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Sing in me, Muse.
Many of our assumptions about spiritual purpose, sensual pleasure, and the essence of work, community, country, race, and the divine have germinated in Bob Dylan’s need to know what’s blowing in the wind and how it feels.
Channeled through his music and persona, Dylan’s quest and questions have animated the mandate of a liberation movement called rock and roll.
Through the prism of his vision and the echo of his voice, this guide to Dylan’s spiritual wisdom aims to make good on the promise that if we look closely enough at his body of work—precisely at a moment when the world we thought we knew seems like uncharted territory—we can open up our eyes to see not only where we really are, but where we need to go.
from Morgan James Publishing
An evocative, learned, and personal analysis of a carefully curated collection of Dylan songs. A capacious and soulful book.
—Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward, Stone Arabia, and Eat the Document
Most theory about rock music flattens the dangerous God-intoxicated spirit that powers its heart, but Stephen Arnoff’s brilliant excavating of Bob Dylan’s soul is like watching Orpheus descend into the underworld. Arnoff is not just a critic. He shows us not only why Dylan is essential, but why Dylan matters to what matters most: Holiness is not a state, but a struggle, a wrestling with God and each other. Arnoff’s book is a revelation about Dylan, music, and how they both get us closer to the ideal.
—Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch and Strange Frequencies
Stephen Arnoff’s About Man and God and Law is a stirring meditation on the cosmic dimensions of Bob Dylan’s storied body of work, reminding readers that this is music that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. Arnoff invites you to lean along with him into the philosophical iridescence and theological catharsis at the heart of Dylan’s oeuvre, showing us the reasons why geniuses from Nina and Jimi to Odetta and Sam Cooke had dazzling conversations with his words and sounds. A journey in enchantment.
—Daphne Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound and William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of African American Studies, American Studies, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Music, Yale University
Arnoff takes us on a startlingly original journey into the mystery of Bob Dylan, the legend we thought we knew. Arnoff sets the bard against the widest backdrop: Greek myth and rock ‘n roll, Romantic poets and Talmudic rabbis, prophets and iconoclasts, Homer and Chuck Berry, Walt Whitman and Little Richard, John Brown and Nina Simone. Arnoff’s writing moves from careful argument to poetic exuberance, from historical erudition to hypnotic stream-of-consciousness. In both style and cultural reach, Arnoff’s book is not just about Dylan, it is itself Dylanesque. Arnoff makes us experience Dylan as the “solitary seeker” who has always “bargained for salvation”—but also as our era’s troubadour who boldly proclaims the truth amidst the ruins of the “United States of Pompeii.”
—Nathaniel Berman, Rahel Varnhagen Professor in Religious Studies, Brown University
In this time of global unrest and accelerating change, Arnoff reawakens us to the enduring power of poetry and music to speak to the soul’s deepest questions. His exploration of Dylan’s work moves us into the hidden spaces of our innermost vulnerabilities: “Why are we here?” “Who are we?” And in Dylan’s own words: “How does it feel?” Dylan’s query notably echoes the equally salient question so often posed by the iconic Civil Rights leader, Ruby Sales: “Where does it hurt?” Both Dylan and Sales understand that we must go straight to the heart’s core in order to seek truth. In this book, Arnoff takes us alongside Dylan’s own journey to answer these questions, using Dylan’s songs to explore the artist’s lifelong pilgrimage; a pilgrimage that leads him, ultimately, to a place of humility and acceptance as he realizes there is so much that we cannot ever really know. This book reminds us that we do not ever walk this way alone. Through the music, we too are traveling with Dylan, and the Spirit is blowing where it will, bringing with her wisdom that is simultaneously timeless and ever new. In an era when more and more respondents to polling list their religious affiliation as “none,” Dylan and Arnoff offer us a musical and poetic roadmap to real salvation: the awakening of empathy for ourselves and for those who walk beside us on the long odyssey of being human in an ever changing, chaotic world.
—Rev. Posey Krakowsky, Church of the Ascension, New York, NY
A devoted and expert fan’s reflections on the spiritual spaces Bob Dylan has filled in the hearts of many of us. Stephen Arnoff’s About Man and God and Law is a lively and personal take on some of the fundamental themes that the songwriter has engaged across his career.
—Richard Thomas, author of Why Dylan Matters and George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard University
“I ain’t no false prophet” claims Bob Dylan on his most recent album, and, in its entirety, Stephen Arnoff’s About Man and God and Law: A Guide to Bob Dylan’s Spiritual Wisdom demonstrates exactly how Dylan is the ultimate “enemy of the unlived meaningless life.” As widely read as his subject, Arnoff sets out succinct readings of Dylan’s body of work and positions the songs and their creator in relevant cultural contexts, connecting the work to the thinkers and situations that inspired it. With its continued focus on Dylan’s expressions of the human condition in the light of God and law, in chapters that range from “Salvation” to “Love” to “Death,” this text makes clear the redemptive power of Dylan’s songs. Broadly imagined and eminently readable, Arnoff’s analyses uncover Dylan’s music as an ongoing expression of spiritual sustenance.
—Roxanne Harde, editor (with Irwin Streight) of Reading the Boss:
Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Works of Bruce Springsteen
A lively journey through Bob Dylan's work via wide-ranging riffs on Dylan's untiring searches for meaning. From Hebrew prophets to ancient Roman theology, from Dante to Biggie Smalls, Arnoff frames Dylan's storied restlessness in an eclectic narrative of how spirituality and wisdom may be viable right here, right now. Nonreligious Dylan fans will find valuable insights into individual songs, and a grounded commitment to both the playfulness and gravitas of Bob Dylan's art.
—Nina Goss, author of Tearing the World Apart: Bob Dylan and the Twenty-First and Dylan at Play
Can we separate the myth and the reality of Bob Dylan? Should we even try? A question for the ages and one that will be debated for eons. Without doubt, the rock n’ roll Nobel Laureate is a bit of both. Did he design it that way? Was it divine intervention, is he a freewheelin’ Deus ex machina? Or was it just us, his fans, heaping this robe of responsibility on him? Big questions. Dr. Stephen Arnoff digs deep to find answers—and may actually discover more questions—about the man and the myth. It’s a trail others have followed to varying success, but Arnoff has discovered fresh territory. I loved following his journey, chasing the image of Dylan in his 60+ years of creating higher pop art. This is not the usual music related book about a great artist and his life. It is so much more. An excellent and thought provoking read, and a must have for any Dylanologist!
—Christian Swain, Host of the Rock N Roll Archaeology Podcast
Using one line from Dylan’s 1965 song “Maggie’s Farm” and three words in particular—man, God, and law––as the foundation, Arnoff extrapolates on the iconic singer’s musical past and musical present as well as his musical and spiritual legacy. In these very readable pages, Whitman, Guthrie, Springsteen, and Kerouac meet sacred texts, the myth of America, and the notion of self-invention and self-creation. By exploring the entirety of the Dylan canon thematically, the author has fashioned an erudite and thoughtful meditation on salvation and faith and what makes a life meaningful as seen through the prism of Mr. Dylan’s words and many personas. For spiritual seekers and Dylan fans alike.
—June Skinner Sawyers, co-editor, Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen