The music is fantastic, but Barron's analysis of the religious meaning behind Dylan's lyrics is even better.
On May 24, Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, Bishop Robert Barron paid the legendary singer a musical tribute. With acoustic guitar in hand and a harmonica strapped to his neck, Bishop Barron played through “Every Grain of Sand,” Dylan’s 1981 hit.
Before he began playing, Bishop Barron shared a personal reflection on Dylan’s music and how it impacted him. He said:
“I’m marking a very special day, which is the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan. I discovered Bob Dylan the same year I discovered Thomas Aquinas. I was 14 and I was listening to the concert for Bangladesh and George Harrison, of the Beatles, introduced Bob Dylan, whom I had never heard of.
“He began singing one of his great songs from the early days, ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,’ and I never heard popular music with that level of sophistication and poetry in the lyrics. So Bob Dylan had me from that moment on. I’ve loved him in his folk period, in his blues, rock and roll, and Gospel. He’s like an encyclopedia of American music.”
Bishop Barron went on to explain that he had thought of writing an article about Dylan, but he decided the best tribute to give would be to play one of his songs. He settled on “Every Grain of Sand,” which Barron calls his “best Christian song.”
The bishop proceeded to put on a great performance, playing guitar, harmonica, and singing. Barron surprised us with a clear tenor that expertly held the tune. In fact, he sounded a little better than Dylan, who was never known for outstanding vocals. We were especially blown away by how well Bishop Barron played the harmonica. Even through such a simple little solo, it’s very hard to play guitar and play the blues harp at once.
Bishop Barron has long extolled the Christian virtues in Dylan’s music. In 2008, Word on Fire produced a brief video in which Barron dissects the lyrics of “All Along the Watchtower,” the 1967 classic tune that was made famous by Jimmy Hendrix. He said in the interview:
“I think Bob Dylan is one of the really great spiritual figures in popular culture. He’s always been deeply biblical from the beginning of his career till today. Go all the way back to ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.’
“But one of my favorites was ‘All Along the Watchtower’ … That song is right out of the 21st Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, when the watchman in the watchtower sees two riders approaching and Dylan is now going to bring that into his story. It’s a beautifully told story.”
Watch the video below to hear Bishop Barron’s astute analysis of this Dylan classic.