Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan

Rough and Rowdy Ways
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Both the opening and closing songs of Bob Dylan’s new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, are a litany of things that have inspired Dylan over his nearly 60 years as a recording artist. While it is often hard to nail down exactly what Dylan means in a song or a line, there are times when this album sounds like Dylan could be trying to summarize his life and his art, perhaps thinking of this as a final artistic statement. But, being Dylan, nothing is ever that straightforward. 

Looking back, though, is a major theme of this album, both personally (as in the opener “I Contain Multitudes”) and for society as a whole (in the album closer, the 17-minute-long “Murder Most Foul.”) Even the name of the album refers to the old Jimmie Rodgers song, “My Rough and Rowdy Ways” and Dylan’s “Goodbye Jimmie Reed” references an old blues singer. You can hear the years in Dylan’s voice, perhaps an acquired taste even at its best. But he sings with an expressiveness that gives the album a gravitas that is hard to miss.

Bob Dylan is the first artist to place albums in the Top 40 in seven(!) decades, and Rough and Rowdy Ways is a worthy successor to many of the albums (and the Nobel prize in Literature) that made him a household name in all of those decades. (Columbia Records)

About the Author

Robert J. Keeley is professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance learning at Calvin Seminary.

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Does it register on anyone connected to this publication that everything about Bob Dylan's life and music is anti-thetical to all things Christian. A few years ago I was listening to an interview he was conducting and the following question was put to him: (parphrased) Why are you still doing this after all these years? His answer was striking. He said and I quote, "I made a deal with the devil and I intend to hold my end." It strikes me that the reviews of secular artists ought to a least be honest about where their subject-matter artists are at in terms of the gospel and the kingdom. It is not a matter indifferent to Bob Dylan and it ought not be for us either. 

Dear Lambert Sikkema,

First of all, your quote of Bob Dylan’s interview is inaccurate. His entire interview, not just an out of context clip, on CBS’ 60 Minutes can be found here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-bob-dylan-rare-interview-2004/. The quote you are referring to appears near the end of the transcript/article: So why is he still out there? “It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end … to get where I am now,” says Dylan. And with whom did he make the bargain? “With the chief commander,” says Dylan, laughing. “In this earth and in the world we can’t see.”

Earlier in the same interview, Dylan mentioned God, when asked why he lied to the press: “I realized at the time that the press, the media, they’re not the judge -- God’s the judge,” says Dylan. “The only person you have to think about lying twice to is either yourself or to God. The press isn’t either of them. And I just figured they’re irrelevant.”

Given the context, it is just as likely that the “chief commander” Dylan made a bargain with was God.

Secondly, our Reformed worldview and theology has a strong theme of God's common grace. We believe all truth is God’s truth, even when it comes from a non-Christian source. Hence, we review artistic works even from non-Christians if the works have worthwhile truths or themes for us to consider.

Thank you.

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