Apocalypse

Future Nobel Laureate Warns: The Antichrist Is Coming!

Friday A/V Club: The Devil and Bob Dylan

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Columbia

It's April 1980. You live in Toronto. You're going to see future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan play a show at Massey Hall. Of course, you don't think of him as future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. You think of him as a hippie rock star who's just pissed off vast swaths of his fan base by converting to evangelical Christianity.

Hopefully you weren't expecting to hear his old hits, because Dylan doesn't sing any of those. Instead he plays a bunch of his new religious songs, and at one point, with the band vamping behind him like he's a preacher and it's Sunday morning, he lets loose a little sermon. "In the Bible," he says, "it tells you specific things, in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, which just might apply to these times here." And he talks about Afghanistan and he talks about the Antichrist, and while he's standing there playing the prophet you start to realize that future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan isn't just into Christianity; he's into some freaky endtimes shit.

But damn if he doesn't make it compelling, and somehow it all builds to a revved-up performance of "Solid Rock." Check out the whole thing here:

I'm already on record as a fan of Dylan's Christian albums, and I'm not gonna recycle my arguments for them here. I wrote a piece for No Depression back in 2003 that makes my case, and if you're interested you can check that out. I'll just note that I'm not a Christian myself, so I'm not inflating their quality because I agree with them. And much as I love Dylan's best work, I'm definitely not the sort of fan who eats up everything he puts out, so that's not the issue here either. I honestly believe that Slow Train Coming is one of the great American jeremiads and that Saved is 43 minutes of good-and-sometimes-great gospel music.

But I do have one little bias that might be magnifying my affection for this stage of Dylan's career. It's the window it opens on that Carter-era apocalyptic mood, when everything from the Afghan war to the Jonestown massacre—yeah, Dylan mentioned Jonestown in that sermon too—felt like a sign that Armageddon was near.

Every era of American history has its own set of apocalyptic fears, a particular collection of cataclysms that seemed to loom at that specific moment. Inevitably, someone combines those historically contingent threats with the more long-lived tales Americans tell each other about the endtimes, so that, say, whatever happened that week in the Middle East is imagined as an event foretold in the Bible. Such exercises always look a little ridiculous in retrospect, once the crisis has passed without the world ending.

But try to look past the ridiculousness. Try to suspend your disbelief and take them seriously, the way you might when you watch a horror movie. If you can do that, you'll find they're a valuable portal to the past. If you want to understand how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan felt as it happened, you have to take yourself out of the mindset that sees that incursion as the beginning of a nine-year war that ended nearly three decades ago. You have to imagine how it looked to someone who had no idea how this was going to end, someone who caught a whiff of Armageddon in the air.

Someone who might talk about the invasion as though he was just a few years removed from doomsday, not 36 years removed from winning a Nobel Prize. And if he can wrap up that talk with a solid song, all the better.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For the Orson Welles version of Carter-era apocalypticism, check out the second and third videos here. For the far end of the period's endtimes fears, go here.)

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58 responses to “Future Nobel Laureate Warns: The Antichrist Is Coming!

  1. Good news for American Socialist:

    Venezuelan supreme court rules President Maduro can approve his own budget

    http://tiny.cc/a6uxfy

    1. This seems like a rare and fantastic opportunity to look at our candidates and a nation collapsing under socialism and have a fun compare/contrast.

      Personally, given HRC’s stance Re:Citizens United, she seems much more likely to appoint a Supreme Court that would allow her to approve her own budget (Holy Hell, does that statement sound weird).

  2. In those days, in the home of the brave, Jefferson was turning over in his grave.

    1. Now that I think about it, he probably is doing so again today, and he may have competed a 360? turn.

      1. *completed

  3. “I’ll just note that I’m not a Christian myself”

    Wow, how do you survive in the overwhelmingly Christian atmosphere at *Reason?*

    1. It is shocking isn’t it.

    2. Jesus Eddo, you really like to climb up on your cross, don’t you?

      1. Not really, I just like how someone has to explain away liking Christian-themed songs –

        “I just read it for the articles, I swear!”

        1. “I just read it for the articles, I swear!”

          The metaphor you have chosen is…an odd one.

          1. *I* am an odd one, but there it is.

            1. (I simply meant that it seems that in Reason circles getting caught listening to Dylan’s Christian tunes is an awkwardness akin to being found with a Playboy..or maybe worse)

              1. I know of at least two other staffers here who like Slow Train Coming, and one of them edits reason.com and reason.tv.

  4. You have to imagine how it looked to someone who had no idea how this was going to end, someone who caught a whiff of Armageddon in the air.

    I don’t have to imagine – Harry S. Stamper and his crew went into space and took care of business.

  5. I did not know that not only did Dylan sing gospel music, he danced to it as well.

    . Instead he plays a bunch of his new religious songs, and at one point, with the band vamping behind him like he’s a preacher and it’s Sunday morning, he lets loose a little sermon.

    This is really funny.

    1. Back in the day, I attended a number of different Christian rock concerts with friends of mine who were born-agains; the quality of music ranged from God-awful to really very, very good. The more mediocre stuff always seemed to have a time on stage where the lead singer (or some other Important Member of the Band) would give what amounted to a mini-sermon or two, oftentimes met with impatience by the audience. It was interesting, to say the least.

      Dylan’s Slow Train Coming was, IMNSHO, the best album he ever did, and I’m not particularly religious, either. “Gotta Serve Somebody” is a warning that can be interpreted without any reference to religion at all, and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up ? particularly as I watch election campaigns and/or results all across the Western world these past couple of years.

      1. Serve somebody is a great song. I’m not even slightly religious but his Christian albums from a musical perspective are pretty good.

        1. I like that song too. I think, however, it is pretty religious. It is just not overtly religious. The song is too clever and subtle to be overtly religious. The point of the song is a rejection of the idea of the Superman. It doesn’t matter who you are, how powerful, how famous or whatever, you are serving someone and some larger ideal whether you admit it or not. That, when you think about it, is a very religious message. The main appeal of rejecting God is that doing so gives you the freedom to do as you will and see things and the world as they are. The point of the song is that is a lie and you are serving something whether you know it or not. That is a pretty religious message.

          1. Have you ever seen this version of it? Not just a great performance, but you get to see Kris Kristofferson getting down in the audience.

            1. Thanks for sharing that. Bonus: Kenny Rogers unironically being Kenny Rogers.

            2. Yes I have. And Kris is another interesting guy. He is a total communist, which is a real shame. But I can’t help but still like a guy who was a Rhodes Scholar, Army Ranger School Graduate, Helicopter Pilot who walked away from all that to be a country singer and turned out to be a genius at that. He is one of the true bad asses of the last 50 years. And he also was a giant sex symbol in the early 70s who had women throwing themselves off roofs to sleep with him. My mother had a mad crush on him. He is pretty much the only man on earth that even I have to admit my mother would have cheated on my father with.

              1. to be a country singer and turned out to be a genius at that

                He may be a genius as a country songwriter, but I wouldn’t put him in the top echelon of singers

                1. I like his voice actually. But, you know what I mean. It turned out pretty well for him. He ended up being one of the most famous and successful country acts of the 70s.

          2. Pretty sure the chorus has the line, “It may be the devil or it may be the lord”. So it is oft repeated. Weird quinky-dink for me as I just heard that song for the first time a few weeks ago, now it’s in Reason articles and shit. Life is weird like that.

  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0OdNY8Aybw

    People say Dylan should not have received an award for literature.And I am generally supportive of arguments that say things like this should be limited to strictly literary figures and not given to song writers and such. That being said, modern poetry for better or worse isn’t what it once was. The days of it following a strict form and meter ended in the 20th Century. With that in mind, I have less of a problem with Dylan winning. My problem is with the changes to poetry not the Nobel Committee’s reflecting those changes. Judged by the standards of modern poetry, Dylan stands up really well. I think the above spoken word piece is as good as anything any of the modern poets have written. Being a complete reactionary, that is a bit of a backhanded compliment coming from me, but it is a compliment none the less.

    1. And I am generally supportive of arguments that say things like this should be limited to strictly literary figures and not given to song writers and such.

      I think the above spoken word piece is as good as anything any of the modern poets have written.

      I think the general complaint isn’t that Dylan has zero talent but that his notoriety (and the award it won him) has nothing to do with what talent he does or doesn’t have. Playing the recent parallel conversely; like awarding The Bard a Grammy.

      Dylan is a decent-to-good lyricist and had a cult of personality, but there are better lyricists and greater cults of personality, together as well. Also, for quite some time, the Nobels have been drifting away from ideals and towards ideology, with Literature at the forefront. There are better lyricists and cults of personality but they don’t personify or embody an ideology the way Dylan does.

      1. Dylan is unpredictable and about the least ideological artist I can think of these days. So, I am not sure how his selection makes the case for the Nobel Committee becoming ideologically driven, which it in other cases certainly is. As far as there being “better lyricists”, that is a question of taste I guess. Is Dylan my favorite lyricist? No. But that is because I have pretty pedestrian tastes in such things. My favorite lyricists are people like Chuck Berry or Cole Porter who could tell a story or turn a phrase with a real sense of meter and word economy. I don’t really like abstract and for lack of a better term “modern” stuff which is a lot of what Dylan did. If you do, however, and are the kind of person who digs EE Cummings and such, then Dylan is about the best lyricist there has ever been in popular music. No one has even come close to doing the stuff he has.

        And as far as “cult of personalities” around lyricists, I would like to know who you think has a bigger or more long lasting cult than Dylan because I can’t think of anyone.

        1. And as far as “cult of personalities” around lyricists, I would like to know who you think has a bigger or more long lasting cult than Dylan because I can’t think of anyone.

          Lennon? Guthrie himself?

          And you misunderstand me a bit re:ideology. I don’t mean politically. IMO, Dylan is a bit ideological politically, but he is and strives to be an artists’ artist (whereas Lennon was/became more political crusader and Guthrie a bit more everyman, and equivalent/superior lyricists like Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and Elton John entertainers, etc.). If Robert Plant wrote a singular piece of poetry that surpassed anything Dylan ever wrote he wouldn’t be selected because he put it to music to make money or perform in front of fans rather than simply aspiring to write great(better) poetry.

          1. Guthrie is not even close. Guthrie has a following among folkies. Dylan’s cult encompasses most of the Baby Boom generation and a lot of other people. And Lennon certainly has a cult around him but it is as a performer as much as being a song writer. And if your example of a bigger cult is the martyred member of the Beatles, that leaves a lot of room for Dylan’s cult.

            If Robert Plant wrote a singular piece of poetry that surpassed anything Dylan ever wrote he wouldn’t be selected because he put it to music to make money or perform in front of fans rather than simply aspiring to write great(better) poetry.

            I don’t think it has to do with comercialism. Dylan has never made any secret about his desire to perform for cash. He was the guy who insisted on his money up front before he would go on stage at the Isle of White Festival in 1970. Oddly, his fans and cult never seem to take him at his word about that. Over and over again Dylan tells them in so many words “I am not what you think I am, I am an artist, performer and business man with my own agenda and I really don’t give a shit about helping you out with yours” and they continue to see him as one of them.

            In the documentary on Dylan Scorsessi made a few years ago Judy Collins talks about how to this day she will attend some political event or protest and people ask her if Dylan is coming and she has to tell them “of course he is not, he never came to these things” It is amazing.

    2. In 1000 years there will be books (or whatever the equivalent of books are) of 20th and 21st century verse, and they are a lot more likely to contain Bob Dylan lyrics than a lot of what is studied as serious poetry.

  7. Bob Dylan is apparently a complete dick about enforcing his copyrights and having his songs pulled off Youtube. So, it is virtually impossible to find his versions of his songs on the net. All that ever I can ever get out of a Google search is God awful covers by various wanna be folk singers. I wonder if he realizes that by having his versions pulled he is ceding the field to the worst sorts of amateur covers and causing anyone who doesn’t know his music but searches for it to hear it in the worst possible light.

    So, I would put a link to it but I can’t find a proper version of it. If you really wonder why Dylan is a big deal and think of him as some mumbling old guy who can’t sing, listen to an unreleased song of his from the early 1960s called Lay Down Your Weary Tune Lay Down. Don’t listen to any of the covers and especially not the Byrds cover. They are all horrible. For some reason that song can’t seem to be sung properly by anyone else. The Dylan version, however, is just epic. It is one of the best pieces of folk music you will ever hear.

    1. Bob Dylan is apparently a complete dick about enforcing his copyrights and having his songs pulled off Youtube.

      Yet he doesn’t seem to go after the bootlegs of stuff he never released. It’s almost impossible to find his proper releases on YouTube, but it’s full of great (and not-so-great) live performances.

      1. Yeah. You would think he would pull the lousy live performances and leave the good recordings alone. I guess he figures no one would ever pay for the bad recordings so there is no harm and letting them be out there. I don’t think he understands the importance of the net and Youtube to music these days. If he did, he would understand that by ensuring only lousy recordings of his music are available on the net, he is likely giving a very bad impression to the current generation of music listeners not old enough to have heard his actual recordings. Very short sighted move on his part I think.

        1. It is strange that he wouldn’t have an official account like so many of the artists today to make some extra money off of his music by selling ads. Then not only is the best stuff out there, but the artist has control over how it is presented and is the primary financial benefactor.

          1. It is. His management seems to have not changed its view of the internet since about the year 2000, when the attitude was enforce every copyright at all times to keep your music from being had for free on the net. Dumb move.

    2. “I wonder if he realizes that by having his versions pulled he is ceding the field to the worst sorts of amateur covers and causing anyone who doesn’t know his music but searches for it to hear it in the worst possible light.”

      I’ll keep this in mind the next time I do Eddie’s Cover Countdown.

  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9EKqQWPjyo

    This is a great Dylan song done later in his career in the late 1990s. If there are better song lines than “I used to care but things have changed”, there are not many of them.

  9. When the Antichrist gets here he’s gonna be awfully pissed that someone is already sitting in his chair.

  10. His Christian stuff is not bad. I agree.

    Apocalyptic climate change cultists need an album.

    1. God no Rufus, God no. Why do you hate humanity? Is it the winters up there? Have they frozen your heart?

    2. Apocalyptic climate change cultists need an album.

      You don’t think REM just released it as singles?

      Losing My Religion
      Fall On Me
      It’s the End Of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

      Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage seems like a decently accurate description to me.

      1. I am pretty sure Losing My Religion is about Micheal Stipe being an in the closet gay guy who doesn’t know how to express his desire to a good looking man. “Losing my Religion” is apparently some old Georgia phrase describing the feeling when you are too embarssed to say something. NTTAWWT

        1. “Losing my religion” is some older southern slang for losing your temper, from what I understand.

          1. That makes more sense. Maybe I have forgotten the meaning of the phrase. But I know I have seen REM explain the song as being about Stipe being in love with some guy and not knowing how to express it.

            1. What I got was that the singer was obsessed with a girl who he couldn’t close the deal on, while losing out to other guys and was just at the end of his rope losing his shit not knowing what to do. But I guess it could have been a guy, too.

              1. I think it was a guy. Jesse Walker on reason opened my eyes to a song really being about a guy a few years ago. He had a post up about the writers of the Dusty Springfield song “Son of a Preacher Man”. Turns out the due who wrote that song were both gay men. That song was actually written from a male perspective and is in fact probably the gayest song ever written. Listen to it again and imagine a closeted black homosexual man singing it about his first love and it totally makes sense. It is one of those “holy crap” kind of moments.

  11. The apocalyptic theme was pervasive because everyone thought we were losing the Cold War at the time and Ronald Reagan wasn’t about capitulation.

    In other words, Dylan and born-again Christians weren’t outliers, here.

    Certainly punk rock was full of the stuff at the time. Two excellent examples:

    San Diego’s own Battalion of Saints:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faQZOKGW5eA

    The atheists in Bad Religion

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAPNNUqFy14

    It was in the movies everywhere, too.

    Night of the Living Dead (Best zombie movie evar), for instance, ends with the government nuking the entire town to contain zombie apocalypse.

    Anyway, it wasn’t just evangelical Christianity. Apocalyptic assumptions were pervasive throughout society circa 1980.

    1. Night of the Living Dead (Best zombie movie evar), for instance, ends with the government nuking the entire town to contain zombie apocalypse.

      Not sure which film you’re thinking of/saw; NOLD ends with the black protagonist being shot. The Crazies (2010, a remake of Romero’s 1978 original) ends with a town getting nuked.

      1. the original NOLD is one of the most downer endings ever. You watch the entire movie and the protagonist survives only to be shot by accident by some trigger happy sheriff. There are not many movies that left me as disappointed at the end as that one. What a bummer of an ending.

        1. That black dude was a fuckin’ hero. I hate crappy endings in fiction, I get enough of that shit in real life.

          1. I agree. That guy was a total bad ass. It was a campy movie but it was also a good one. You get totally sucked in and start rooting for the guy. And after all that, he gets shot. I don’t know why they ended it like that.

      2. I meant Return of the Living Dead

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8TWgOHWeig

        Oh, and it has one of the best soundtracks of any movie ever.

  12. I was introduced to Slow Train Coming by Marvin X. Which is not all that surprising when you think about it.

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