"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (St. Augustine, from his Confessions)

Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind was released in 1997. I'm not exactly sure when I read the piece which I'm happy to be able to reproduce below, by Ronnie Keohane - maybe I read it a year or more after it was written in 1998. In any case I'd already listened to Time Out Of Mind many times. Suffice it to say that after reading this, I've never listened to it in the same way again. And, whether or not you hear all the same things she heard in it, I think that her perspective is eye- (and ear-) opening.

Time Out of Mind...With New Eyes
by Ronnie Keohane

Time Out of Mind is an album different than all other Dylan albums. It contains songs that Dylan held for years. He says that this album described him personally in 1997. The title, Time Out Of Mind, spells out the mood for each of the eleven tracks. Dylan has said that this is the only album that he has ever recorded that he listens to. Bound by its ominous title, these songs have a cathartic impact not only on listeners but more profoundly on its creator. It is my belief that the reflections of the lost chances, failed love and the acceptance that this life is coming to an end, are in each track of a very profound spiritual nature.

The title describes a certain length of time, with a beginning, an ending and a winding middle that could easily cease today or go on until the singer is called home. That this state of mind will be temporary is certain. Whether Bob Dylan will see it end while he is still walking this dirt road is uncertain.

I intend to build a case showing that there are similar spiritual themes that wind throughout 10 of the 11 tracks on the album. The remaining ballad is a continuation of the proceeding ten tracks in that it offers consolation to their singer. Throughout the album, I believe that Dylan is expressing thoughts about one particular person and for consistency sake I will refer to the person as The Love. In the few instances where Dylan brings in another person, I will refer to that person simply as a love.

I would like for you to consider a song that by title alone and context points to a spiritual theme.

Trying To Get To Heaven.
In this song, Bob is not trying to earn his way into heaven; his entrance is assured. He is trying to hasten his departure into that dimension. He is weary of this life. Life is more of a struggle and he seems to be losing the ability to bring to mind anything positive or real of The Love that he is addressing: "Every day your memory grows dimmer."

Can he be spared having to endure a day on this earth that he will not be able to call on any sensation of the great Love? It is clear that The Love holds all the cards. Dylan sings, "You broke a heart that loved you, now you can seal up the book and not write anymore." In biblical Christianity, all of redeemed mankind has their names entered into the Lamb's Book of Life. Therefore, according to Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a Jewish-Christian Bible scholar, names will be entered or written into the Lamb's Book of Life at least throughout the seven years of the Great Tribulation and the 1000 years of the Millennial Kingdom.

What Bob is saying is that he is hurting so much and wants this life ended so that he will be reunited with his Love, and even if that means the end of the humankind, so be it. This response mirrors the Apostle John, who after seeing a vision of all the evils, wars and conflicts that are to take place on Earth, ends the book of Revelation with these words: "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."

As Bob waits out these days, he has fleeting comforts. He has experienced all that this world can offer him in comfort and success, but they can no longer satisfy.

He is restless; nothing is real to him. He is caught in a transitional state between two worlds. He sleeps in a parlor, a room neither inside the home nor outdoors. He is sustained in this life, but seemingly only to lose everything and then some. How long, O Lord! As he walks down that lonesome valley, down that road, feeling bad. He has access to all the remedies, vices and attractions that this world offers, he says - I been all around the world, boys, I been to Sugar town & shook the sugar down, Now I am trying to get to Heaven before they close the door.

Highlands
Highlands continues the theme from Trying to Get To Heaven of being restless in this existence knowing that a new world awaits. Again, he is confident that it is only a matter of time till he enters Heaven (that's where I'll be when I get called home), but he has no ability to hasten that date. He is almost shuffling from one foot to the other, because what he does no longer has significance for him. Nobody's going anywhere. Bob is living a life where he is forced to see and reap the effects of wrong decisions that he has made in his life. He can't change it now. He can only escape it. But until that time comes, he takes it one step at a time. He is waiting for his physical being to join the place that holds his heart and that his mind dwells on.

Every day is the same thing out the door. Feel further away than ever before. Some things in life, it gets too late to learn. Well, I am lost somewhere, must have made a few bad turns. He seems to be resigned that in this life it will not get better. He says, The Son/sun is beginning to shine on me, but it's not like the Son/sun that used to be.

Highlands is different from the other songs. Here he does not address The Love directly. There is no fight or passion in these lyrics. Bob sighs and ends the 17-minute long track with: "I am already there in my mind and that's good enough for now."

In the waitress scene, we get a glimpse of another precarious position that Bob finds himself in. The waitress, like his fans, go to him because we know he is gifted. We want him to paint us into his songs, but when he uses his gift and reveals to us our true appearance/nature, we denounce him and question his intellectuality.

It is not only his critics who want to dismiss the profound truths that Dylan speaks. His admirers must preserve the status quo and not evaluate the merit in his lyrics or their own vacant lives. Frustrated, Dylan wants to go back to the one, who is the source of all gifts.

Not Dark Yet
Again, Bob is weary. He's been here all day. He does not feel comfortable. Again the theme of transience appears in "there's not enough room to be anywhere." Back in the parlor? He lived a life that gave him what this world had to offer: London, Paree. To the observer it appears that he is doing okay. He is touring, performing, recording but this is no longer the realm that Bob wants to be moving in, so for him, he is standing still.

Not able to speed up access to the door of heaven or enter the Highlands, his soul has hardened. Feel like my soul has turned into steel. The ability to ignite again the memories of The Love is sparse. He again is living with the mistakes of his life. A love in his past is still expecting some response from Dylan, this just adds to his weariness. He is confused as to why these too were not healed like so many other wounds in his life. Why did the "Son/sun" allow these to continue? I still got the scars that the Son/sun didn't heal. The Apostle Paul also questioned why a "thorn" in his flesh was not removed. The answer to Paul was, "My grace is sufficient."

Again, from Trying To Get To Heaven, "When you think that you lost everything, You find out you can always lose a little more," Bob seems left to ponder the famous Footprints poem. That at the most hurtful times of a person's life, it is then when He carries you, not always out of the pain but through it. Christians are told to bring our burdens to Jesus, but there are times when we hold them unable to trust and give them away.

His greatest fear is that he cannot connect to The Love and that seems to be happening. He doesn't even hear the murmur of a prayer. Where are the forces that are to be waging the spiritual battle to preserve the saints? Doesn't anyone know or care what this believer is struggling with?

Standing In the Doorway
This song I believe is the omega song on the album. All the other tracks sprouted from this intense work. They are like looking at Bob through many sides of a prism, but in this song is everything that you need to know about him. His weariness is expressed again: no place to turn, nothing left to burn. This existence is less than another is; "The light in this place is so bad making me sick in the head." To fill time he smokes a cheap cigar, strums his guitar and dances with a stranger. All of this activity only serves to remind him of The Love.

The Love is an authority figure, someone who Bob is accountable to. He states that he is trying not to mess up these dwindling days by "living my life on the square." Again, he is sure of The Love continuing past the grave: even if the flesh falls off of my face, I know someone will be there to care. The Love may hardly be visible but like a ghost/spirit it will not die. Bob has an understanding that his ways are not The Love's ways. He is not ready to put himself in a public place where he will be jeered, "Where is your Love now?"

That would go against every natural self-preservation/ego protecting instinct that man has. He states: "I would be crazy if I took you back, it would go up against every rule." But Bob has been sustained not by the early visions that made the yesterdays go by fast, but by "The softest touch, It always means so much." It appears that The Love did not forsake Bob, but left him where he is caught between two worlds. He gave him a glimpse of the world to come and at the same time, caused the glamour of this world to cease for Bob. You left me standing in the doorway crying...I got nothing to go back to now.

David Williams, from his article "Dylan & Dickinson" (On The Tracks magazine, June 1998) writes, "The line has a double reference, for there is nothing in the world to go back to, only the old sham...But neither is there any experience of holy vision to return to, for that has withdrawn itself too." Where does this leave Bob....in the darkland of the Son/sun? A place where for some reason the warm comforting rays can not reach. Dylan tells us; I can hear the church bells ringing in the yard, I wonder who they are ringin' for.

Some have suggested that this is Dylan reflecting again on mortality as he hears the bells that mark someone's passing. There may be another feeling to glean from this passage. Dylan knows that others are not experiencing this estrangement. The bells affirm that God's presence and His Spirit are at work in the world; could they be ringing for him? Again, he is fearful to ask that question for himself directly, but all hope is not gone as long as he hears the bells.

One must feel the despair, but there is not anger in these lyrics, why...because "I know that the mercy of God is near." That has never been taken away. Again, in Biblical Christianity, a person may struggle with their faith and have trials that shatter their trust, but if they are redeemed through faith in Christ, then they are eternally "strapped to the mast/Master" unto the day of redemption.

Dirt Road Blues
What at first sounds like a classic blues tale of woe spins the familiar themes of the other tracks. The walker is exhausted; he can do nothing else but keep walking the "dirt/earth road" 'til he is given a ride/taken off it. Again, the power to make his status better is in another's hand. In front of him is his shadow a constant reminder that he is in this earthly mortal dimension, but he looks above for a sign to tell him of his own relevance and of what is to come.

The transience of this time is expressed in the setting of a one-room country shack or a room that he is pacing in. He can't find The Love (my baby/she). He tells us if he can not find the Love then he is going to run away and hide. Might this not describe what happened to the passion and convictions that we have seen only in rare glimpses in public performances over the last decade and a half?

The Love will return to him not to bring him salvation from judgement (that is assured by his relationship already established in the first verse), but from the weary existence that still lies before him. Dylan is looking for the sunny side of love, very similar to the "dark land of the sun" phrase in the preceding song. Dylan also has stated that he likes to write during storms, he meditates during them, possibly losing himself in the manifestation of the Creator's power (rain & hail) which only reminds him of his desire to feel that power in a personal way.

When all is over, he expects to be free from the shackles that keep him bound to this dirt road. This is similar to Dylan's lyric in You Changed My Life, "They want me to fly like an eagle, while being chained to the floor." A verse not sung on the Time Out Of Mind CD adds that as he continues on this dirt road, he has to put up a barrier to keep myself away from everyone. This brings back the idea that he is trying to "live (his) life on the square" till this existence is over.

Again, the sun metaphor comes in to play. He is going to keep walking, that's all that he can do, until he is right beside the Son/sun. Again, there is no doubt where he will be when this life is over for Dylan. This assurance will build in other tracks to come on Time Out Of Mind.

Til I Fell in Love with You
More than weariness is affecting Dylan, he is hurting badly, The Love has the only touch that can bring healing to him. Of the trials in this life, Dylan describes that his house is burning, and he expected some supernatural help to quench the flames, but it didn't come. Well my house is on fire, burning to the sky. I thought it would rain but the clouds passed by. Now I feel like I'm coming to the end of my way. But I know that God is my shield and He will not lead me astray.

He is left to ponder why help is not coming in this situation, but he knows that from scripture that there is a promise to deliver Dylan from harm that God could not break, because it would go against his Word and nature. This emotional conflict came into Dylan's life after he fell in love with The Love. Life is continuing. Dylan is still on the road, playing with the boys; females in his life are more elusive than before. He refers to a girl who won't be back no more. This girl is not the person that the song is about; she is an earthly lover that has passed through Dylan's life. She does not have the unending hold on Dylan that The Love has, to whom the song is sung.

In the final verse, Dylan is frustrated; he has done all he can to try to change the relationship to no avail. As always, The Love is in control. Dylan's attempts to please were all in vain, simply because The Love has loved Dylan since the beginning of time and nothing that Dylan could do, could take that love away or make it greater. It is unconditional and therefore, the normal manipulations and expressions found in most human relationships have no meaning or worth here.

Dylan ends the song simply with, "If I'm still among the living, then I'll be Dixie bound." Stating that if he is not taken home this day, he can only continue on and for Dylan that means, on the road, playing music to New Orleans. Was he all right 'til he fell in love with The Love? This song and others, clearly define this relationship, though full of conflict, as being the most meaningful relationship in Dylan's life.

Cold Irons Bound
In this song, he continues the weary, restless cadence expressed in earlier tracks. All paths are rocky, muddy or a quagmire. On Sunday, still trying to live his life correctly, he goes to church. Went to church on Sunday, as she passed by. What happens? The Love shows up only long enough to rip the wound in his heart open again and short enough, that he questions his own existence. So close, only twenty miles but still separated and bounded from The Love that won't die.

What is causing the separation? The walls of pride are high and wide, Can't see over to the other side. But which party is Dylan accusing of being intransigent because of pride? Other verses point to shared complicity: It's you & you only that I've been thinking about, but you can't see in and it's hard lookin' out.

Though he is restrained from being united with The Love now, he knows there are other days ahead. Days when he will remember forever the joy, he and The Love shared. Gone will be the memory of beauty now decayed, the unmet needs that cast doubt on The Love's truthfulness and sincerity in the relationship. The song ends, pride no longer plays a role when Dylan is before The Love - he states, "Looking at you and I'm on bended knee. You have no idea, what you do to me."

Visually, you have someone completely submissive not by fear or tradition, but by the sheer presence and being of The Love that warrants this reaction. Again, he is left in a world where friends, wealth, success come and go, but he says to The Love, "I found my world, found my world in you."

Can't Wait
Is it end times or the end of Dylan's days approaching? Probably both. Judgment themes run through this song and others, serving to further devalue this existence. What is he waiting for? This relationship that he can not end. That he is doomed for all eternity to be in. I am doomed to love you. This is not a romantic relationship between two humans. This relationship will carry on past this life; however, what is broken and old will be made new, once the two are united. However, Dylan is writing in the here & now, letting us feel the depth of the estrangement that he has lived since I left my life with you somewhere back there along the line.

Why didn't these feelings die? Because it is not Dylan who sustains the relationship. If he ever wanted to completely walk away, he would have found out that he couldn't. He has been "sealed" to this Love. He writes, I thought somehow I would have been spared this fate. He knows he is the recipient of unbounding grace and love, he knows his very heart beats only because The Love wishes it to beat. You understand that my heart can't go on beating without you.

But why, why can he not recover the sweet love that we knew...Your loveliness has wounded me. I wish I knew what it was keeps me loving you so. And where is he, not quite a million miles away, or twenty miles outside of town, or in the empty streets but he is standing at the gate.

Again, he is confident that all will be well, and therefore he can't wait. In several of the songs, Dylan's reaction to The Love is more than intense. He doesn't know what his reaction to the appearing of The Love will be. In Standing in the Doorway he may kiss or kill The Love, In Can't Wait, he will lose control. Dylan is not afraid to show this side of himself to The Love.

Many want to keep the image of Dylan's ex-wife Sara strong throughout all his songs, but does anyone really think that Sara (in this post OJ world) would not be concerned about her own well being if these words were about her? Again The Love is not phased by, nor fearful of the wide range of emotions and responses that Dylan anticipates at the reunion.

In 1979, Dylan wrote that there was only one person who could reduce him to tears and another characteristic of the same person was that He would be unconcerned by any action or plot that would try to keep Him from returning for who or what was rightfully His.

Million Miles
Dylan's very being has been changed by The Love. You took a part of me that I really miss. I keep asking myself how long it can go on like this. Whatever is missing is not really lost, it has been withheld, but it still exists with The Love. Both Dylan and The Love had expectations about this relationship (you told yourself a lie, that's all right mama, I told myself one too) and certainly, Dylan in the 1979 I Believe In You foresaw trials but not the rocky and estranged paths that would beset it for years.

Dylan still in an almost passive way is trying to make the chasm of a million miles disappear, he fears that closing his eyes even if it is a wink, may cause him to miss a return of the vision of The Love. As in Shot of Love, it is this love that he needs to cloak himself in as he again fights off the mind polluting voices that would do him in. He says, I need every bit of it for the places that I go. In "Till I Fell In Love With You" Dylan tells The Love that his attempts to please were all in vain and in this song after he has risked fame, wealth & success, the Love breaks it to him that a janitor's love would mean just as much.

Indeed, the last shall be first, the first last. In Matthew chapter 20, verses 1 through 16, we read of other redeemed people who have trouble appreciating the grace and generosity shown to those who have served less, because they wanted to be recognized for their efforts on behalf of The Love.

Finally Dylan asks The Love to rock me.... rock me till everything becomes real, rock me for a couple of months. Only after The Love can show sustaining love will Dylan take comfort in knowing it's real again even if it takes several months. But once he has learned to trust again, then and only then, can he rock The Love back. In the meantime, again living out these days, there are fleeting comforts provided by others for a day or two, but Dylan is not fooled. Transient relationships can not satisfy the longing that consumes his heart and his soul.

Love Sick
The first song on this CD does not shield us from the hurt, anger or the intense turmoil afflicting Dylan's heart. This song is blunt and raw. Nothing in this life holds any attraction for Dylan. He scathingly asks, "Did I hear someone tell a lie? Did I hear someone's distant cry?" Someone seems to have misled or been untruthful; Dylan will not bear that responsibility. He entered this relationship, open and trusting as a child only to be left useless for any other relationship. I spoke like a child; you destroyed me with a smile, while I was sleepin'.

He wants to change the dynamics of the relationship but he is powerless to do so. Just like a rebellious teenager, trying to penetrate the seemingly indifference of an authority figure, he commits an act deserving punishment, because even negative attention is more desirable than a lack of concern and love. So Dylan wants to take to the road and plunder.

In an interview in October 97 regarding this CD, Dylan told us that he uses storms to meditate and write. Here he writes, "the silence can be like thunder." Could it be that the Creator's majestic power revealed throughout nature only heightens Dylan's sense of abandonment? Faith in God does not eliminate questions. It allows believers to work through their doubts, oftentimes, still to wonder another day. When humans lose something they love, they can express anger because the hole left behind is so great.

But eventually, the hurt subsides and the memories that attributed to the greatness of the relationship return. How does Dylan express this? I'm sick of love; I wish I never met you. Just don't know what to do. I'd give anything to be with you.

The raw emotions including anger and jealousy are nothing new to God. He has heard it all before. The prophets and psalmists were not always singing praises in 4/4 time. If the tone that Dylan expresses shocks anyone and questions whether he should have published such disappointment, I ask them to consider the following: Jesus Christ, knowing that he would be separated from the Father for a certain period of time and would be raised from the dead to glory, cried out, " Eli Eli, Llama savathani?", which is Hebrew for, "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?"

Jesus quoted the words that open the 22nd Psalm as a means of identifying Himself and His crucifixion with the Messianic prophecies contained in that psalm. Certainly, He knew that the horrific experience would continue for approximately 72 hours. But in that "time out of mind," He allowed us to feel a portion of the hurt, isolation, abandonment, trials and physical torture that marked His last day. No believer would ask for that psalm to never be spoken or read.

What Dylan has given us in these 10 blues filled songs are the blunt reflections of a man trying to reconcile the hope that is within with the reality of this fallen world, the spiritual life and its struggles and the evidence of eternal security given to all who have accepted God's grace.

In the Tanakh (Old Testament) the Book of Isaiah is normally divided into two sections. The first 39 chapters detail judgment and denunciation for Israel. But starting in chapter 40, God details for Israel his plan to offer her consolation and restore to her the glory and place of honor promised to her through the covenants with the Patriarchs.

Like Isaiah and the Psalms, before the last "selah" is uttered, we have come back to the acknowledgement that He will never leave or forsake us. Dylan understands this well and
brings it all home in the final track.

Make You Feel My Love
Does this song belong on this album? Most definitely! If the preceding songs are as David Williams stated in OTT #13 that "Dylan still writes in the shadow of his 1978 conversion experience," then there is only one kind of love and one Love that can bring consolation to the shattered individual of the other ten tracks. Certainly a warm embrace will mean more than the softest touch described in Standing in the Doorway.

Who is this Consoler/Lover? Listen to the lyrics that describe this person. I go hungry. At the incarnation, He took on all the frailties that are associated with the flesh and human condition. Also, He left glory and entered the temporal world that He created. I go black and blue; I go crawling down the avenue (Via Dolorosa).

The abandonment and betrayal that Dylan expresses are of great concern and importance to the Consoler. The Love is always watching. He will not overpower Dylan. Dylan must make his mind up. From their first meeting, they were destined for this moment. The Love understands what Dylan is going through: tears, highway of regret. He also knows what Dylan needs.

The ability to once again feel The Love's love as full of passion as during the yesterdays that were moving too fast. The Love can make the dreams from Dylan's nights spent in the parlor come true. What was he reliving in those dreams, were they the early visions that he has spoken of?

You ain't seen nothing like me yet...go to the ends of the earth for you these lines describe their reunion that is to take place. Earlier, this occurrence has been alluded to with Dylan on bended knee, out of control, not knowing which passion will win out. It could be the hurt that could make him inflict harm or the love that bestows a kiss. Either way, that last desperate line in Love Sick will be a reality.

Remember, similar to Tangled Up In Blue in which Dylan switches personalities midstream, here he does so, but on an entire album. He is writing from what he knows deep within his soul is the true nature of The Love. That for reasons that Dylan and us can not know for sure, this enduring love affair has taken a turn that has provided the masses with a seat in the theatre of open-heart surgery.

Of Time Out of Mind in the October 6th, Newsweek article Dylan states, "I don't think it eclipses anything from my earlier period. But I think it might be shocking in its bluntness." Certainly, Dylan is referring to an earlier message and not a musical style. There is great acceptance that Time Out Of Mind deals with mortality, failings, accountability, afterlife and lost love.

This album does not threaten "Freewheeling", or "Blood On The Tracks", "Desire" etc. The only period albums that deal with a similar theme message are his works since 1979, including the albums frequently referred to as the Slow Train "era". They contained the hope that exists beyond this life, a love that could not die and an expectation of a reunion and most importantly, a realization that there were struggles ahead as long as Dylan would be walkin' this dirt road.

Something to ponder: an eclipse is an obscuration of the sun. Dylan admits the estrangement, but does not allow the listeners to negate the message/light that he has delivered in his earlier songs. And why each of these tracks never loses hope, faith & the Love.

"May God bless & keep you always..."

-- RonnieKeohane 1998

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ALSO SEE:

Bob Dylan: The Prophet's Son

The World Needs IslamaBob

A Lily Among Thorns

Dylan & The Frucht (a book by Ronnie Keohane)