Hearing Bob's Hymn Brings It All Back Home; MORAL MATTERS

Daily Mail (London), August 16, 2017 | Go to article overview

Hearing Bob's Hymn Brings It All Back Home; MORAL MATTERS


Byline: Dr Mark Dooley mark.dooley@dailymail.ie

THERE was a quite unremarkable movie released in 1973, called Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. It was a Western that starred James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson. It might have had no impact on the cultural register except for one remarkable moment.

The soundtrack included a song that was composed and sung by another of the film's leading actors. It appears in the middle of the movie and only lasts a couple of minutes.

It is, however, a masterpiece of modern music. The haunting opening chords are delivered with sublime delicacy: 'Mama, take this badge off of me I can't use it any more It's getting' dark, too dark to see I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door' Bob Dylan's music is saturated with religious imagery. But this song is particularly poignant because it could well be a hymn to those who perished in the Holocaust. To read it in this way is to see the 'badge' as the yellow star, the darkness that of oblivion.

Dylan's genius is revealed not so much in his melodies, which are comparatively simple and straightforward. Rather, you find it in his lyrics which are laden with meaning and metaphor.

But in Knockin' On Heaven's Door, it is the combination of intense imagery wrapped in a mournful melody that renders it unforgettable.

For me, this song is a hymn of sorrow. The first time I heard it performed live was in the RDS in 1989. Dylan wore a cap covered with a hood and a pair of shades, but he sang a majestic version of Heaven's Door that left me speechless.

The last time I saw him play was in Kilkenny in 2002. Towards the end of the concert, the lights dimmed and the little troubadour sang this song as if it were an anthem to the dead. When it ended, I found that I was weeping.

Sometimes, the most meaningful moments of our lives happen in a second. It might be a song, a line of poetry, a sunrise or a kiss. But in that moment, we have a revelation of what it means to be human, to be situated on that threshold between the timeless and time.

That is how I felt that night in Kilkenny. I knew Dylan inside out, had written a pamphlet on the mystical element in his lyrics, but nothing had prepared me for that moving moment. …

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