Democratic strategists have racked their brains for a plausible message to attract religious conservatives.
Someone should put filmmaker Joel Gilbert’s “Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years: Busy Being Born … Again!” in their hands.
The documentary, which comes out Tuesday on DVD, mines a period in Mr. Dylan’s career that is puzzled over, ignored or disdained by many fans: the three years, from 1979 to 1981, during which the rock icon devoted his recording and performing career to evangelical Christianity.
For those who had followed Mr. Dylan since his days as a champion of civil rights and a peace-loving enemy of “masters of war,” as he put it in his one of his classic Vietnam-era acoustic indictments, the move meant either that Mr. Dylan had been manipulated by rank, attention-seeking Jimmy Swaggart types or that the man had taken leave of his senses.
“Jesus Years” makes the perhaps easily overlooked point that Mr. Dylan’s embrace of Christianity was as polarizing as his “Judas!”-eliciting switch from acoustic music to electric rock in the mid-‘60s. It also makes a persuasive case that the music of the period is a worthy, even essential, part of the Dylan catalog. (The hit single “Gotta Serve Somebody” earned him his first Grammy Award.)
“A lot of Dylan fans in that era kind of shunned or felt personally betrayed that the ‘Voice of a Generation’ went so far off what they considered the deep end to conform to an ideology,” Mr. Gilbert says.
The filmmaker, who also performs in a Dylan tribute band and wears his hair in a shocked Dylan-in-‘65-ish ‘do, sought to find out exactly what happened, and why. The result is a revelatory and sympathetic film about one of the oddest chapters in rock history.
“Very few people really know what it was all about on a deep level,” Mr. Gilbert says. “Was it really sincere? How did it inspire his music? So many people want to know the key to his poetry.”
Rather than treat conservative Christians like specimens on a microscope slide, Mr. Gilbert (who is Jewish, by the way) lets those who were close to Mr. Dylan at the time tell their story for the first time - among them pastor Bill Dwyer of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, where Mr. Dylan worshipped, and singer-songwriter Al Kasha, at whose home Mr. Dylan attended Bible studies.
One gets the immediate sense from “Jesus Years” that there’s a reason Mr. Dylan’s conversion took place when (the late ‘70s) and where (Southern California) it did. A professed born-again Christian, Jimmy Carter, was in the White House; an apocalyptic screed like Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth” could become a best-seller; the San Fernando Valley was crawling with ex-hippies and folk singers who felt washed up at 35.
As described by Mr. Dwyer, the milieu at Carter-era Vineyard sounds prescient: a church for those suspicious of money grubbing, allergic to hierarchical authority and untethered to liturgical tradition. That synthesis - orthodoxy of doctrine but presented in a comfortable, “seeker-friendly” atmosphere - has become the norm in many evangelical churches.
For Mr. Dylan, Vineyard was a place where, as Mr. Dwyer amusingly recalls, he could recite the Beatitudes while wearing a leather jacket, sunglasses and beret.
But what drew Mr. Dylan to church in the first place?
“Jesus Years” offers a few not necessarily competing explanations: He had a genuine born-again experience; Christianity helped him kick a heroin habit; he had always been on the spiritual cutting edge - and evangelicalism was an emerging, vital cultural force.
The movie also explores the factor absent which no one would care about Bob Dylan’s personal beliefs - the music.View Entire Story
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