Today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. He has achieved his threescore years and 10, and still counting, despite the undoubted rigours of his rock star life. Has there ever been a modern musician so prolific in his writing and never ending in his touring?
Many of Dylan’s songs reflect the imagery and language of the Bible. It is an interesting coincidence that we are celebrating Bob Dylan’s achievements in the same year as the 400th anniversary of the authorised revision of the English bible in 1611. This bible usually known as the King James Bible is being commemorated , among other things, for the impact it had on English language in both its British and American expressions.
For example, a song like “When the ship comes in”, as well as its explicit biblical references to characters like Pharaoh and Goliath , is soaked in a psalmodic style of language. Lines like “and the fish will laugh” and “the chains of the sea are busted” are direct reflections of the ancient Hebrew imagery found in the Bible and especially the psalms.
Some songs also contain direct plays on the words of Christ in the Gospels. “The times they are a changing” uses the saying about how the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
These songs are from his early days, and so pre-date his involvement later with an evangelical Christian church. The presence of biblical imagery and style in his songs may reflect his own personal familiarity with the language of the bible from his childhood; or perhaps, they are also channelled through his dedicated study of traditional English and American folk songs.
Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday is definitely worth celebrating. As well as the familiar songs known by many which continue to amaze and inspire, there are so many songs in his catalogue which are relatively unknown and yet still brilliant.