Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is Bob Dylan Channeling Bishop Sheen?

Bob Dylan Channels Bishop SheenThe real Bishop Sheen

When I saw Bob Dylan performing Blind Willie McTell on TV a few weeks ago, I was struck with the increasing formality of his body language. The first time I saw him, about 8 years ago, he conveyed very little physically (or verbally, for that matter). 
By the Fall of 2009, he had loosened up considerably. He now actually faces his audience from time to time and employs dramatic gestures on a handful of songs. Ballad of a Thin Man, Forgetful Heart and Cold Irons Bound most notable among them. 
In the last year or so, his gestures seem to have grown more ritualistic. The hitching of his left leg while rocking at his keyboard, the clutching at the hem of his coat and the grabbing of his lapels (no jacket required) are now standard components of his live performance. 
Watching his performance of Blind Willie McTell, I was taken aback by how much he comes across like a musical version of Bishop Fulton Sheen. After reviewing one of the late Bishop’s Life is Worth Living episodes I was able to draw a few comparisons.

Both are flamboyant in dress and gesture.

Sheen was a rock star among bishops, Dylan a bishop among rock stars (Ok, that’s a reach, Dylan is more a successor to Paul than to Peter.) 

Bishop Sheen’s series ran for years on end, Bob’s tour is said to be never ending. 

Both have been praised by Pope John Paul II for their bodies of work.

Bishop Sheen used popular culture to illustrate scripture, Dylan uses scripture to illuminate popular culture (Doubt that? Listen to Blowin' in the Wind or All Along the Watchtower)

Father Robert Barron comments on All Along the Watchtower

Decades after his "Christian period" God continues to lurk in Dylan's music. Huck's Tune from the soundtrack of Lucky You is superficially about love and poker, but hints at something deeper.

All the merry little elves can go hang themselvesMy faith is as cold as can beI'm stacked high to the roof and I'm not without proofIf you don't believe me, come see.
                                             - Bob Dylan, Huck's Tune

On his album Together Through Life, This Dream of You and Forgetful Heart both describe a longing that is both romantic and spiritual at the same time.

From a cheerless room in a curtained gloomI saw a star from heaven fallI turned and looked again but it was goneAll I have and all I knowIs this dream of youWhich keeps me living on
                                         - Bob Dylan, This Dream of You

Forgetful heart
We loved with all the love that life can give
What can I say
Without you it's so hard to live
Can't take much more
Why can't we love like we did before
Forgetful heart
Like a walking shadow in my brain
All night long
I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain
The door has closed forevermore
If indeed there ever was a door

                                     - Bob Dylan, Forgetful Heart

You can listen to these and a few other recent Bob Dylan songs on the Spotify playlist Dylan Songs More People Should Hear.

1 comment:

  1. Fr. Barron's comments on "All Along the Watch Tower" are terrific. That song never made the kind of sense to me that it does now.