Monday, March 19, 2007

The Answer Is Blowin' in... The Tablet

So the world press really went to town on the whole JP + Dylan = Ratzi No-No bit. While much of the inkage was either straight accounts or a blurb in the gossip sections, leave it to my paper to break the mould, and gratefully so.

This week's Tablet top feature comes from committed Dylanite/rockstar/editor of BustedHalo Bill McGarvey, whose affinity for both His Bobness and His Holiness is no secret.
For Catholics like me - and, trust me, there are millions of us - who have been profoundly moved, nourished and simply entertained by Dylan's music and countless other elements of pop culture, the Pope's comments were baffling and distressing. Fortunately, the then Cardinal Ratzinger's arguments did not win the day back in 1997 and Dylan appeared as scheduled. Of course John Paul II used the event to his advantage (as he so often did), engaging people by preaching about the movement of the Holy Spirit using Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" as his metaphor.

It is a strange feeling today to be part of a faith community whose leadership does not seem to value the cultural sensibilities of a considerable portion of its flock. For a Pope who has such a deep devotion to the works of such a classical giant as Mozart to have so little appreciation for one of the most important figures in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music is troubling and points to a lack of understanding of the scores of spiritual seekers - of which Dylan is a charter member - whose faith journeys might be somewhat messy. Benedict's apparent suspicion of popular culture is a sad reminder that the Church sometimes has a tin ear with regard to the endless ways that the Holy Spirit continually operates within culture to help us recognise the sacred in the most unexpected places....

Other artists who I became passionate about seemed, like Dylan, to be pilgrims completely alive to the world. In my mind, this was true discipleship. At a time in my life when my capacity to feel far outstripped my abilities to understand and articulate, the music not only spoke to me; in a way it spoke for me.

It spoke of hope: "Oh the fishes will laugh/ As they swim out of the path/ And the seagulls they'll be smiling./ And the rocks on the sand/ Will proudly stand,/ The hour that the ship comes in" ("When the Ship Comes In"). It talked of love: "Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,/ When the rivers freeze and summer ends,/ Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,/ To keep her from the howlin' winds" ("Girl From the North Country").

In retrospect, although I was raised a Catholic, I now realise that my first religious experience came through music. I had no illusions that any of the artists who moved me were "prophets", much less gods. I did however have a sense that through them I was able to catch some refracted ray of truth - something universal that can be hinted at only in great works of art.
McGarvey will, of course, be coming home to moderate tomorrow night's blogfest on Hawk Hill.