A few days ago, I went to see Bob Dylan play in Charleston, South Carolina. As I was leaving the show, I walked by a trio of hippie-ish young guys who were enthusiastically passing out newsletters to people as they left the venue. One of them thrust some paper into my hand, so I stuck it in my bag and quickly forgot about it.
It wasn't until the next day that I realized I'd been given 23 pages of religious craziness written to/about Bob Dylan by some cult called Twelve Tribes who were trying to recruit Bob and his fans.
I'm writing about it now, a week later, because as much as I wanted to read through it and make fun of it right there and then, it was so poorly written and flat-out insane that it took me three days to make it all the way through.
It seems that the cult's obsession with Bob stems from a rambling, 1985 interview he did with SPIN, which was so fucking crazy I assumed they must have made it up themselves. But I looked into it, and it turns out it's legit. Here's some weird stuff he said about "the messianic thing":
"The messianic thing has to do with the world of mankind, like it is. This world is scheduled to go for 7,000 years. Six thousand years of this, where man has his way, and 1,000 years when God has his way. Just like a week. Six days work, one day rest. The last thousand years is called the Messianic Age. Messiah will rule. He is, was, and will be about God—doing God’s business. Drought, famine, war, murder, theft, earthquake, and all other evil things will be no more. No more disease. That’s all of this world."
He then went on to say some confusing stuff about Jews:
"There will be a run on godliness, just like now there’s a run on refrigerators, headphones, and fishing gear. It’s going to be a matter of survival. People are going to be running to find out about God, and who are they going to run to? They’re gonna run to the Jews, ’cause the Jews wrote the book, and you know what? The Jews ain’t gonna know. They’re too busy in the fur business and in the pawn shops and in sending their kids to some atheist school. They’re too busy doing all that stuff to know."
Jeeeeez, Bob. I didn't know you was like that.
The Twelve Tribes address Bob directly in a section appropriately titled “To Bob Dylan," in which they kiss his ass pretty heavily. Here’s the (totally not creepy) intro:
“Your songs from the early years were anthems for generations to come. They are prophetic in so many ways at many different levels. They touch the complex and deep longing of the soul for a real answer… your lyrics bring the ills of society and the pain and suffering of our individual lives to the surface.”
That's ordinary, teenager-who-just-started-listening-to-Dylan stuff, but then they move into a section where they take a ton of his greatest hits and make completely unfounded, nonsensical speculations as to their lyrical meanings.
For example, did you know that “Blowin' in the Wind” was about Dylan recognizing “that if hope for a better life in a better world dies in the human heart, evil will reign forever over the human race”? Or that "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" lets us know that "a day of reckoning is coming for all the injustice and cruelty and selfishness that fills humanity"? Or that Bob wrote "I Shall Be Released" because he knew there must be "a real King who could lead us into a real kingdom"? Me either.
Then they give up on Dylan for a while and ask, "What would God's house be like if he lived on my street?" Answer: It would be big and nice (but not like, new nice) and he would invite everyone over to hang out. Even "the lame boy with the funny legs." Cool.
And then, for the next few thousand sentences, it just says… stuff. I have no idea. Here are some select quotes, maybe you can work out what they mean:
"The Messiah’s words, 'no man can work,' rang true in Bob Dylan’s mind. These remarkable words caused him to wonder. It is so significant that he wondered because his wondering helps others wonder. There is a shortage of wonder in the world today. But one thing you never have to wonder about is where what you heard came from.”
"It’s only in the darkness that someone could show up at a building to listen to one man ramble on, week after week, and think that matches up to Paul’s instructions to the churches… For 1900 years, the institution called Christianity, which supposedly has something to do with God (but nothing to do with true love), has held center stage. Maybe that’s why Bob didn’t stick with Jesus for very long."
"A people is being gathered…. The prophetic voice of a new millennium is faintly heard…. No longer separated… no longer alienated…. Living together in tribes… a commonwealth is being formed. This new commonwealth is not like the 'British Commonwealth' or the 'Commonwealth of Massachusetts.' This one is really a 'common wealth.' It goes by a whole new set of rules! It is a place where we have all things in common, and our highest law is LOVE."
I've read through this stuff like, 30 times now and have no idea what they're talking about.
The pamphlet ends with some letters the cult members have written to Bob. Like this lady, Rose. Here’s Rose being crazy about her relationship with her husband and Bob:
"The deep passion of our romance was radiated through every word Dylan uttered. It says in scripture that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. He was our third strand…. We couldn’t go on without him. We needed him. What was life anymore without him!… When I first met Messiah, I prayed for Dylan every day. I had such a deep kinship to him in my heart. When I heard that he got 'saved' I was ecstatic. But I know that we were so far removed from being Christians…. I knew that if Dylan could just come and see this life, he’d fall in love as I had. I’m still waiting for this to happen."
This is pretty much the only reference in the whole thing that Bob Dylan doesn’t share their religious views. She goes on to say more batshit things, like a story about the time she drove over 500 miles to give Bob a letter but showed up too late and missed him (whoops!). Luckily she printed the letter here so he could see it:
"If someone took the time to write a letter straight from her heart to yours… would you take the time to read it? And if that same person traveled 500 miles that very day, to stand face to face with you, eye to eye, to express something to you from the depths of her heart…. Hey Bobby (thats awfully informal) there’s this lady outside who wants to tell you something. She said something about a place to belong, to be… long."
Not sure I would've driven 500 miles to deliver that…
Then, convinced that they've made a compelling argument, they ask if you would consider joining them, claiming it's what Bob Dylan would want you to do:
"You can come for a day or to stay. This is the answer that Dylan could only see dimly. This is what he wanted. Please come."
Photo by B. Gibson Barkley
After reading this ENTIRE FUCKING NOVEL, I still had no real clue as to what these guys believe. So I ended up consulting their website and trying to work it out. After getting sucked into a another vortex of bullshit for several hours, I think I've figured it out: They're essentially Christians who take the Bible literally, live in communes, and do stuff like whatever-is-happening-in-the-picture-above. And, oh yeah, they're pretty open about being racist, antisemitic, sexist, and homophobic.
To conclude: I really regret reading this thing. Why did I read this thing? I think I wanna punch Bob Dylan in the face now.
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