T for Tom

Day 21 – Slow Train Coming – 1979

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 12, 2016



On first listen there was something about Slow Train Coming that stood out to me, beyond the obvious Christian themes of the music. And after a quick cursory history reading just now, I know: Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits plays lead guitar throughout Bob Dylan’s revival record.

And what a strange and grand thing to stumble on – I’ve been shielding myself for days and weeks now, in loathe anticipation of reaching the gospel phase. I’m very familiar with Saved, which is yet to come but one I listened to many times over in college because it’s somehow funky, but I hadn’t ever spent much time in Slow Train Coming territory. This is however, the album with that song “Gotta Serve Somebody” that inspired John Lennon to write “Serve Yourself” just before passing, and for obvious reasons. But then Dylan was also awarded a Grammy for that very same song.

So many contradictions.

The only thing that’s leftover from anything previous would be the “essentially iconoclastic temperament” of the man, coined by Stephen Holden of the New York Times, as he continued to defy expectations for better or for worse.

Robert Christgau, the oft tumultuous critic of Dylan’s home New York paper The Village Voice, called it the best record since Blood On The Tracks. And while I don’t think that’s the case, it is remarkably good in spite of its lyrical and thematical flaws. Knopfler is rich throughout, and the entire record carries the Muscle Shoals sound from Alabama that Dire Straits continued to ride all the way into the 1980s. It’s brooding, dark, and eloquent, but never too spacious or atmospheric to lose its musical way. If you don’t listen to the words, and really even if you do, it is again another testament to the man who comes in way ahead of everyone else with his music.

They maybe wouldn’t follow his testimonies, but then again have we ever?

I know I’ve learned a lot about Bob Dylan during this, and I’ll continue to learn more. He’s growing into a life-sized icon for me personally, beyond even the tattoo of him I’ve had for five years now. But while I will keep looking for reasons that made him tick, and reasons that maybe I can move by, I know I won’t get stuck on these passages. Not everything a prophet says is gold.

Song: “Gotta Serve Somebody”

It’s a great opening track for a record of such biblical proportions.


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