The singer's conversion began with a little silver cross
It is no exaggeration to say that Bob Dylan has had one of the most eclectic careers in modern music. A prolific songwriter, Dylan has composed 359 songs over the last 49 years, in a wide array of genres. Because he is never static, each generation seems to get a different version of Dylan, which is perhaps the reason why the movie inspired by his life, I’m Not There, employed six different actors to play his part.
However, each iteration of “the Bard” has been met with criticism from his fans. It would seem that when an artist becomes the “voice of a generation” people don’t ever want them to change. When Dylan went electric in 1965, his fans famously walked out of his concerts in protest, choosing to listen to local buskers play his old protest songs “purely,” meaning on acoustic.
This would not be the only time that a drastic change in musical style would lead to walk-outs during his concerts. In 1979, fans who had finally grown accustomed to his electric style were aghast as he took the stage and began performing Gospel music. Dylan, however, was unfazed by the reactions of critics. He had found Jesus and the next three years his career and compositions would be dedicated to his faith.
Dylan’s road to Christianity began in 1978, during a concert in San Diego. Between songs, Dylan noticed that someone had tossed a small silver cross onto the stage:
Now usually I don’t pick things up in front of the stage … But I looked down at that cross. I said, “I gotta pick that up.” So I picked up the cross and I put it in my pocket … And I brought it backstage and I brought it with me to the next town, which was out in Arizona … I was feeling even worse than I’d felt when I was in San Diego. I said, “Well, I need something tonight.” I didn’t know what it was. I was used to all kinds of things. I said, “I need something tonight that I didn’t have before.” And I looked in my pocket and I had this cross.
It was in Tuscon, Arizona, that he had another, more powerful experience — a vision of the Lord:
“Jesus did appear to me as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,” he’d later say. “There was a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus … Jesus put his hand on me. It was a physical thing. I felt it. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble. The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up.”
During those three years in which his faith drove his creativity, Dylan released three albums of Gospel music: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981). Each album was full of spiritual songs of praise, worship, and devotion.
Now you can enjoy all of Dylan’s wonderful Gospel music with one box set. The 13th edition of Dylan’s “Bootleg Series” focuses on his Gospel years. This 9-disc set (8 CDs and 1 DVD) contains 100 previously-unreleased recordings of Dylan’s Gospel tunes, both in-studio as well as live, including 14 songs never included on any official Dylan release. The set will also feature a new concert film, with never-before-seen footage from his 1980 tour, and — as a surprising bonus — sermons written for Dylan by Luc Sante and performed onstage by Michael Shannon, which documentary filmmaker Jennifer Lebeau included in Trouble No More. Explained Lebeau, “The sermons provide context to the music … on themes given to him by Dylan via his management team. In one particularly revealing sermon, Shannon warns against rich men who put on a good front but are stealing from the poor.”
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