When Bob Dylan announced his born-again experience in 1978 and then recorded the album Slow Train Coming, I was an enthusiastic supporter of the change and was frequently called on to explain and justify it in the secular media. My argument was that Dylan had now found the answers to the questions he had so poignantly articulated to date and was a permanently altered man.
My opponents, and that included just about everyone else writing about rock music at the time, argued that it was just another Dylan phase, like polka-dot shirts or living in the country, and that he would grow out of it. Most of them hoped the phase would be brief, for while Christianity might have saved Dylan's soul, they believed it had damned his art.
From the perspective of May 2001, the month of Dylan's 60th birthday, these critics would probably consider their skepticism justified. After all, the finger-pointing gospel only lasted for three albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love), the apocalyptic stage raps have long since stopped and whenever Dylan is questioned about his faith by interviewers he is evasive. As early as 1983 he was reportedly close to an Orthodox Hasidic sect, the Lubavitchers.
I don't regret welcoming the news of Dylan's conversion, but I made a mistake in assuming that his life was as rock solid as the songs. Because he sang so uncompromisingly about his new life and the weak foundation of his old life, I had added a few of my own assumptions and fit Dylan into an apologetic. The best advice I got was from a former sideman of Dylan's who had converted about the same time. He said it would be safer to distinguish between the lyrics of the songs, which would remain true whatever failings their author ...1