KMEX Interview



From what I can tell, Bob Dylan only granted one interview in 1979. Unfortunately it’s not a very good one, but it is his earliest statement about his Christian beliefs (other than the music). Recorded on December 7, 1979 for KMEX, a radio station in Tucson, AZ, it was conducted by Bruce Heiman. It seems that it was occasioned by the determination of the Tucson chapter of American Atheists to picket Dylan’s performance in the city the next night. The problem with the interview is that Heiman is struggling to understand exactly what the Atheist group wants to accomplish or what it is that they actually believe. It is also clear that Dylan doesn’t know, so you have an interviewer and interviewee trying to get to the heart of American Atheism in the 1970s, not very successfully.

Here’s how Heiman characterizes their press release: “We got a press release from the Tuscon chapter of the American Atheists and they said in response to your recent embrace of the born-again Christian movement they plan to leaflet your upcoming concert. They say they recognize the need to inform those in the audience that the new Dylan cause-celebre is a repressive and and reactionary ideology and that members intend to draw attention to the contradictions between the previous content of your art form and the message which your songs now expound.”

First, it made me wonder if American Atheists continue to send out press releases about Christian rock stars to this day, or was this a particular function of the late-1970s?

But we’re not here to blog about Madelaine Mary O’Hare and her followers. What does Dylan have to say about his faith? That’s what we want to know. It’s pretty straightforward and pretty direct. When Heiman suggests that the Atheists are against any sort of religion he responds:

Dylan: Well, Christ is no religion. We’re not talking about religion … Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

A little later, when Heiman avers that the Atheists believe that all religion is repressive, he responds:

Dylan: Well, religion is repressive to a certain degree. Religion is another form of bondage which man invents to to get himself to God. But that’s why Christ came. Christ didn’t preach religion. He preached the Truth, the Way and the Life. He said He’d come to give life and life more abundantly. He talked about life, not necessarily religion …

Finally, when confronted with the notion that he has adopted a new ideology:

Dylan: Well, this ideology isn’t my ideology either. My ideology now would be coming out of the Scripture. You see, I didn’t invent these things – these things have just been shown to me. I’ll stand on that faith – that they are true. I believe they’re true. I *know* they’re true.

Most of the rest is just two guys talking past each other about atheism. You can read a transcript of it here. It’s short. I feel sort of cheated by this interview, because it is clear that Heiman isn’t prepared to get to the heart of what Dylan believes, and he’s a poor stand-in for someone who might want to challenge Dylan on any of this.

That said, it is instructive to a degree. It is clear that the betrayal that many of Dylan’s fans felt at this moment was real and palpable, and it is also clear that Dylan really and truly does not care. It would be idiotic to suggest that his new-found faith was not one hundred per cent legitimate. He would do three tours (one in 1979, two in 1980) without playing any of his secular songs. He very clearly is hoping to win over some of his former fans to his way of thinking. He is hoping that his music will lead others to see the light.

This was an interview where everybody seemed to come off confused.

Slow Train Coming



I’ll admit it – I was a little bit scared of this album. You hear the stories. The legends of the born again period. The genius lost in confusion. The earnestness of the songs. Dire Straits as the backing band. Well, Slow Train Coming has all that and, you know, it’s not really that bad. Well, maybe the Dire Straits.

The only song that I knew well from this album was “Gotta Serve Somebody”, which was enough of a hit, that it is pretty inescapable as a radio presence. Most of the rest has been new to me this week, and it has been a hit or miss kind of week.

Let’s get rid of the bad right away. “Precious Angel”, as noted, is a song that I’m quite happy to be done with after this week, though I think it probably gets played at some live shows next week as well. Almost done with that one.

The title track, which is actually known as “Slow Train”, is just not very good at all on the album. There are live versions where it is better, but it is still not actually good. The third verse is highly problematic.

All that foreign oil controlling American soil

Look around you, it’s just bound to make you embarrassed

Sheiks walkin’ around like kings

Wearing fancy jewels and nose rings

Deciding America’s future from Amsterdam and to Paris

And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

Really, I could have lived a long time without hearing Dylan sing this kind of nativist bullshit. So that’s another one that I’m looking forward to jettisoning.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” has a lot of power chords, and, really?, is that a cowbell? I think it might actually be a cowbell. Not good. “When You Gonna Wake Up?” is also bad (the “Gonna” songs on this album are all bad….). Lots of Dire Straits touches on that one, and these horrible lyrics:

Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts

Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots

Should probably just leave Kissinger out of your gospel songs, I’m thinking.

“Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” is fine, but that’s all it is. Just fine.

So, that’s a pretty bad track record. That said, I do think that there are three songs on here worth keeping.

First, “Man Gave Names to All the Animals”. This one gets a lot of votes for “worst Dylan song ever” (please, “If Dogs Run Free” – end of argument). I don’t see it. It’s a great song to sing around the bonfire at your church camp, or in a Sunday school class. It’s clearly a song for children (a children’s book will even be made out of it somewhere down the line), and that seems to bother some people for some reason that I can’t see. It’s a fun song! I also like the fact that he drops the final line of the last verse:

He saw an animal as smooth as glass

Slithering his way through the grass

Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake . . .

Better, the band doesn’t resolve the song to its opening chord. The first time I heard it (on Sunday) I thought “that’s absolutely brilliant!”. Live, his back-up singers hissed after “a lake”, and that didn’t work nearly as well. The unresolved note is much more powerful.

Second, “I Believe In You” is, frankly, a beautiful song. This is one that Dylan has kept playing live (as recently as 2009). It’s just a great, great love song to God. He performs it well here, and it is simple and it is elegant, and it is great. I love the slide guitar bits. The only thing that keeps this from being the best-late 1970s Dylan song is:

Third, “When He Returns”. This was the shocker for me. Most of the time the final song on any Dylan album has a good chance of being a loser. Not this time. Dylan had actually planned for this to be sung by one of his back-up singers, and to close out the album that way. As it is, it’s Barry Beckett on the piano, a driving, riveting performance, that Dylan sings over. Apparently he did this eight times, and on the eighth he nailed it. Clinton Heylin says that this is his best vocal performance on an album since “Visions of Johanna”. He might be right about that one. This a great Dylan performance, proving that he hadn’t actually lost it, he’d just changed it.

In his interview with Bruce Heiman on KMEX Dylan was asked about separating the songs from the music:

Dylan: Well, they can’t do that. You can’t separate the words from the music. I know people try to do that. But they can’t do that. It’s like separating the foot from the knee.

I know some people won’t like any of these songs because they won’t be able to separate the song from the gospel that informs it. That’s too bad, because at least three of the songs on this album are really quite good. That’s a better number than some of the early-1970s albums.

I’ll admit it – I’m still a little bit scared of Saved.