Liberal Arts Blog — Bob Dylan — The Born Again Christian Phase (1979–1981) — “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Slow Train Coming,” “Property of Jesus”

John Muresianu
6 min readJun 13, 2024

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Liberal Arts Blog — Thursday is the Joy of Music Day

Today’s Topic: Bob Dylan — The Born Again Christian Phase (1979–1981) — “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Slow Train Coming,” “Property of Jesus”

In March-April 2023 I had a three-part series on Bob Dylan. Part One featured: “Blowin in the Wind,” “Times They Are a Changing,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Part Two covered “Hey Mister Tambourine Man,” “Just Like a Woman,” and “I Threw It All Away.”

Part Three highlighted “Lay Lady Lay,” “Watchtower,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.” (see last two links below)

Today, three songs from his Born Again Christian Phase which lasted from 1979 to 1981 and produced three albums: “Slow Train Coming” (1979), “Saved” (1980). and “Shot of Love” (1981).

Dylan’s “Born Again” phase was triggered by a conversion experience that began when, on November 17, 1978, he picked up a silver cross that a fan had thrown on to the stage at a concert in San Diego. But a few years later he noted that “It’s time for me to do something else.

Jesus himself only preached for three years.”

Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY (excerpts) — won the 1980 Grammy for Best Vocal Performance By a Male. Dylan has performed it over 500 times between 1979 and 2021. John Lennon parodied it with a a song “Serve Yourself.”

1. “You may be ambassador to England or France, You may like to gamble, you might like to dance, You may be heavyweight champion of the world, you might be a socialite with a long string of pearls.”

2. “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes, indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody, Well it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” (refrain)

3. “Might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage, You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage, You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief, They may call you doctor or they may call you chief.”

NB: “You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk, You may be the head of some big TV network, You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame, You may be living in another country under another name.”

Bob Dylan — Gotta Serve Somebody (Official Audio)

Gotta Serve Somebody | The Official Bob Dylan Site

Gotta Serve Somebody — Wikipedia

SLOW TRAIN (1979) — “Nothing less than Dylan’s most mature and profound song about America” (Jann Wenner, editor of “Rolling Stone” magazine) — But others have criticized the “racial prejudice and righteous nationalism” of the third verse. Excerpts -

1. “Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted, Can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my companions are they lost or are they found? Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon? There’s a slow, slow train comin’ around the bend.”

2. “I had a woman down in Alabama She was a backwoods girl, but she sure was realistic, She said, “Boy, without a doubt, have to quit your mess and straighten out, You could die down here, be just another accident statistic” There’s a slow, slow train coming up around the bend.”

3. “All that foreign oil controlling American soil, Look around you, it’s just bound to make you embarrassed Sheiks walking around like kings, wearing fancy jewels and nose rings Deciding America’s future from Amsterdam to Paris And there’s a slow, slow train coming up around the bend.”

NB: “Man’s ego inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more, You can’t rely no more to be standing around waiting In the home of the brave, Jefferson turning over in his grave, Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan, and there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend.”

Bob Dylan — Slow Train (Live from San Francisco, 1979)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_Train_(Bob_Dylan_song)

PROPERTY OF JESUS (1981) — “Resent him to the bone. You got something better. You’ve got a heart of stone.”

1. “Go ahead and and talk about him because he makes you doubt, Because he has denied himself the things that you can’t live without, laugh at him behind his back just like the others do, Remind him of what he used to be when he comes walking through.”

2. “He’s the property of Jesus, Resent him to the bone, You got something better, You’ve got a heart of stone.” (refrain)

3. “Stop your conversation when he passes on the street, Hope he falls upon himself oh won’t that be sweet? Because he can’t be exploited by superstition anymore, Because he can’t be bribed or bought by the things you adore.”

NB: “When the whip that’s keeping you in line doesn’t make him jump, Say he’s hard of hearing say that he’s a chump Say he’s out of step with reality as you try to test his never because he doesn’t pay tribute to the king that you serve.”

“Say he’s a loser ’cause he got no common sense, Because he don’t increase his worth at someone else’s expense, Because he’s not afraid of trying, say he’s got no style, “Cause he doesn’t tell you jokes or fairy tales, say things that make you smile.”

“You can laugh at salvation, you can play Olympic games, You think that when you rest at least you’ll go back from where you came, But you’ve picked up quite a story and you’ve changed since the womb, What happened to the real you, you’ve been captured but by whom?”

Bob Dylan — Property of Jesus (Official Audio)

Shot of Love — Wikipedia

BACKGROUND — born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941

1. His paternal grandparents were Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who, fleeing the 1905 pogroms, arrived in the US in 1905. His maternal grandparents were Lithuanian Jews who had immigrated to the US three years before.

2. “Dylan’s father Abram Zimmerman and his mother Beatrice “Beatty” Stone were part of a small close-knit Jewish community.”

3. “They lived in Duluth until Dylan was six, when his father contracted polio and the family moved to his mother’s hometown of Hibbing, where the lived for rest of Dylan’s childhood, and his father and paternal uncles ran a furniture and appliance store.”

NB: In 2016, Robert Allen Zimmerman won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first musician to do so. “Perhaps the most radical choice in a history dating back to 1901.” (New York Times)

Bob Dylan — Wikipedia

The Top 10 Moments of Bob Dylan’s Career

Liberal Arts Blog — Bob Dylan: “Blowin in the Wind,”“Times They Are A Changin,” “Like A Rolling…

Liberal Arts Blog — Bob Dylan (Part II): “Hey Mr.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My spin — then periodically review, re-rank, and exchange your list with. those you love. I call this the “Orion Exchange” because seven is about as many as any human can digest at a time. Game?

LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED THEMATICALLY

Updating PDFs: 2023 — Google Drive

ATTACHMENTS BELOW:

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, (11/17/20)

#3 Israel-Palestine Handout

YOUR TURN

Time to share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to music.

Or the coolest thing you learned in your life related to music.

Say your favorite song or songs. Or your favourite tips for breathing, posture, or relaxation. Or some insight into the history of music….Or just something random about music… like a joke about drummers. jazz, rock….or share an episode or chapter in your musical autobiography.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And perhaps to cement in your memory something important you would otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that matters to you.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.