With God On Our Side

bobhowe pointed me to an article in the Times of London that says a study shows,

Religous belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

It’s not the most solid of research work, relying mainly on the fact that the U.S. is more religious than most other “prosperous democracies” but also has the highest rates of murder, STD transmission, and abortion. The more secular western democracies do seem saner than the U.S., but I’m not sure if there’s any causality there, or if perhaps people seek religion when they feel their society is in trouble.

I’ve been listening to a lot of early Bob Dylan, thanks to the recent release of No Direction Home and Live at the Gaslight: 1962, mikeskliar‘s lending of Live at Carnegie Hall, 1963 and my belated purchase of Live 1964. Dylan’s song “With God On Our Side” appears on several of those albums (here’s a sound clip of a gorgeous version with Joan Baez). It’s one of his early protest songs, among the better of an often strident lot, and the Times article reminded me of it.

I liked the albums more than I thought I would. I think Dylan has aged well; his early years as a Woody Guthrie imitator don’t do that much for me. But despite some tedious songs (“It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Going On and On For Ten Minutes Over Two Chords”) and some silliness (howling “I’m going down to West Texas behind the Louisiana line” in his ersatz hillbilly accent, apparently not realizing that Louisiana is east of Texas) there is some great music on these discs. His gorgeous version of the traditional “Barbara Allen” on the Gaslight Tapes, his beautiful melodic harp on the No Direction Home version of “Blowin’ In the Wind” or his credible Sonny Terry rhythms on “Sally Gal” proving that he can indeed play harp when he bothers to pay attention to it.

He was indeed so much younger then. What ever happened to the charm and humor and openness that makes Live 1964 such a delight? Listen to the laughter, the freewheeling duets with Joan Baez and interactions with the audience (“Does anyone know the first verse to this song?” he asks at the start of “I Don’t Believe You,” a sweet presage to the later bitterness of 1965, when he snarled “I don’t believe you” at a fan protesting his shift to electric rock).

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