest, I was far more interested in albums like “The Times They Are A-Changin'” than “Saved” or “Slow Train Coming”. I’d caught on to the singles from “Street Legal” via Annie Nightingale’s radio show but really nothing else of his contemporary work was even on my radar. From “…Changin'”, I made the predictable moves to “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde” and for me Dylan was an interesting master songwriter from the 1960s.
I could be seen around college with a copy of “Writings and Drawings” under my arm but even in that my interest faded after the “John Wesley Harding” album.
There is a time when a man’s heart yearns for a little Soul and R’n’B (old meaning of the term). So last night, it was off to the Royal Albert Hall of all places – the least likely Soul venue in the whole world – for an Al Green concert. Accompanied by UK singer, Gabrielle, as support, Reverend Green was stopping off for two nights in London on his world tour which has been running since April and has yet a few more nights to run.
Gabrielle opened the show with a set that included most of her hits – Dreams, Give Me a Little More Time, Rise, Sunshine and so forth. Her band were allowed half of the stage and the volume was lower than it needed to be and the Albert Hall has a habit of swallowing sound anyway. Her set was perfunctory, pleasant and not very exciting.
Before the show, I tried to count how many times I’ve seen Al Green perform in concert. I’ve seen him in London, New York, and Birmingham and I stopped counting when I got into double figures. So I’m used to all those parts of the show which a master showman like Green manages still to make seem spontaneous but are actually very well-rehearsed and have been going on in this way for many years. Given that factor, this was still full of energy and a good show. Reverend Al included songs from his new album "Lay it Down" (the title track and "Stay With Me") and 1 track from his 2004 set, "I Can’t Stop" (title track). Aside from that it was the hits ("Let’s Stay Together", "Tired of Being Alone", "Love and Happiness", "Let’s Get Married", "Take Me To The River" etc, etc.), some gospel ("Everything is going to be alright", "Amazing Grace", Nearer My God to Thee") and a medley of covers.
Green has a warmth with his audience, he has a vocal range which is still astonishing and a band which is tight but fluid.
Shame about the venue. I would like to see him cut loose with the set list rather than just give the appearance of that. But all-in-all given the longevity and varied nature of his career, I think this guy is amazing.
(This was the original title. When it was published elsewhere, my editor chose to retitle the piece “Bob Dylan: The Spiritual Journey of a 20th Century Icon” which was not what I wanted AND rather seemed to miss my point)
When Leon Patillo was converted in the late seventies, the Christian music industry and its press was full of the news of the conversion of “Santana’s lead singer”. Those who are familiar with the music of Santana will know that the band revolves around and is named for its guitarist and has used a mammoth amount of vocalists over the last 30 years. But the facts don’t always get in the way of Christian reporting and a good story when it sees one.
Patillo may now only merit a footnote in the history of Contemporary Christian music but his launch into the Christian marketplace and its subculture was indicative of something that was going to happen time and time again in the late 70s and early 80s. The church had come to believe that celebrity converts in some ways added to the validity of the gospel. Perhaps if it waved the flag hard enough and high enough and showed that someone famous believed then those who didn’t would be persuaded by celebrity testimony.
Perhaps it was symptomatic of the times. It was the opening of an era in church life which was heavily influenced by the Vineyard fellowship, John Wimber and his teachings. The argument went something like this – if people see marvellous works of God then they would be persuaded of the validity of the gospel and accept Christ. Leaving aside troubling comments of Christ that suggested it was an adulterous generation that looked for a sign and that people would not be persuaded even if someone was raised from the dead, whatever the weaknesses of the theology and the theory of the church, the Vineyard movement would make a lasting impression on the church for the next two decades, until the passing of Wimber, its most persuasive advocate.
Which brings us to Bob Dylan. Not only was Dylan the height of the cult of the celebrity convert, his conversion occurred whilst he was under the auspices of the Vineyard movement. After his conversion, Dylan immediately began to record exclusively gospel songs and began to perform in concert in a way that was out of keeping with the first twenty years of his career. Someone who previously had needed to be encouraged to say “Thank You” between songs and who evaded questions presented by the press, now began to preach sermons about Armageddon and give interviews about his new found faith. Sometimes he was booed and heckled whilst on stage whilst others talked about it all being “a phase”. In 1982, he reverted to type refusing to talk about much of anything once more. He left Vineyard, began to study Scripture, occasionally with the Jewish Lubavitch sect, and declined to host a gospel music awards show. The church that had a use for Dylan’s celebrity now had no use for him. His 1983 album “Infidels” was searched by the Christian press for the expected disowning of the Christian faith and when none came the religious press paid less and less attention to each subsequent Dylan album. The Dylan Christian era was over, it seemed.