“Oh, yes, that’s right, they want the old stuff. But the old stuff’s not going to save them and I’m not going to save them. Neither is anybody else they follow. They can boogie all night, but it’s not gonna work.” So said Bob Dylan in one of his 1980 interviews. A few more interviews pop up in this year than did in 1979, and they shed a good deal more light on where he was at.
In an interview that originally ran in New Zealand (of all places), Karen Hughes revealed that Dylan attended “the Assembly of God, a fundamentalist, pentecostal, evangelical denomination that believe in the literal Bible and speaking in tongues”. So there’s that. Assemblies of God (the NZ paper has it wrong) was the faith of both Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis as well, although I have to think that was a coincidence.
He also connected his current faith to the work that he had always done: ““I guess He’s always been calling me”, Dylan said gently. “Of course, how would I have ever known that? That it was Jesus calling me. I always thought it was some voice that would be more identifiable. But Christ is calling everybody; we just turn him off. We just don’t want to hear. We think he’s gonna make our lives miserable, you know what I mean. We think he’s gonna make us do things we don’t want to do. Or keep us from doing things we want to do”.
In a separate interview from May 16, 1980, Dylan reflected on the older work that he was, at the time, no longer interested in playing live: “Oh, yeah, I love that stuff. I look at it now and it amazes me that it was me that even wrote it or performed it.”
1980 is the peak year of Dylan’s religious period – or at least the peak of his public profession of his faith. Saved, which I’m just now listening to for the very first times, is much more explicit in its religiosity than was Slow Train Coming. As I type this, I am midway through my second ever listening to this album as I am stuck on a plane to Calgary from Toronto that has a broken entertainment system; I may listen to it five or six times on this one flight. Musically it strikes me as a far superior album, and one of the best-produced albums Dylan has done in quite some time. But I’m not really listening to the lyrics yet at this point, so I’m not sure what I’ll think of it as an album when all is said and done.
The quote I probably liked best from the 1980s interviews was this: “It would have been easier”, he sighed “If I had become, or a Buddhist, or a Scientologist or if I had gone to Sing Sing”. This is completely true. Of all the things he probably could have done to alienate his audience at the end of the 1970s, Christianity was the biggest. Imagine how cool he would’ve seemed if he’d gone to prison!