From the dreaded born again period, I suspect the important part of this song to Dylan at the time was the oft-repeated chorus (it may be the devil, or it may be the lord) but I love all the “you may” lines which make up the rest of the lyrics. There’s a lot of humor, along with the notion that all people are subject to the same justice despite their circumstances. It’s not true of course, but what a wonderful world it would be. (That eventual justice thought led me to listen to John Lennon’s Instant Karma, which led me to listening to a lot more Lennon for the first time in years despite him being one of the two good Beatles, and I was very pleased with the simplicity [no insult] and honesty of his work after all the time I’ve been spending on Dylan lately. Oh, and fuck you, Mark David.) Back to the title song--the music and backup singers work too. I haven’t heard or read all of Dylan’s god songs, and have no desire to, but along with this one I’m pretty sure my other favorite would always be With God on Our Side (though I prefer the version by the Neville Brothers).
Although (Because?) I was raised Catholic, I never did believe in the devil or the lord (but as another musical semi-related-to-this-title parenthetical comment, I do believe in the deep dark harmonica blues of Johnny Sansone’s cd The Lord is Waiting and the Devil is Too--in this case a more direct threat than Dylan’s), but from my precocious hippie days onward, I was always interested in finding some reason for living other than accumulating stuff as the dominant capitalistic society wanted me to.
I became interested in Bahai in college because of a very pretty and very kind woman, but she was a senior and I a freshman so it didn’t last long. In the eighties, the Moral Majority pissed me off so I joined American Atheists and did battle in the local newspaper, which caused someone to look up my address and sign me up for religious mailing lists.
Years later in Boston I attended a famous UU church for a while, but that was because of its social and political activism, not for any religious reasons. I read the Tao te Ching often and its sense of not trying to control the world fit well with my values and the tai chi classes I took. I also spent some time in classes with groups of Wiccans and Pagans—I didn’t believe in their magic and rituals any more than Catholicism’s, but at least they were focused on the natural world instead of the supernatural.
In music, there was also always that longing for something more. In teenage years it was mostly George Harrison—not My Sweet Lord (too obvious, too make believe), but Living in the Material World with its sense of being in the wrong place and the hope of escape had enough for me to relate to--and Cat Stevens for his varied seeking and vulnerability, but not for the god-awful Morning Has Broken which is so bad that skipping it wasn’t good enough--I had to delete it from my computer.
Slightly later in my listening came Bob Marley, as wacky as religion can get but the music was fun and reassuring, and yet later, deeper exploration of Van Morrison’s music beyond the hits with its mix of Christian and Pagan lyrics, and even later Bruce Cockburn whose Christianity I ignored in favor of his extreme liberal politics and some adventurous music.
I have a few more titles on the original list I made a couple years ago when I first had the idea for this series and I’ve been checking lots of song titles and lyrics and listening to a lot of Dylan lately. There are some songs which I love but which don’t stir specific ideas or memories so I may combine them into a post which is actually about the songs for a change, and there are three, maybe four, albums which will get their own posts.
Without internet at home, there is a lot more time for writing, but I still forget that I can’t check any lyric or fact any time I want and I only get to wifi two or three times a week which interrupts my attempts at a regular posting schedule. But I’m enjoying the motivation to do a little creative writing again; I’ve known from the beginning what the final two titles will be, but there’s some time before I get there.