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Lunch » Tags » Untagged » Bob Dylan approximately: A portrait of the Jewish poet in search of God : a Midrash » User review

Not that wild mercury sound

  • Jul 12, 2013
When I read the subtitle of this book in the library catalog, I was mightily intrigued, because I think Dylan may be the deepest and most accessible theologian of my lifetime.  So a midrash or sermon on the spiritual roots and search of Dylan would be of great interest.  But when I requested and now just finished it, I was just as sorely disappointed.  Pickering writes in such a sycophantic and pseudo stream of consciousness in what he intends, I think, as a tribute to Dylan, that it is at times an unintentional parody of an era and mostly unreadable.

Lets place this in historical context.  Dylan was making his first tour in nearly. a decade since napalming Manchester with pure passion and amphetamines, leaving skin on the highway under his motorcycle, releasing a pair of Nashville-tinted albums recorded in a silky smooth singing style, recovering and recording with his old friends The Band in a ragged but rooted set of music that would be rumoured but not released from the basement for years after the tour, living off the grid of celebrity in a move which if intended to reduce interest in his intentions was a failure, then finally releasing a studio album with The Band.  It was 1974, the album was Planet Waves, and coming out of his self-imposed seclusion Dylan was about again to tear out his heart right here on the stage--just around the corner were the breakdown of his marriage, the agonizing public confessional of Blood on the Tracks, and his personal spiritual crisis and conversion to Christianity.

Pickering perhaps felt this tension under the surface and filtering it through his own Jewish roots turned his review of the tour and the album into this mishmash of a midrash.  I say perhaps because it is hard to discern any meaning and thread of intent out of Pickering's style, so I gave most of the book the precursory scan that it seemed to earn. 

Interestingly I am perhaps closer to liking this book than my review and rating might suggest, because I do agree with Pickering that Dylan's songs are about and tinged with deep spiritual meaning, and Dylan was clearly with those events just around the corner going through a period of intense spiritual longing; I read the lyrics of Street Legal as the prayers of a man on his knees before God about to break one way or the other, either toward Him or away from Him, for Him or against Him.  So I think Pickering was correct in his awareness, but inarticulate in his analysis, and incorrect in his conclusion.

For a much better treatise in this vein on the topic of Dylan's lyrics, try Dylan's Visions of Sin by Chris Ricks.

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July 14, 2013
Thanks for sharing!
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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