Busy Being Born Again

In late 1978 Dylan himself was busy being born again. His widely-publicized conversion to Christianity made him perhaps the most famous Jewish apostate in American history. Suffering from a painful divorce, a tiring world tour and too much alcohol, Dylan began looking for answers. He found one:

"There was a presence in the room that couldn't have been anybody but Jesus. I truly had a born-again experience, if you want to call it that.... It was a physical thing. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble."

Pressed into vinyl as the slick Slow Train Coming album, Dylan's new beliefs won him his first Grammy Award. But on tour, he disregarded the savvy advice of his spiritual mentors at the Vineyard Fellowship and obstinately refused to play any of his song from before he found the light. Biographer Heylin downplays the catcalls from the audience, but the transcripts he includes show that Dylan felt obligated to save the souls of an audience he never liked all that much.

"I told you the times they are a-changin' and they did. I said the answer was blowin' in the wind and it was. I'm telling you now Jesus is coming back, and He is! And there is no other way of salvation."

The followup album, Saved, was as self-righteous as its title. (His record company refused to release a live album of this religious music Dylan had recorded at his own expense.)

But Dylan's evangelical phase didn't last long. His third "Christian" album, included such departures from fundamentalism as "Lenny Bruce," a paean to the Jewish comedian.

More importantly, he had begun to synthesize his old vision with the new light. The results ranged from the soaring religious poem "Every Grain of Sand" to a trio of surrealistic songs left off the album but included on the Bootleg Series and the 1985 Biograph collection. "Angelina," "Caribbean Wind" and "Groom Still Waiting at the Altar" update the surrealistic landscape of "Desolation Row" for a darker apocalypse. The show is no longer "Shakespeare in the alley" but "The theatre of the Divine Comedy."

Chapter 5: Lubavitcher or Jokerman?

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