An Examination of Faith Crisis
by Paul Robert Thomas
What follows is an expanded version of an article (Seven Days) which first appeared in draft in ISIS #70.
Following on from my article on Every Grain of Sand (DIGNITY #6) in which I made a reference to the song Seven Days (which the constraints of time and space prevented me from exploring) I hope now to show how this song not only draws heavily upon an interpretation of the New Testament Book Of the Revelation and the Old Testament apocalyptic literature. Working on an early draft of this article, however, I soon found that I could not stop making connections which I had never expected. I hope that they are of interest to the reader. It’s my belief that Seven Days is in Dylan’s ‘apocalyptic tradition’ a world view which seems to go deep into him and through which, I believe, he interprets events in his own life as well as world events. But both Christian and Jewish apocalyptic is ultimately the story, or promise, of salvation:- in Judaism through the coming of the Messiah and in Christianity through the second coming of The Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that Seven Days demonstrates a particularly Christian eschatology suggesting that Dylan was ready and willing for that ‘slow train’ to pull into his station and may have accepted the Christian gospel, with a particularly ‘fundamentalist’ (sic) view of ‘the end times’, some three years before the date given for his baptism and public acceptance of Jesus as his saviour. If Christ hadn’t already put his hand on Dylan then, I propose that Seven Days suggests that Dylan was already troubled in mind enough to be ready and responsive when that time came. However, I believe that Dylan also blends Kabbalic ideas in with the primarily Christian symbolism. If my feelings about this song, its inspiration and subject matter, along with my speculations concerning Dylan’s spiritual health and emotional well-being are right, then I find it surprising at how little attention has been paid to the song by commentators and ‘Dylanologists’, for even those few who have made an effort to address Dylan’s conversion to Christianity seem to have overlooked the significance of this song as evidence of Dylan’s spiritual preoccupations.
To begin with I want to explore the background to this song before looking at events in Dylan’s life around the time of its composition and then, finally, to explore the song with especial attention to the identity of ‘she’, the central character of this song. In fact I believe that ‘She’ stands for two opposing forces. To allow for the validity of more than one interpretation I want to state that while Seven Days can be taken as a simple song about frustrated love, concerning perhaps Dylan ‘waiting for his true love to return’, as Clinton Heylin has suggested in Behind The Shades, it might be more profitably enjoyed by revealing it’s ‘anagogical’, (hidden, mystical) meaning which, I believe, is present beneath the song’s apparent meaning. For although the song can be appreciated by taking it at face value it suggests more if we consider the apparent hyperbole and obscurity in Dylan’s lyric and ask why it’s there. The only way I can give Mr Heylin the benefit of a doubt is if he is willing to concede that Dylan’s ‘true love’ need not be Sara, or any other woman or, that if it is the song deals, simultaneously, with secular and sacred love. In Precious Angel (and, perhaps, in Saving Grace) Dylan appears to address the woman he loves and, simultaneously, his Lord, a characteristic his work shares with some of the poems of John Donne, e.g. The Extasie or Self Love from Songs And Sonnets. To understand what I am moving towards in my own reading of this song, pause for a while and listen to the live version of Seven Days on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. Something is happening here but before I present my own views as to what I think it is I want to present a brief history of this song.
Background and Context
Seven Days was copyrighted with Rams Horn Music in 1976, which doesn’t help us too much with the date of composition, but, according to Ron Wood, Dylan tried this song out in the studio some 5 months after the end of the Desire sessions, (during the Eric Clapton sessions, which produced Sign Language, at the Shangri La Studios, Malibu, in late March1976.) As Ron Wood tells it Dylan tried out a version of Seven Days: “he played it for me and Eric in the studio and we recorded it. There’s a copy of that somewhere around” and “That’s where I got Seven Days from. Bob said to Eric, though 1 was there too – he said “You can have this song if you want it”. And I took him up on it and Eric didn’t”. (Clinton Heylin confirms these dates in Day By Day 1941-1995. Ron Wood goes into detail to explain how, after these sessions, Dylan retired to a tent with a girI in a plaster cast and, if the story isn’t apocryphal, it suggests that although Desire appears to have been Dylan’s attempt at a reconciliation with Sara it was unlikely to work!
In Lyrics 1962-1985, Seven Days is the last song of particular note shown before the material which made up the sessions for Street Legal. (Coincidentally, perhaps, it is also placed, on The Bootleg Series CD immediately before a tri1ogy of specifically religious songs – making up a quaternity?) which began in April 1978, apparently a full two years of no musical output or known lyrics, and the finished album from those sessions, I believe, heralds the emergence of a man who seems to be totally lost, alone and definitely in need of a ‘shot of love’ – but a love more enduring and powerful than the world could offer.
“He started to write Street Legal when we were together. He would show me some of the songs that he was writing, (1t was) practically the entire album… it started when we were on the farm… He was very down. Don’t forget he was suffering when I met him. He was in a bad way. I brought him hack to life. He was practically dead this guy was shot emotionally and he had to get away from all the pressures in Malibu and the farm was really where he got back on his feet again. But then that custody case was so vile and so treacherous”
The above words by Farida McFree, who had known Dylan since 1975 and who became his woman during and after his battles with Sara are quoted by Clinton Heylin in Behind The Shades and, allowing for McFree’s lack of modesty in portraying herself as Dylan’s salvation, they have the ‘ring of truth’ to them if we consider such songs from Street Legal as the brooding desperation of Senor, the frightening loss of peace and control in the hymn of No Time To Think and the long cry of despair, surely called out to God as much as Sara, which ends the album with Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat).
FAITH & ROOTS
“I don’t really consider myself Jewish or non Jewish …I’m not a patriot to any creed. I believe in all of them and none of them. A devout Christian or Moslem can be just as effective as a devout Jew.”
“I follow God, so if my followers are following me, indirectly they’re gonna be following God too, because I don’t sing any song which hasn’t been given to me by the Lord to sing,”
“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”, Ibid 1980.
“… the resurrected Christ. You’re not talking about some dead man who had a bunch of good ideas and was nailed to at tree.”
“Walking with Jesus is no easy trip, but it’s the only trip.” Ibid 1980.
“My so called Jewish roots are in Egypt. They went down there with Joseph, and they came back out with Moses… we’re talking about Jewish roots, you want to know more? Check up on Elijah the prophet. He could make it rain. Isaiah the prophet, even Jeremiah – see if their brethren didn’t want to bust their brains for telling it right like it is, yeah – these are my roots, I suppose … Am I looking for them? Well, I don’t know. I ain’t looking for them in synagogues with six pointed stars shining ‘down from every window, I can tell you that much.” Ibid 1981.
“I want to sing about my hero,” Dylan’s introduction to In the Garden from his Hard to Handle video 1986.
Dylan, born a Jew, was initiated into Torah and the writings of the prophets in preparation for Bar Mitzvah, which took place, May 22 1954, in accordance with orthodox religious practice. In 1953 he had spent the first of five summer holidays at Camp Herzl, Wisconsin. And whilst there is no proof that his family was rigorously orthodox they made up part of the small, tightly knit Jewish cornmunity and so resisted assimilation and, perhaps, went to the trouble of calling in a Rabbi from outside Hibbing to instruct Dylan in Torah – something which Dylan was later to speak of as a mysterious act of providence. Dylan, who might have written, somewhere between 1952-1954, a poem which included the line “I’m hiding with Jesus/who I’ll always be by”, showed an early fascination and preoccupation with New Testament themes and imagery – and particularly with the stories concerning Christ. It is Christ’s crucifixion which marks the climax and end of an early song Long Ago Far Away and the figure of Christ as Judge appears in Masters of War not, as someone has suggested, ‘blasphemously’ (through Dylan’s assertion that the warmongers are beyond forgiveness) but in accordance with Christian justice and eschatology which does not teach unconditional and universal salvation – something which makes Paul Williams, for one, uneasy. (personally I feel uneasy at the thought of the warmongers of these days, and of two world wars, surviving their deeds, in this life or the next). “Vengeance is mine” saith the Lord On the other hand some of the psalms encourage us to hate the wicked and Dylan can, at times, hate with a fierce sense of righteousness. But I digress. Perhaps the most telling of Dylan’s pre 1979 songs to deal with Jesus is Sign On The Cross. Appearing to contain elements of confession, autobiography, doubt and conflict this extraordinary song seems to place Dylan before his future saviour with a mixture of fearfulness, identification and hope.
Written around 1976/7 the song is disarming to the listener. The way the song is performed on the circulating tape makes it come over like a young Blind Willie Johnson song, intense and bluesy, the message gaining in force with each chorus. But in the ‘break’, when Dylan sing-talks a sermon to his ‘congregation’, the listener might wonder if Dylan is fondly parodying some old black preacher or group like Brother Potter or, more accessibly, Rev Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. The break seems spontaneous, Dylan making up the words as he goes along, but could the parodic element be an attempt to hide the truth about his feelings towards Jesus, the Christ, the Saviour? The ‘sign on the cross’ is not, in spiritual/blues tradition, the sign put up on Pilate’s orders to mock Jesus and the Jews by proclaiming Jesus Kjng of The Jews’ but the suffering body of Christ crucified calling out in anguish, to ‘Abba God’, “Eli Eli lema sabacthani?” which is most often translated as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Psalm 22. However the literal sign, referred to above, may well have added poignancy for Dylan, for in his identification with Christ, which by this time, was conferred as much from without as from any empathy Dylan felt with the crucified ‘son of God’, had he not seemed a king, a prophet and leader? I invite speculation. What of the lines “Yes I know in my head / That we’re all so misled,” in the context of the whole song? Misled in the sense of wanting to accept Jesus as Messiah and God Incarnate or misled in the sense that some Jewish scholars have described Jesus and, subsequently his followers? St Paul wrote of Jesus that he was a “stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the gentiles.” (1 Cor 1.23-25)
Jesus as Messiah is completely contrary to Judaic belief which teaches that the Messiah is still to come and will be God’s chosen one but mortal. There is simply no way to accommodate a Trinitarian concept of God which allows equal divinity between a man however righteous, and YWH. But it seems as though Dylan was unable to wait for ‘The day of The Lord’ and in desperate need for spiritual direction, renewal and fulfillment. Exactly what the events were which led to Dylan’s surrender to Christ, when the final act of capitulation to the message of the gospels took place, and how, must be open to speculation or taken from Dylan’s own words, some of which head this section of my discussion. The account of the physical affects of his encounter with Christ are unexceptional in the literature concerning religious conversion, from St. Paul to many of the studies presented by William James in his seminal study of the psychology of conversion The Varietiess Of Religious Experience. Paul Williams attempt to find a purely psychological reason for what he seems to infer was an emotionally charged choice of ‘Sara substitute’ reads even more implausibly now than when he first wrote it, what he might have made of it if Abraham had died 11 years later than he did’. … … … I” Dylan’s conversion cannot be looked upon as the act of a man ignorant of his religion. In preparing for Abraham Zimmerman funeral David, Dylan’s brother was astonished at how much Dylan knew about Jewish religious ceremonial, ritual and practice. Likewise, he was impressed by his elder brothers presence and demeanour which is suggested as having something of the quality of the patriarchs about it. Remember, this was in l%8 and David Zimmerman describes Dylan as having the dignity and bearing of a man of fifty. The picture which suggests itself is of a man who is certain on his own level, of a place within his own religious tradition Psychology might talk about repression, denial and an unconscious search for a father who wouldn’t, couldn’t, desert him, but such security was available to him through the reassurance of Judaism and the promises given to the patriarchs that God would never break his covenant.
Suggesting that there is more ‘pathology’ in the obsessive need for commentators to ascribe Dylan’s ‘rebirth’ to anything but the action of God,” he asks why we cannot accept that Dylan’s conversion was an actual encounter between God and Dylan? To those who would be willing to accept this if Jesus wasn’t involved they should examine what it is that enrages them for Dylan’s conversion marked the final dissolution of the Hippy fantasy of universal love and humanist libertarianisrn. “Suddenly Dylan was telling us there was a God who had given us all a moral code and that man was free to follow it or lose his soul; not good news for the intellectually and morally stunted remnant of ‘the age of Aquarius’. I ask as a Jew, why Dylan could not find the assurance he so needed in the Torah, Prophets and Wisdom Literature of his own faith? My own feelings about Christianity are that it shares more than we often recognize; The O.T. Bible, many aspects of eschatology, a belief in Divine and moral law and faith in God’s ultimate promise of redemption. All of these are common ground between Jew and Christian. What Judaism doesn’t have, indeed is prohibited from having, is a concrete image or representation of YWL It is my belief that in the person of Christ Bob Dylan found, at the center of his suffering and sense of alienation, the law and prophets made manifest in man, in Jesus of Nazareth.
One commentator who wishes to remain anonymous, suggests that it is not impossible to find in Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection a model of YWH’s servant Israel. But I believe another reason Dylan responded as he did to Christ was the role he plays in The Revelation of John, the last and perhaps the most difficult book of The New Testarnent. It is purely a subjective opinion but I feel that, through his lyrics, Dylan is shown to have a temperamental bias towards an eschatology which purges the world of all evil in a final confrontation with God before establishing “a new heaven and a new …. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying “See the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them as their God, they will be his people, and God himself will be with them, he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev.2 1ff)
Dylan’s lifelong sense of justice and his hunger for peace coupled with an increasing disgust with a world of relative values and ‘situation ethics’ must have responded to this powerful vision to be realized with the return of Christ. But what of his loyalty to the faith of his fathers and forefathers? I believe Dylan saw no anomaly in holding fast to his heritage whilst responding to Jesus as an embodiment of Torah and The Prophets. As a Jew, I find it difficult to answer the question which I am most concerned with. Has Dylan committed apostasy and denied God? I cannot say, God, alone knows. And everything works to His Glory.
For My plans are not your plans,
Nor are My ways your ways – declares the LORD
But as the heavens are high above the earth,
So My ways are high above your ways
And My plans above your plans. (Isaiah 55.8-9)
I like to fancy that Dylan might have this text come to mind as he faced the conflicting and confusing feelings when they reached flood level in 1978/9 Meanwhile others use a certain delicacy in attempting to deal with the ‘problem’ of Dylan’s ‘conversion1. To Rabbi Kostel, speaking in 1982, Dylan was a confused Jew…. “He’s been going in and out of a lot of things, trying to find himself. As far as we’re concerned he was a confused Jew” In the same year Paul Esmond of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship said diplomatically, “I don’t think he ever left his Jewish roots, I think he is one of those fortunate ones who realised that Judaism and Christianity can work very well together because Jesus is just (Jesus the Messiah). And so he doesn’t have any problems about putting on a yarmulke and going to a bar mitzvah because he can respect that.”
“l try my best to be just like lam
But everybody wants you to be just like them (?)”
Dylan has never publicly renounced Jesus but none of us can know how he sees him, responds to him. And Dylan has never renounced his roots in Judaism or his reliance on Tora on the TANAKH (the Jewish Bible) or the rich religious tradition of his people. If we want to explore the possibilities of Dylan’s religious ‘worldview’ then I suggest that the most rewarding and accessible way to do so is to explore his work.
“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it” (Gen 13)
It is now that I will attempt to explore what I believe Dylan was writing about, and referring to, when he wrote Seven Days with reference to his life, race and religion; and to other songs which forced themselves upon me as I wrote.
The (sacred) number 7 is of great significance among religious Jews and within the mystical tradition, Kabbalah, which is a complex system of interpretation which makes use of the correspondence between the Hebrew alphabet and its numerical equivalent. In Judaism The menorah, based on the seven branched candlestick which YWH ordered Moses to make, can be found in every observant Jew’s home and, in Kabbalah, also stands for the mystical ‘tree of life’. The occurrence and symbolism of 7 and of its Kabbalistic importance is so profuse that it cannot be explored here – though it seems worth mentioning that the number 7 occurs no more, nor less than 700 times in The Old and New Testaments and 55 of those times it makes up the composite ‘Seven days’. Jewish and Christian mystical tradition has placed God in the highest part of the seventh heaven, and, universally, the number has come to symbolize perfection and completeness as well as complexity. It’s occurrence in Christian imagery can be found in Jesus’ injunction to forgive your enemies not 7 times but seventy times 7 e.g. completely. But it is in the Revelation To St John that the number 7 is used to such dramatic effect, symbolizing the final battle between Christ and Satan, the Church and the enemies of God. In this instance 7 comes to symbolize evil as much as good – perfect, complete evil perhaps?
Kabbalah warns us that “The number 7, which plays a prominent part in Biblical institutions is enveloped in deep mystery which only a few can only understand”. However, beyond Judaism and Christianity the number 7 has religious or occult significance in Islarn, Tao, Sufism, Astronomy, and psychology and, finally, Freud gave each of the 6 analysts, who made up the Inner Circle of his disciples, identical rings, keeping the seventh for himself, the ‘ringmaster’. (1 thought I’d share that with you). However, the reason for citing the above is to provide a concise backdrop to how I believe Dylan uses images and symbols from The Bible in the composition of his songs. For, while I believe that Dylan may pick up a lot of influences unconsciously, often skimming books or retaining a phrase or cliche until he can use it, I believe that he has read and continues to read The Bible with great attention and, given his nature, has been drawn to and influenced by Kabbalah. Seven Days is pregnant with biblical meaning but like the number 7 it conceals this deeper meaning in its apparent mundanity. The song is written on an apparently simple musical framework and the language of frustrated love. However, as a love song its imagery is trite:
She been gone ever since I was a child
Ever since I made her smile, I ain’t forgotten her eyes.
She had a face that could outshine the sun in the skies
The rhyme is embarrassing, the imagery of the first line confusing and, with the second line, suggests the narrator is childishly dependent. The song seems to be trying to put cliche to good use but ‘fighting every inch of the way’ and losing. Yet, in performance it’s powerful and intriguing, a crowd pleaser, when performed at its best. This has made me ask whether Dylan wants us too look deeper and beyond the apparent sense of the lyric and a literal interpretation to something much richer. The source which provides this understanding of the song is The Revelation to John from The New Testament, (New Jerusalem Translation) and through the Jewish apocalyptic literature which the author was steeped in, e.g. the books Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, and Late Isaiah. At the center of the song is the anonymous figure ‘She’. I believe this is a reference to two figures from Revelation. The first is reported in Revelation 12.1.
“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth.”
This figure, probably inspired or adapted from Osiris/Isis mythology, might be seen as Israel awaiting its Messiah, or the early church awaiting the returrn of Christ or, to the author of Revelation, a combination of the two with Christ’s return being read as synonymous, with the ‘New Jerusalem’. it may also have come to refer to Mary, the mother of Christ who quickly became seen by the ordinary people of the early church as The Mother of God. Taking into account the way ‘train’ has become a figure for faith and renewal in interpreters of Dylan’s songs I believe that Dylan may have one or more of these possibilities in mind in verses one and two of the song.
Seven days, seven more days she’ll be comin’
I’ll be waiting at the station for her to arrive Seven more days, all I Seven more days, all I gotta do is survive.
This might be an allusion to ‘The New Jerusalem’ or to the ‘Bride of Christ’, that is The Church, Christ’s rnystical body on Earth. Chapters 12 to 19 of Revelation deal with the great final battle between The Church and its enemies, probably the Romans and all the unrighteous. The woman’s’ adversary is depicted as a dragon, Satan’s emissary in chapter 12 but in chapter 17 as Babylon, the great prostitute, a woman riding a scarlet beast which had seven heads and had blasphemous titles written all over it. Did Dylan associate this with the woman who was “telling him about Buddha, you were telling him about Mohamed in one breath
You never once mentioned the man who came and died
a criminal’s death. (?)
Many of us, I suspect, would, in the grip of a crisis, bring the sacred and profane into the turmoil within. Sara, to whom it seems likely the above verse is aimed, has been spoken of as having a deep spirituality which explored the way of Tao, of oriental harmony between opposites and had played a crucial role in Dylan’s spiritual recovery after the ‘accident’ in ’66. And if she is the inspiration for Visions of Johanna or Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands we have two penetrating studies of a deep spirituality and –
This is a song about marriage
Sara, Sara, Sweet virgin angel sweet love of my life.
Sara, 0 Sara, Radiant Jewel, Mystical Wife
Sleepin’ in the woods by a fire in the night
where you fought for my soul and went up against the odds
I was too young to know You were doing it right
And you did it with strength
That belonged to the Gods
(Dylan’s emphasis in performance)
This version of Sara performed and, thank God, recorded on Dec 1 1975 at MapleLeafGardens, Toronto is,
surely truer inspirit, performance and lyric than the ‘official’ version cut for Desire? And it confirms the enormous influence of Sara, as wife, lover, muse. How do you cut such love out of your life but to put a new found faith up against its inevitable flaws. How do you get to be so ruthless and vindictive? You speak from a position of fearing for your soul.
Few people have taken Dylan’s conversion account without a pinch of scepticism. After seeming to take Dylan’s account of the experience at face value, in the opening page of chapter 27 of Behind The Shades Clinton Heylin joins company with Paul Williamsin seeing Dylan’s surrender to Christ as a response to ‘woman trouble’ and goes on to say “If Dylan was on the run from the Triple Goddess, he would need the protection of a strong, patriarchal religion”.
Likewise Dylan’s conversion is refered to by Williams in the early pages of his essay ‘What Happened’? (lately republished in Watching the River Flow) as a flight from suffering and frustration, divorce and the conflicts of his pronouncedly dual nature: “When he finally lost faith in the ability of woman to save him…. His need for an alternative grew very great indeed, and he found what people in our culture most often find in the same circumstances: the uncritical hospitality of Jesus Christ”.
I can’t help hearing a note of mild contempt, or perhaps it’s bitterness, in Williams’ voice when I read that -directed both at Dylan, who I suspect Williams felt deeply let down by, and Christ, and Williams makes Christ seem to be pretty undiscerning in his choice of disciples and betrays a poor grasp of the challenge and truth to be found in Christianity”. However, as Williams’ essay proceeds it shows a willingness to, at least, grapple with the problem (to him) of Dylan’s faith and it still stands as the best essay I’ve read to date on Dylan’s relationship with his Lord However, if anyone should come under scrutiny for the flavour of Dylan’s early days as a Christian it is Hal Lindsey, whose hysterical and wholly inaccurate reading of ‘Revelation’ and The Old Testament influenced Dylan enormously as is shown in his ‘gospel raps.
I believe that both Slow Train Coming and Saved are best understood by the new sense of peace and an unbridled, unreflecting, digestion of The New Testament, and the early excitement and awe it produced in Dylan spiritually and creatively. It’s also important to take into consideration the ‘literalism’ which is a hallmark of branches of the Christian church such as The Vineyard Fellowship, and the way it Imbues contemporary events with biblical significance either by scriptural ignorance or deliberate misreading. I suggest that Dylan’s fierce attacks on unbelievers and his obvious disgust with his past relationships, which he now saw as ‘ungodly’ but didn’t seem ready to take personal responsibility for, are a product of the erroneous teaching he may have received at The Vineyard ‘Bible School’ . To return to Clinton Heylin – “Before he embraced the uniquely Californian brand of Christianity advocated by the Vineyard Fellowship, Dylan could not be described as a fundamentalist. Indeed he does not seem to have immediately considered his vision in Tucson to be a ‘born again’ experience. Only when the born again’ creed was outlined for him did he recognize the nature of his vision…..”
The ‘born again’ creed of this particular fellowship would have been very specific about who was and who wasn’t saved and would have put great emphasis upon Dylan to renounce his past life and loves as being fully corrupt, evil and now dead, buried with Christ in the waters of Baptism. Doubtless he would have been warned about being ‘yoked with unbelievers” Turning from his sins Dylan seemed to be dumping them upon all those which ‘threatened’ the W.A.S.P. Way from China and Russia to Sheikhs with “fancy nose rings” and perhaps most damning and cruel, his former wife.
I had a pony her name was Lucifer
Dylan’s comment on Sara? (Miss Ex?) (The refrain ‘how much longer’ echoes psalm 13 and The Prophets addressing YWH on behalf of Israel.)
In Kabbalah Satan has been referred to as an Ass. I have wondered if Dylan also saw evil personified in the ‘pony’ as ‘Whore of Babylon’ and might be using this image of evil (pony/whore) as 1 believe he uses ‘she’ in Seven Days. Maybe, rnaybe not. I think that, again, in New Pony and Seven Days the images are being used in two ways. There are the manifest meanings and the hidden, religious, meanings. With reference to Seven Days I have already mentioned that ‘She’ might refer to Sara but I believe that ‘She’ might also refer to the coming baffle between the forces of darkness and light, and I can believe that Sara may have been viewed, with a lot of other women, as a symbol of temptation and false religious values. But the inner, hidden meaning of this ‘She’, I believe, has Dylan identifying ‘the ungodly’ in a much wider sense taking in all ‘unbelievers and manstealers’ within Christianity (‘talkin’ in the name of religion’ and beyond, in other religions and with the prime enemies of America, identified by Hal Lindsey as Russia and China. The biblical ‘evidence’ for Russia was probably suggested by Daniel 7.5 and Revelation 13.2 which both refer to the enemy appearing as a bear or having characteristics of a bear (in Revelation the beast was ‘like a leopard, with paws like a bear’). Likewise the identification of China is based on a misunderstanding or ‘wild guess’ which places an interpretation of a passage in Revelation 20.7-8 out of context Dylan’s gospel raps are wholly misleading biblically, suggesting that he had been led to conflate the two passages and even add a nation called ‘Rus…..’ which I have searched in vain to find in my Bible and Concordance. Yet in Seven Days Dylan believes Lindsey’s interpretation of these symbols and tells the story of his faith against the backdrop of an imminent apocalypse.
Verse one has him waiting, in ‘the fullness of time’, as the title might suggest, for deliverance. The insertion of the word more suggests he had already waited for Renewal and ‘The Day of The Lord’, The Messiah, and had begun to look elsewhere than in the faith of his fathers. Verse two suggests either an increased impatience for the coming of the Messiah, or perhaps a preparation for the Church, (of which The Virgin Mary is typological) and The Return of Christ. With reference to The Virgin Mary, Dylan featured a statue symbolizing her which is visited after the moment beside Kerouac’s grave in the film Renaldo & Clara. Dylan appears to pray before this statue and lay flowers on it.
In the third line of verse two of Seven Days Dylan refers to the ‘positive’ ‘She’ who ‘had a face that could outshine the sun.’ Is this an allusion to the Messianic Nation, God’s Bride Israel, restored to her full glory as promised by his native religion since childhood, a theme constantly alluded to in The Psalms and Prophets? But the line also suggests a possible source in Revelation 10.1 which refers to an angel whose ‘face was like the sun’ and in The Transfiguration of Jesus (Mat 17.2) when Jesus’ face shone like the sun. Sun means presence in Leviticus 19.32. 1 am reminded of The Shekinah here, the divine light, God’s Glory, a manifestation of God’s presence.
In verses one to three Dylan has already made his way to the ‘station’, has prepared himself
I been good, I been good while I been waitin’
Maybe guilty of hesitatin’, I just been holding on (to a solid rock?)
The approach of redemption is near, he’ll get on beard that slow train just as he hinted that he would when he recorded the l965 gospel hit by The Impressions People Get Ready which Dylan recorded in the Autumn of 1975, (the composition time of Seven Days?). This song, featured in Renaldo & Clara was also released on a promotional E.P. (and I implore you to read the three-plus pages devoted to Dylan’s rendition of this song by Paul Williams in Bob Dylan Performing Artist 1974-1985). Since settling in Israel the word ‘station’ evokes in me the ‘stations of the cross’ along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem which marks the possible route which Jesus trod on the way to Golgotha, (and I can’t help adding, that David Zimmerman had married a Catholic in 1966 – ‘walking the stations ‘is a catholic practice at times of penitence – Advent and Lent.). From the top of his hill, at the time McFree has talked about, Dylan might well have wondered if he was gonna make it, “all I gotta do is survive”. By the time of Saving Grace he had found his answer. But returning to verse two another interpretation of ‘child’ suggests itself, that of spritual childhood such as is found in Isa 10:19 and l.Cor 13:11. Thus “She would come only when Dylan had gained enough maturity or knowledge to make an intellectual as well as emotional response. However in the letters of John from The New Testament, the apostle addresses his congregation as ‘children’ – children of God. Finally if ‘She’ is Israel/Judaism, the daughter of Zion, this line might refer to Judaism’s departure as the primary influence on Dylan since his baptism.
“I ain’t forgotten her eyes”
The ‘eye’ may be used figuratively as reflecting the soul, as an image of discernment and Judgement according to Biblical Concordances, Commentaries and Jewish symbolism. In The Gospels it is the lamp of the whole body. And Revelation refers to the Lamb having 7 eyes, Christ is the Lamb and the eyes are the seven churches.
The chorus of the song mixes apocalyptic conceit with Dylan’s personal circumstances prior to redemption (personal and universal)
There’s kissin’ in the Valley
Thieving in the alley
Fighting every inch of the way
Trying to be tender with somebody I remember
In a night that’s always brighter than the day
The kissing could symbolize joy and celebration in the valley of Jehoshaphat which Joel prophesied would be the place of the final judgement. The next two verses might refer, in contrast, to the desperate behaviour of the unrighteous or might just refer to Christ who will come like a thief in the night (Revelation 4.5) and I wonder if the ‘fightin’ every inch of the way’ might refer to the hardships of The Way (following Christ) or to the desperate struggle in trying to resist a mounting revelation to Dylan that the Messiah might have already come – and would return –
The Iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall
To a mighty God
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Is this the Iron hand of a Godless nation or of a proud and stubborn Dylan, and could the ‘mighty wall’ be the ‘images’ (protest singer, seer, mystic, prophet , messiah) Dylan had become imprisoned by? To return to the final verse of the chorus, ‘Night’ might be interpreted as a time of ignorance and unbelief (Rom 13.12). A ‘night brighter than the day’ might be Dylan reviewing his previous public persona and notorious arrogance as Luciferian. For Lucifer was the greatest of angels Lucifer means light) but fell by refusing to accept his subordination to God. His opposite is not Christ but the Archangel Michael.
Verse 4 is the verse which I have already identified as dealing with the second ‘She’, Christ’s (and Israel’s adversary). The reality of the final baffle for Dylan has been dealt with above and according to the Dylan of 1979 ‘The End’ was imminent:
“The world as we know it now is being destroyed, sorry, but it’s the truth. In a short time – I don’t know, in 3 years, maybe 5 years, could be 10 years, I don’t know there’s gonna be a war. It’s gonna be called the war of Arrnageddon. It’s gonna be in the Middle East. Russia’s gonna come down first. Anyway we’re not worried about that. We know there’s gonna be a new kingdom set up in Jerusalem for a thousand years. That’s where Christ will set up his kingdom, as sure as you’re standing there it’s gonna happen.” (Dylan on stage in San Francisco 25/11/79 immediately prior to performing Solid Rock).
And in Toronto 20/4/80
“Anyways, in The Bible it tells a specific thing in the Book of Revelation that just apply to these times, and it says that soon at that time it mentions a country to the furthermost North which has as its symbol the bear… Russia’s gonna come down and attack the Middle East.”
Hence Dylan’s phrase “my beautiful comrade (friend) from the north”, friend because it’s action will usher in the Last Judgement and The New Jerusalem. I feel compelled to point out that this interpretation of Dylan’s is again pure Hal Lindsey whose book The Late Great Planet Earth seemed to have been required reading in the Vineyard Fellowship’s bible induction (1 almost wrote indoctrination) programme.
It seems obvious to me that Dylan was to radically develop a more sophisticated understanding of Christianity on a personal and a political level with the release of Infidels and a deepening of his understanding of New
Testament theology, and I have no proof but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has found a more profound peace in his life and coupled his study of the New Testament with a study of Kabbalah. I glean this from his in involvement with CHABAD and the Lubavitchers. However some have seen in his album Under the Red Sky a restatement of apocalyptic views. Maybe.
The last time that I saw Dylan perform Seven Days was on the second night of his Liverpool concert 6/96 after he had introduced the band and, diving into the intro, he was laughing and made a comment which no one seemed to understand but which amused him. Smiling he nodded towards the direction of where Clinton Heylin and Larry ‘Lambchops’ Eden were standing and then proceeded to turn in a performance which was totally lacking in conviction or timing and, more significantly, perhaps to show ‘where he is at’ spiritually these days, he omitted verse 4 concerning my beautiful comrade from the North” – the coming of Armageddon, apart from this and a repetition of verse one he kept faithfully to the words as printed in Lyrics and didn’t repeat the lyrical changes he had made back in Tampa Florida, as preserved on The Bootleg Series. What a performance that is! Full of menace, mystery and power with delivery and timing fantastic – just listen to the way Dylan draws out the word “I)ays”, it seems to represent eternity and he ends it with a sort of cry and this song, this performance, is introduced with masterful, Dylanesque understatement “Uh this is a somewhat new song called Seven Days”. The word ‘somewhat’ occurs just once in the Bible in 2 Cor 10:8. St Paul writes “For even though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord has given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: that l would not seem as if l would terrify you… (KJV). In Tampa the song ended with a loud bang of drums. At Liverpool it simply fizzled out. “(Which) is the way the world ends?” – T.S. Eliot nearly said that.
Footnote: Interestingly the number 7 appears in Seven Days 7 times!
Behind The Shades. Clinton Heylin, Penguin Books
In Search of Bob Dylan. John Bauldie, Wanted Man
Cruden’s Concordance To The Bible (KJV), Lutterworth
The New Jerusalem Bible, Darton Longrnan and Todd
The Holy Bible (Authorised Version), Oxford
The TANAKH, Jewish Publication Society
The Soncino Chumash. Socino Press
Saved! The Gospel Speeches. Clinton Heylin. Human Press
The Holy Kabbalah AE. Waite, Oracle Publishing
Watching The River Flow. Paul Williams (Onimbus Press)
Bob Dylan in His Own Words. Christian Williams, Ommibus Press
A Life In Stolen Moments Day By Day 1941-1995 Clinton Heylin, St Martin’s Press.
(advertised on www.expectingrain.com Friday 16/11/07)