Paul Cella on Sean Wilentz’s “Bob Dylan in America”

Over at What’s Wrong With the World, Paul J. Cella reviews the book Bob Dylan in America, authored by Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz. Here’s how the review begins:

The fact that Bob Dylan became a Christian is still very much controversial among many of his fans. It is not too much to say that when he began recording directly evangelical, even apocalyptic evangelical albums of rock music, beginning in 1979, he delivered a shock comparable to that delivered to the folk movement in the mid-60s, when he so famously “went electric” and induced that old Communist Pete Seeger to threaten power cords (chords?) with an ax.

It is well to remember that Slow Train Coming, the first overtly and emphatically Christian album, came but a few years after the revival of Dylan because of the greatness of Blood on the Tracks and Desire, wherein he showed signs of a revival of his old folk roots.

Still, it is a puzzle to me how the singer of “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” (1967) could ever really shock somebody by being discovered a Christian. The evidence of Christian themes and imagery dates from the mid- to late-60s; and the borrowings from Biblical ideas date from his earliest songs.

The final fact is that Bob Dylan, by becoming an unabashed Christian in song and statement, and yet still churning out some pretty impressive music, is an inducement to shock and outrage for many Americans.

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