New Bob Dylan Documentary Explores His Late ’70s/Early ’80s Jesus Freakery

We last left career retrospective-era Bob Dylan in Martin Scorcese’s sublime No Direction Home, where mobs of British naysayers assailed our American treasure with every manner of hiss and boo because they refused to believe Dylan knew how to use objects that employed electrical current. At the documentary’s end, Dylan is a man betrayed, furious that his once adoring public turned on him with just one look at his Fender Stratocaster and Garth Hudson’s mighty beard parked behind a Hammond organ. But despite the film’s somber conclusion in 1966, all you Dylanmaniacs watching at home knew the world would eventually screw their heads on straight and embrace the new Bob, and in the years that followed, Dylan continued to reinvent himself, all while glutting the American songbook with new standards.

That is, until 1979 when Bob found Jesus and decided to tell everyone about it over the course of two-and-a-half terrible albums (the first side of 1979’s Slow Train Coming is pretty good). This still divisive, hyper-evangelical era serves as the subject for the latest Dylan documentary, Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years: Busy Being Born…Again!. Directed by enormous Dylan-dweeb Joel Gilbert and released by his distribution company/tribute band Highway 61 Entertainment, the straight-to-DVD doc boasts interviews with Dylan’s Bible class teacher Pastor Bill Dwyer (I assume he’s not the same dude who hosted Battlebots), the late, great producer Jerry Wexler (TMT News), plus two members of Dylan’s backing band and a few assorted journalists. Though Dylan himself was not interviewed for the film, he appears in footage shot from 1979 to 1983 where he explains his religious beliefs in his music, including a never-before-seen 1981 interview.

I doubt this documentary, slated for an October 28 release, will convince the non-believers that “Bob Dylan's ‘Jesus Years’ are today regarded as among the best of his career,” as the DVD case so boldly claims (Who the hell said that? Rick Santorum?). Still, as long as Gilbert can reign in his Dylanophilia at least a little bit and focus on the facts, Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years should provide some much-needed explanation about this impossibly awful section of Bob Dylan’s career. Seriously, listen to Saved! and try to count how many times your eyes roll. I bet you’ll lose count by track three.

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