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Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan Paperback – September 3, 2002

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About the Author

Scott Maxon Marshall is a freelance writer and first-time author who lives with his wife Amy in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His articles and interviews have been published in On the Tracks, a U.S. magazine about Bob Dylan; and in Isis and The Bridge, two Dylan magazines based in England.

Award-winning journalist Marcia Ford is a former editor for The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, associate editor of Charisma magazine, and editor of Christian Retailing. She has written ten additional published books. She and her husband, John, have two daughters and live in Central Florida.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A LONG, STRANGE TRIP By Scott Marshall with Marcia Ford

In the spring of 1979, just months after his conversion, Bob Dylan began recording his first Christian album, Slow Train Coming. He recorded in Sheffield, Alabama, at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which one of Dylan’s record producers, Barry Beckett, had helped found ten years earlier. Over the years, the studios—seemingly located in the middle of nowhere—managed to attract a host of top recording artists, including Cher, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Dire Straits, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

But the recording of Slow Train would not be like any other Muscle Shoals had ever witnessed. Full of zeal, Dylan tried to interest his other producer, Jerry Wexler, in the New Testament. Wexler responded, "I’m a sixty-two-year-old card-carrying Jewish atheist." According to Wexler, that was the end of the discussion.

But Beckett’s production assistant, Dick Cooper, maintains that the biblical banter between Dylan and Wexler wasn’t restricted to the brief exchange Wexler describes. During breaks in the recording schedule, Cooper said, the two discussed Scripture. Cooper even has a photograph of Dylan taking notes in which Wexler—hardly a religious man—was discussing specific Bible verses; in another photo, the rest of the crew is going over guitar parts while Dylan and Wexler discuss Scripture in the back of the control room. Talking about the Bible and religion was their leisure activity, but, according to Cooper, neither one could convert the other.

But when he was working, Dylan’s focus was riveted to every aspect of his new project. He had an idea in mind for the album cover and communicated this to his art team at Columbia; the artwork he chose, drawn by freelance artist Catherine Kanner—who is also Jewish—was right on target. "There was to be a train, and there was to be a man in the foreground with a pickaxe [symbolizing the cross of Jesus]," Kanner said of the instructions she received. "A normal pickaxe has the handle and then that piece that goes over it; it usually does not have another piece that sticks up. It was made clear to me that it needed to have that piece sticking up so that it would resemble a cross. I knew at that point that that’s what he was looking for. It was subtle."

As it turned out, Nick Saxton, who provided the back cover photo for Slow Train Coming, was "heavily involved in a secret Bible study" at the time, while Tony Lane, Columbia’s art director, was also coming to faith in Jesus.

Back in the studio, Wexler was "knocked out" when he first heard the lyrics Dylan had written, according to Beckett; both men felt the lyrics stood up to the songwriter’s usual standards. Beckett was especially taken with "Gotta Serve Somebody": "When I heard those lyrics, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is great.’ It wasn’t your typical, corny Christian-related music, having to do with ‘Jesus loves me, this I know,’ all that stuff. It had depth."

Many Dylan fans, though, didn’t seem to see it that way. They weren’t exactly thrilled with the new album, released in August of 1979, less than eight months after the singer’s conversion. Where Beckett saw depth, many of his fans and critics saw judgment; to them, the album’s lyrics depicted a harsh God ready to deliver the hammer blow to humanity at any moment. That may have been an unfair assessment, but it was apparent that a song like "When He Returns"—ironically, Wexler’s favorite—with its image of God with an iron rod was enough to cloud the thinking of some of Dylan’s fans and keep them from appreciating the image of a merciful God found elsewhere on the album.

Even so, the reaction to the album appeared to be out of proportion to its lyrical and musical quality. Why were his fans giving their idol such a hard time over this? Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, who still thinks the album is "great," believes that what people saw was the intolerance of Christians. "Christians have created a fair amount of animosity among non-Christians by virtue of their own intolerance, so that there’s a knee-jerk response in a lot of people to any manifestation of devout Christianity," Barlow maintains. "I take the view that the solution to intolerance is certainly not more intolerance. If you want to do something about intolerance, the first order of business is to tolerate those that would not tolerate you."

The intolerance his fans exhibited in reaction to the release of the record was nothing compared to the intolerance that came after Dylan debuted three of his new songs—"Gotta Serve Somebody," "I Believe in You" and "When You Gonna Wake Up?"—on, of all places, the television comedy show Saturday Night Live. Though the audience that night took it well, his critics didn’t.

Rabbi Laurence Schlesinger, who has written a number of articles on Bob Dylan, compared the repercussions of that performance to the shock Dylan’s followers experienced when he traded his acoustic sound—a hallmark of the folk scene that had regarded him as their spokesman—for an amplified electric sound at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, where some in the audience tried to boo him off the stage. The rabbi recalled being "completely stunned" at the words Dylan sang and the message he conveyed during his Saturday Night Live appearance.

Another long, strange trip with Bob Dylan had just begun.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Relevant Books (September 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 097145762X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971457621
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mostly, I'm a book author, with 18 traditionally published books. I'm also a ghostwriter, though of course I can't talk specifically about those books; let's just say that I've ghostwritten or contributed to 12 additional books. I'm also a book editor, book reviewer, writing instructor, writing mentor, and journalist. I'm married with two adult daughters, and I have a special interest in postmodern spirituality.

Customer Reviews

Very interesting reading.
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, "All is well..." and the unacceptance felt in "I Believe In You": I believe in you even though I be outnumbered.
If you are interested in spiritual side of Dylan and his lyrics, this book is for you.
C. Lee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By "sonofagunn_1776" on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
* * * * *
Throughout this book, Scott Marshall reveals that many of the answers people are searching for, in regard to Bob Dylan's faith, are found within his songs and life. The problem tends to be the biases brought to the music beforehand. This causes words that Dylan has said to appear contradictory, to be taken out of context. The author helps straighten them out, as he exposes the big picture (each chapter chronicles Dylan's life to the present year: 1941-1978, and so on). Though it is evident that the author also believes in Yeshua Ha Mashia (Jesus Christ) on a personal level, he does well in allowing the musician's own words and actions to speak for themselves.
Mr. Marshall covers numerous events, concerning (among others) such friends as Allen Ginsberg and acquaintances like Frank Zappa. And they help give added weight to lyrics in songs like "Precious Angel": My so-called friends have fallen under a spell. They look me squarely in the eye and they say, "All is well..." and the unacceptance felt in "I Believe In You": I believe in you even though I be outnumbered. Oh, though the earth may shake me-Oh, though my friends forsake me-that couldn't make me go back.
It is evident from Dylan's music that he feels people have tried to pigeonhole him. It is apparent, however, that his faith is strong regardless. Dylan has found critics on all sides. And he has done well to do what many people apparently fail to--delineate between his faith in Christ (which is personal) and religion (which, in and of itself, is not).
As Dylan sings in "Need A Woman," he is: searching for the truth the way God designed it. Not man. This would go hand in hand with his not being beholden to any "rabbi, preacher, or evangelist.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bornintime VINE VOICE on October 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
It is interesting how many Dylan fans view Bob Dylan's involvement in Christianity as restricted to a couple years in the late 70's and early 80's and those years as a momentary lapse which he thankfully came out of. If one digs deeper into Dylan's work they will see an entirely different scenario. Dylan has had some Biblical references and themes in his songs since he first emerged in the early 60's. What does one make of the Jewish Dylan's Basement Tapes outtake, "Sign on the Cross" concerning the narrator's consternation that Jesus just may be the king of the Jews? The years following Dylan's born again period provoke much debate about his religious stance. Had he renounced Christianity, embraced Judaism? The Author makes a compelling case that shows how he believes Dylan has never ceased believing in Jesus even while embracing his Jewish roots. Mr. Marshall has meticulously researched these issues by examining Dylan's work through the last 2 decades including the songs that Dylan plays in concert day in and day out. Personal interviews abound. It is obvious that the author is a devoted fan who knows what he writes about. Well worth purchasing, this book is an interesting look at an often overlooked side of Bob Dylan.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Harris on December 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
One thing that really struck me about Martin Scorcese's recent Dylan documentary, "No Direction Home," is how much integrity Dylan displays when considering his artistic vision. And the pressure has been tremendous, as different camps have sought him out to make him their own. Joan Baez's comments regarding the desire to enroll him in protest efforts is perfectly illustrative of this. Just as illustrative is Dylan's push-back, which would result in his severing, at least partially, ties with that activist singer. His words have that kind of pull, but Dylan insists that the songs stay in a territory that he, not others, defines.

Still, the real career capper that went beyond Dylan's rejection of the folk movement, is his turn to Christianity. What to make of this turn? As Marshall and Ford point out in their book "Restless Pilgrim," his fans shouldn't have been that surprised, since Dylan has been signaling a religious sensibility for years in a number of his songs. And Dylan has said, look to his songs, if folks want answers about where his head and soul are at.

"Restless Pilgrim" is for the most part a distillation of things Dylan during the "faith" part of his career. Following this progression, Marshall and Ford make a strong case for Dylan still being a Christian - and a Jew, which are not at odds with each other. Looking at the songs Dylan still plays in concert, not to mention any number of comments made to interviewers over the years, you can't help but shake your head at the various Dylan "experts" out there who insist the Christian thing was just a phase. Well, clearly it's a phase that goes on.

One aspect of the book I really liked, were the various discussions of neglected albums.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Marc Axelrod VINE VOICE on April 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
Bob Dylan is a wizard with words. But his life is almost as interesting as his compositions, especially his spiritual life. Scott Marshall takes us on a tour of Dylan's spiritual life. His thesis seems to be that even though Bob is a seeker of truth, he is still a Christian after all these years. He highlights interviews that Dylan has given through the years, from the Sixties all the way to the present day.

However, when you read a Dylan interview, you never know whose answering the questions; the real Bob Dylan baring his soul, or Dylan the icon, or Dylan the whatever. Bob seems to enjoy being masked and anonymous, so I think it is tenuous at best to make a firm conclusion based on his interviews.

I think Dylan has gone back to the Judaism of his youth, and so I disagree with the author. Yet I also appreciated the fascinating journey that this book takes you on. Dylan truly is a restless pilgrim, and Marshall's book is faithful to its title. Recommended reading.
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