I have decided to return to writing my blog today. And, I do so with such a heavy heart. For the second time in five months, I have lost an important person for my teenage years. Back in June, my head Cross Country coach, Larry Stoner, passed away from pancreatic and liver cancer. And, just a couple of Sundays ago, I lost my assistant Cross Country and Track coach, once again to the same combination of cancers. I had grown to be closer to Randy Sellers over the past 26 years as his wife was first a sitter for song #2, who later became best friends with my wife. Even Son #1 took Randy’s youngest daughter to their junior prom, as they were good friends. Still, Randy’s passing hit me harder than I imagined it would. And, I was honored when I was asked to give an eulogy at his memorial service. Up to this point in my life, that was the second most difficult writing assignment, closely behind the eulogy I gave for my beloved mother-in-law.
Ironically, just the day before Randy’s passing, I had received the new Bob Dylan collection from his terrific Bootleg Series, titled Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13, which covers his much-maligned and underappreciated Christian phase that lasted from 1979 through 1981 and three albums: Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love. All four of those albums provided me more comfort during this time of loss and sorrow than I ever expected. You see, Randy, like many of us, had trouble tying together all of the contradictions within the The Bible and Jesus’ teachings. Growing up as a Preacher’s Kid, he was ridiculed by many for always questioning the true intentions of the Word in the Bible. And, I loved that about him. Because, I had the exact same issues. But, Randy’s questions came from a misinterpreted love of learning. Finally, he was often criticized when he simply accepted us for who we were, not as some Evangelicals wish to place us into a cookie cutter. And, to me, that summed up Bob Dylan’s Christian phase.
Many non-believers took offense to Dylan’s seeker phase. Bob was seeking for the truth every bit as much as Randy was, and that I am. We all simply attack that seeking from different points-of-view, none of which are wrong. What is wrong is the criticizing of the person who is doing the seeking, whether from the self-righteous point-of-view of the latter day pharisees or the non-believers alike. So, for the past ten days or so, I have been actively listening to these four Bob Dylan albums that are full of more questions than answers, and, to me, that is their beauty. Just because you are not seeking answers to these seemingly eternal questions, please just do not write off the music of Bob Dylan from this time period. Doing so, makes you equally as close-minded as the Evangelicals who say there is no room in Heaven for those who question their beliefs.
Today, I would like to present my 15 favorite songs from Bob Dylan’s short Christian phase. Truly, the man was still creating great music.
- “Every Grain of Sand” (Shot of Love, 1981)
- “I Believe in You” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Alter” (Shot of Love, 1981)
- “Gotta Serve Somebody” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “Precious Angel” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “When You Gonna Wake Up?” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “Covenant Woman” (Saved, 1980)
- “Caribbean Wind” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “Solid Rock” (Saved, 1980)
- “Saved” (Saved, 1980)
- “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “Saving Grace” (Saved, 1980)
- “Watered Down Love” (Shot of Love, 1981)
- “Slow Train” (Slow Train Coming, 1979)
- “In the Garden” (Saved, 1980)
Yes, this time period in Dylan’s career is very uneven. Yet, these 15 songs can proudly stand with the best songs his has written at any other time in his career. Personally, I would much rather listen to Dylan’s version of Christianity, with all of its warts and seeking of answers, than thousands of the current stuff being released by so-called Christian artists. Then again, that’s me.
Finally, here’s to my friend, mentor and coach, Randy, who taught me that it is just fine to be the person I am who is constantly raging against the machine. May none of us ever lose that.