Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saving Grace

Anyone half familiar with Dylan's songs and music over the many decades of his career recognizes that there has always been a spiritual thread woven throughout the various themes he explored. This is why the period of his life in which he produced three explicitly Christian albums cannot be considered an anomaly.

With reference to the songwriter's early works Scott Marshall noted in his Dylan bio Restless Pilgrim, "Dylan may not have claimed a personal faith, but his own words indicate that God was very much on his mind." Biblical imagery saturated Dylan's early music, from the Gates of Eden to New Morning and back to the very beginning where he exclaims, "Better tell Jesus to make up my dyin' bed."

I once read a prediction in an early Rolling Stone magazine that Bob Dylan would be the leader of a new religion some day. Obviously they'd keyed in to this spiritual component of his work, too. Except, they also failed to note that Dylan would never want that kind of responsibility. He stepped back when people clamored for him to be a spokesperson for our generation. "I'm not the spokesman for anybody's generation," he said. "I want to emphatically deny being the spokesman for our generation. Fame is just having your name known by a lot of strangers. People who are kind or good are the ones who ought to be famous."

Slow Train Coming was the first of the three to roll into the public. It was well produced, and surprisingly well received. That this album has a special place in Dylan's is confirmed by the fact that he repeatedly opened so many of his concerts over the next two decades with the unsettling directness of Gotta Serve Somebody.

Saved came next and it could not have been more explicit. Songs like "In The Garden", "Pressing On", "Solid Rock", "Covenant Woman", and "What Can I Do For You?" are as straightforward as a Sunday morning revivalist. This caused no end of consternation for many of his former fans.

The third in the trilogy was Shot of Love. Many really good songs here, some with the old bite of Positively Fourth Street and Idiot Wind. He was not going to be shaped by expectations of what others, even the Christians, thought he should be.

This song came from that second album. Anyone who knows me knows that I am often quoting Dylan. So many of his lyrics serve as maxims or expressions that encapsulate an observation or emotion. The last line is one that I have borrowed quite a few times over the years: "It gets discouraging at times, but I know I'll make it..." It seemed, too, a suitable offering for the blog today, as it is Easter.

Saving Grace

If you find it in Your heart, can I be forgiven?
Guess I owe You some kind of apology
I’ve escaped death so many times, I know I’m only living
By the saving grace that’s over me

By this time I’d-a thought I would be sleeping
In a pine box for all eternity
My faith keeps me alive, but I still be weeping
For the saving grace that’s over me

Well, the death of life, then come the resurrection
Wherever I am welcome is where I’ll be
I put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection
Is the saving grace that’s over me

Well, the devil’s shining light, it can be most blinding
But to search for love, that ain’t no more than vanity
As I look around this world all that I’m finding
Is the saving grace that’s over me

The wicked know no peace and you just can’t fake it
There’s only one road and it leads to Calvary
It gets discouraging at times, but I know I’ll make it
By the saving grace that’s over me

Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

Photo, top right: Dylan mural in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

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