Last words, on retirement, from Bob Dylan

Keith R. writes, in relation to this retirement debate, that he’s surprised no one has mentioned the 60 Minutes interview which the late Ed Bradley did with Bob Dylan from 2004:

Ed asks him, in so many words, why Bob doesn’t retire. Bob made a deal with the Chief Commander on this Earth and in the World We Can’t See, he says. It’s all in the cards. He can’t retire, wasn’t part of the deal.

The article [on whether Dylan should retire] – and most of the responses that I’ve seen – seem very tied to this world that we can see, but isn’t Bob one of the great messengers between this world and that world we can’t see? Isn’t that one of the reasons we love him? and one of the reasons he can’t retire?

I think that Keith is right in every respect. It’s funny — this exchange didn’t even occur to me in the context of the retirement discussion, even though it’s the “infamous” one which a few freakazoids out there claim as proof that Bob sold his soul to the Devil. The clip is below along with the transcription:

Bradley: … you’re still out here doing these songs, you’re still on tour ..

Dylan: I do, but I don’t take it for granted.

Bradley: Why do you still do it — why are you still out here?

Dylan: Well, it goes back to the destiny thing. I made a bargain with it a long time ago and I’m holding up my end.

Bradley: What was your bargain?

Dylan: To get where I am now.

Bradley: Should I ask who you made the bargain with?

Dylan: With the — you know, with the Chief Commander.

Bradley: On this earth?

Dylan: On this earth and in the world we can’t see.

People with more than one hundred active gray cells know that when Bob says “the Chief Commander” that he is referring to God, and not to Satan. So, there’s Bob Dylan’s own explanation of why he continues to tour. Why people choose to continue to buy tickets and go see him is up to them — I think we’ve heard enough eloquent testimonies as to why they do.

Another quote from Bob that could figure into this is one he gave to Jon Pareles in the New York Times, when talking in 1997 about the writing and recording of Time Out of Mind:

”Environment affects me a great deal,” Dylan says. ”A lot of the songs were written after the sun went down. And I like storms, I like to stay up during a storm. I get very meditative sometimes, and this one phrase was going through my head: ‘Work while the day lasts, because the night of death cometh when no man can work.’ I don’t recall where I heard it. I like preaching, I hear a lot of preaching, and I probably just heard it somewhere. Maybe it’s in Psalms, it beats me. But it wouldn’t let me go. I was, like, what does that phrase mean? But it was at the forefront of my mind, for a long period of time, and I think a lot of that is instilled into this record.”

Well, I have an idea where Bob heard it. It’s not in Psalms, as far as I know, but rather a paraphrase of the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, chapter 9, verse 4 (Jesus often references Hebrew Scripture, but if there’s a reference here I’m not aware of it):

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4, King James Version)


Is Dylan comparing himself to Jesus? Well, it would hardly be the first time. But clearly it’s a good maxim for anyone to live by. And it seems that more modern and presumably more accurate translations have that verse this way:

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. (John 9:4, English Standard Version)

Beginning with the word we effectively makes that statement into a commandment, and it seems that Bob has quite appropriately internalized it as such.

I’ve written often enough before on the ways in which Dylan, by playing his music, is ultimately doing the Lord’s work (like here) so no need to get into all that again today.

By the way, there’s a hilarious take on that same “Chief Commander” segment of the 60 minutes interview on YouTube, where someone has played Dylan’s responses backwards and deciphered some curious secret messages. Below:

This makes me want to listen to all the “Theme Time Radio Hour” shows backwards, too. I guess I’m going to be busy for quite some time.

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