Bad Religion

Amy Julian

I’m going to be completely honest, and perhaps heretical, but I have never really listened to or cared much to learn more about the enigma that is Bob Dylan. I’m not one of those scenesters that buy the Bob Dylan or Pink Floyd or even Stones t-shirts and claims to be a big fan and I certainly don’t own a Bob Dylan album. Sure, I’ve heard his music on WROR when riding in the car, but aside from the occasional melody in movies, I am kind of clueless. So going into Joel Gilbert’s Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years, I wasn’t sure what to expect and kept an open mind. Turns out, the cluelessness I possess about Dylan and his aura of complete mystery isn’t too far from what a lot of his devoted fans and the public felt. Bob Dylan was a force that subscribed to no set of rules and could not be fit into one genre of music. He marched to the beat of his own proverbial (and on stage) drum, while remaining constant only in his inconsistency.

I knew he was around and involved during the 1970’s war protests and was a free-spirited soul. What I didn’t know was that throughout his life and career, Dylan went from a harmony-loving, hazy guy to a devout believer in God. In this DVD, we see first hand accounts from those closest to Dylan in some capacity (president of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, his band mates and backup singers, and even those critics who panned his religious releases). The purpose of the DVD seems to be an attempt at closure for fans and critics alike to finally get answers from the people who were with him during the trying years of his conversion and acceptance of The Lord. Though the interviews can sometimes drag on and seem a bit repetitive, it is not the knowledge about his conversion itself (including the step-by-step process of how he went about making the call, then setting up a meeting, then meeting with the people from The Vineyard…you get the picture) that I found the most interesting. The interviews give light to who Bob Dylan is as a person and the immense difficulty and backlash he endured for following the lead of a High Power.

What I also found striking was the connection that many otherwise seemingly polar opposites of Dylan felt with the singer. Many of those who were interviewed had themselves been through hardships with drugs, alcoholism, abuse, and used Dylan’s story as a jumping off point to launch into their own accounts. Bob Dylan, it seems, did in public what those closest to him were doing in private. And this was not without severe negativity from fans and the press. Dylan’s newfound religion and his adoption of extreme Christian ideals soon showed itself in his music, with three of his next releases being “Christian-themed” albums. Those who were more familiar with his older music and who appreciated his nonconforming sound and lyrics were quickly trashed by his preaching of God and The End and The Almighty Heavens. The DVD even features interviews with the San Francisco journalists who were some of the first to condemn his new sound. What struck me the most was that Dylan, through all of the negativity, remained true to himself and followed through with his beliefs through his music.

With live footage from his concerts and his surprise performance at Clinton State Prison for Women (found in the Extras), we are given a picture of Bob Dylan as a performer. Old clips of Dylan himself (though very rare) are sprinkled throughout the two-hour documentary, Dylan’s glassy eyes and frizzy mane a true testament to his laxness. At two hours, it’s true the DVD does seem to drag on in some parts, but director/producer Joel Gilbert livens it up with discussion of Dylan’s music rather than solely focusing on his religious journey towards the Apocalypse. Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years is a great DVD for those who have a background knowledge of Bob Dylan that they can build upon; for those who are just as clueless about Bob Dylan as I, starting with his being born again probably isn’t the best choice to get a full picture of Dylan’s life. The DVD Extras, which includes a photo gallery of his costumed extravaganzas and additional candid interviews, are, in my opinion, more entertaining and informative than the bulk of the DVD. I’d say those who aren’t fans, or aren’t well versed in the weirdness that is Bob Dylan, you’re not missing anything; for those who are in fact fans of the ragamuffin rocker, it’s a must.

Amy Julian can be reached at [email protected]