Thursday, 31 January 2008

Bob Dylan>Ballad of a Thin man

Ok, so it's Bob again - but I'm the one who makes the rules here - and he's the only one who can bring the kind of catharsis I need right now. There's something I just have to get off my chest and although I nearly went with 'Idiot Wind' I decided to opt for something a little more cerebral - thus 'Ballad of a Thin Man' (1965, Highway 61 Revisited).

In Scorsese's No Direction Home, you get amazing footage of the violent reaction to Dylan when he goes electric (see clip below) - the boos and jeers at his gigs, the constant probing and inane questions from the press and ultimately the questioning of his motives for simply doing what he does best - which is write and sing songs. Dylan's response is magnificent as he just raises the bar time and again despite the animosity. He ploughs on relentlessly and eventually everyone caught up.

The truth is, his critics in '65 just don't get 'it' - they don't understand what he's singing about, the changing world that he represents and thus the chorus: 'Something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones.' And yet during this period his records sold faster than ever, his concerts sold out. Why? Because they knew the world was changing and they needed to be part of it - but they couldn't reconcile it with where they were at.

And so for me, this is the point we are at with church and mission today. Something is happening - David Bosch calls it a paradigm shift. Something new is happening - and so many people with influence don't 'get it'. Something new is happening - and for whatever reason I am a part of it - and I refuse to be dragged down by the 'booing' from the sidelines, the questioning of my motives for what I do and the criticisms of the Mr Jones' out there. I'm simply going to take a leaf out of Bob's book - I gonna turn the volume up and continue exactly where I'm heading. And I know when I need it, I always have a live version of a Ballad of a Thin Man to put in the stereo and give me catharsis!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Bob Dylan: I'm Not There

I'm going to break with my own self-imposed convention and make a post about a movie rather than a song. It is however, a movie named after a song, so that's enough for me. In my opinion I'm Not There is a great film. Admittedly I'm a huge fan of Dylan (increasingly so as I get older) and I know a bit about his 'story' but what gets me about this film, is that it doesn't really matter what happens with the plot, the sheer magnificence and breadth and depth of the songs carry it along, relentlessly. When I got lost or confused with Billy the Kid, I just closed my eyes and listened!

After reading reviews I was expecting the movie to be too bizarre to really 'enjoy'. Perhaps it was that expectation that made the film so enjoyable in the end when I did kind of 'get it'. And everyone was right about how brilliant Cate Blanchett was -it will be a travesty if she doesn't get an Oscar for her performance.

The film's idea that Dylan's many personas elevate him to some kind of 'spiritual' or transcendant place above us mere humans certainly has some truth. There is defintely some 'god-like' quality about him or prophet at the very least. It's just impossible to pin him down or work him out. This is the very rediscovery many Christians are making about God himself. Just when you think you have him in your grasp you realise he's 'not there' at all - he's moved on somewhere else and it's time to follow. Don't get me wrong about Dylan - he's certainly not God - but then again when I hear the music I reckon he's closer than the rest of us!

Saturday, 5 January 2008


I've been avoiding Coldplay since this blog began. Like U2, I felt a bit snobbish towards them - it all seemed too obvious when it comes to songs with a spiritual edge. Still, I love both Coldplay and U2 and enjoy listening to pretty much everything they've written (although X&Y (2005) is ultimately very disappointing compared with the first two albums).

The first time I heard Coldplay was on Virgin Radio whilst driving around South Wales on work duty. As soon as 'Yellow' finished I couldn't wait to find out who wrote it. Within a day of hearing it I bought the album Parachutes (2000). The whole album is pretty good, but 'Yellow' is simply a masterly track. It just sounds like a worship song to me - in parts the lyrics work as song from God to Man, and conversely, it works the other way, too.

Not long after the song had become a hit, I travelled to Frankfurt to a huge gathering of Christians. A speaker there, who was talking about the song, suggested that the colour 'yellow' in the Old Testament represented 'faith'. I've never been able to find any scholarly support for this theory, but it sounds like a good effort. Either way, the song never fails to make me think of Jesus, his sacrifice and the loving Father who sent him.