Saturday, December 20, 2014
Bob Dylan –  “With God on Our Side” from The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964 Columbia)


Somehow or another, this song is over fifty years old, and just as poignant as ever. I’ll post the lyrics below, in case you need them:

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

Now, here’s the deal with Dylan. I recognize his brilliance, certainly. I mean, look at those lyrics. But still, a couple of gripes. First, why did he completely give up writing protest music? I don’t deny that it’s his career, and therefore his perogative, but I feel like we need songs like this much more than the weird blues rock trail he shuffled down later in his career. You’re not supposed to say things like that, since he’s Bob Dylan and all, which actually leads me to my next gripe.

I feel like Bob Dylan has been operating on the assumption that he could do whatever he wanted “since he’s Bob Dylan and all” for quite some time. So much of his music seems “borrowed” from different strands of Americana (many of those strands being firmly rooted in the African-American tradition), then filtered through the weirdo trickster kaleidescope that is Bob Dylan.

Indeed, even half a century ago, Dominic Behan called Dylan “a plagiarist and a thief” for “borrowing” the melody of “The Patriot Game,” which itself “borrowed” the melody from the song “The Merry Month of May” (or so says Wikipedia — I can’t hear it).  So who knows, maybe Dylan gets a pass on this one. It would be, after all, the height of irony to suppose that Dylan himself operates on the assumption that he can do no wrong, with God on his side and all.

Whatever the case, we need songs like this now. We need them desperately.


One comment

  1. Thanks. A great song. One sure thing about Bob – you can never predict his next move and every move will provoke debate (not a bad summary of an artists role). Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (currently featuring a Bob and Christmas themed post).


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