following some trails from a "Journal of Religion and Popular Culture" Dylan article

Way back in 2002, Michael J. Gilmour had an article, They Refused Jesus Too: A Biblical Paradigm in the Writing of Bob Dylan, in Vol. 1 of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, and I've just found it. While the piece is interesting in its own right, covering "a very specific way the Bible appears in some of Dylan's songs, namely the application of Christological imagery to himself and his vocation as an artist," I also want to point out the fruit of a brief pause over some U2 content in the methodology section. The author notes the problem that "the study of religious aspects of artistic work frequently turns to questions about the artist's faith, as if art is necessarily a window to the soul," and then gives us some fine reflections on the power of celebrity culture to skew the work of anyone seeking to study religious themes as expressed by a popular artist.

Following that is a persuasive list of reasons why all efforts to speak for what artists like U2 and Dylan personally believe "with song lyrics and poems as the primary data are doomed to failure." (On the U2 front, introductions to the band's faith have sometimes tried to avoid this problem by including personal quotes -- usually largely from Bono -- but to me this tactic merely exacerbates the skewing, idealizing effect of celebrity on the author's material.) Anyway, there's a lot of interesting stuff here along with some important warnings for anybody seeking to write about U2 (or any popular artists) from a theological point of view.

Gilmour has also published books in this field: one (perhaps an expansion of the JRPC article? don't know) called Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan & Scripture (there's a review here). I find it kind of amusing that Amazon suggested I pair this Dylan book with another (not out when Gilmour wrote the article) that represents the "art as spiritual biography" concept he does such a nice job of dismantling.

However, what's more relevant here is the brand new anthology he edited, Call Me the Seeker: Listening to Religion in Popular Music - you can see the contents in more detail. Call Me the Seeker has essays on artists like Nick Cave, Sinead O'Connor (with a clever analysis of fan-listserv reactions to her spiritual references), and the Stones (an article on "Sympathy for the Devil"), as well as two helpful and persuasive (IMHO) pieces on raves. And of course, U2 are represented in the book: first by Gilmour's own 2003 "The Prophet Jeremiah, Aung San Suu Kyi, and U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind: On Listening to Bono's Jeremiad," which long-term readers of this blog might possibly remember I found largely unpersuasive, and second by "Comic Endings: Spirit and Flesh in Bono's Apocalyptic Imagination, 1980-1983" by Brian Froese, newly of Canadian Mennonite University. This latter is a thorough tracking of patterns of language and metaphor in U2's early albums (happily, it's unable to resist citations from the later ones too, despite its narrowly defined scope), showing how U2 lyrics grow towards an increasingly sophisticated interweaving of "apocalyptically informed Christian spirituality, a prophetic concern for social justice, and an initially ambiguous masculine heterosexuality." The guy's been paying attention.

Anyway: isn't it great to see more and more work being done in this field that doesn't stop at "here's what I think this band thinks" or at introduction to the concept that popular artists deal with religious themes?

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