"I had no idea it was going to be wall-to-wall Jesus!" laughs legendary record producer Jerry Wexler in a new documentary, Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years.
Wexler was discussing Slow Train Coming, Dylan's 1979 album that was both revered and reviled. Dylan's conversion to Christianity—and the three evangelically minded albums that followed—shocked the music world so completely that it remains one of the most provocative and disputed periods in the icon's storied history. Last year's artsy biopic I'm Not There glossed over that period, but this film pieces together interviews with Dylan's former pastor, fellow musicians from the Slow Train era, and even some of the music critics who initially derided his "Jesus music." It offers a rare glimpse into an oft-misunderstood era. (Dylan was not interviewed for this film, but archived conversations with him are included.)
Director Joel Gilbert coaxes some great reminiscences out of his interview subjects. He captures the mood and tension of the Jesus years in striking detail and digs for rare personal insights into Dylan's personality. Perhaps the documentary's most rewarding segment is its re-creation of the notorious Slow Train-era concerts, in which Dylan's newfound faith was celebrated by a few and criticized by many. One of Dylan's backup singers tells how Dylan had his entire band and crew spend time in prayer before each show. And Dylan himself sums it up in one archival interview snippet from the era: "You heard it here: Jesus is Lord."
If there is anything disappointing about this film, it's that the final few moments seem to cast Dylan's born-again years as just another phase in his artistic development, something he quickly discarded. Many students of Dylan might ...1