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.