Rock Music: Spiritual quest that keeps Bob Knockin' on Heaven's Door

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The Independent Online
Bob Dylan's religiosity has never been in question. Born Jewish, militantly atheistic and anti-clerical in his early "protest" phase, theistic in the Seventies before being born again as a fundamentalist Christian (but only for two albums) Dylan has been "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" throughout his career.

The signs are that his recent brush with death, in the form of serious illness, may well have deepened his spirituality. But until now it has been undenominational. He has chosen his good causes carefully. His benefits in the 60s and 70s were all right-on, and even in his Christian phase avoided identification with any specific denomination. Which makes his pilgrimage to the seat of St Peter all the more intriguing.

Christian symbolism and biblical references played a large part in Dylan's work long before the two overtly Christian albums, Slow Train Coming and Saved, which came out in 1979 and 1980. Asked by the Times Literary Supplement in 1977 to name the most underrated and overrated books of the past 75 years, he cited the Bible on both counts. Gospel and black religious influences have long permeated his consciousness, emerging in repeated references to God - "With God on our Side" and "God Gave Names to all the Animals".

Was this vocabulary some echo of the vestigial Judaism of Dylan's Midwest upbringing in the Zimmerman family or his own messianism?

His religious borrowings have been catholic, but until now they have not been Catholic. Pope John Paul II has a reputation for orthodoxy and a penchant for Jewish converts. Yet if the Vatican imagines parading Bob Dylan as its latest recruit, it is likely to be disappointed. He may be 56, but there is no evidence that a lifelong spiritual quest is yet over.