Magazine article The American Conservative

Bob Dylan, Christian Anarchist

Magazine article The American Conservative

Bob Dylan, Christian Anarchist

Article excerpt

A century ago Henry Adams announced himself founder of the "conservative Christian anarchist" party, and if that first adjective has been blighted perhaps beyond reclamation, "Christian anarchist," calling to mind Tolstoy and Dorothy Day and brave Anabaptists and nude Doukhobors, has a calming and pacific ring. We could use a few in our post-Christian empire.

Jeff Taylor, gentle soul and wise political scientist, has coauthored (with Chad Israelson) a new book, The Political World of Bob Dylan: Freedom and Justice, Power and Sin, locating Hibbing, Minnesota's favorite (well, maybe tied with Celtic Kevin McHale) son within the regional and Christian anarchist traditions.

Like Dylan, the authors are "sons of the Upper Midwest," the land of handcalloused isolationists and Non-Partisan Leaguers. The singer has said that being raised along the Iron Range "gave me a sense of simplicity' steeping him in a culture of community cohesiveness against which bright lads often rebel, but later come to treasure. As a good Minnesotan, young Robert Zimmerman imbibed populist suspicion of the vultures that would pick Hibbing clean and leave it as carrion unless they got pushback, whether from co-ops or strikers or even Reds.

Taylor and Israelson understand that only louts-New Masses propagandists, neoconservative think-tank martinets-subordinate art to politics, so they eschew tortured exegeses of elliptical lyrics and attempt merely to understand, and celebrate, Bob Dylan's music and Christian witness.

Nonetheless, they detect a Minnesota accent and anarchist bent throughout Dylan's career, from "A Hard Rain's AGonna Fall" in 1962 to his Christian conversion circa 1979 to his memoir Chronicles, Volume One (in which he revealed that Barry Goldwater was his favorite '60s politician) to his recent AARP interview, in which he expatiated on plutocrats who find international philanthropy so much more glamorous than helping the single mom in the trailer park or the homeless vet in the ghetto: "Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than in giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? ... These multibillionaires can create industries right here in America. But no one can tell them what to do. God's got to lead them."

When I read of Dylan playing before a huge American flag on his 1965 tour of England, and his confession that "England is OK, but I prefer America," which is "what I know. ... It's all there for me," I thought of another patriot of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Sinclair Lewis, who memorized Minnesota's 87 counties and county seats. …

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