In the early days the Beatles, especially John Lennon, would cite Bob Dylan as one of their biggest influences. This was clear in the style of songs such as “I’m a Loser” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away“. It was also clear that the Beatles had influenced Dylan, especially when looking at his dramatic shift away from folk music into having a backing rock band in albums like “Highway 61 Revisited“.
But if we fast forward 15 years later we see a certain conflict that arose between Lennon and Dylan.
Dylan would claim in the year of 1979 to have experienced a dramatic conversion to following Jesus. Following a couple years of lowly acclaimed albums and tours that almost brought his health into complete disrepair, Dylan would claim that;
“Towards the end of (one of our) shows someone out in the crowd…knew I wasn’t feeling too well,” recalled Dylan in a 1979 interview. “I think they could see that. And they threw a silver cross on the stage. Now usually I don’t pick things up in front of the stage. Once in a while I do. Sometimes I don’t. But I looked down at that cross. I said, ‘I gotta pick that up.’ So I picked up the cross and I put it in my pocket…And I brought it backstage and I brought it with me to the next town, which was out in Arizona…I was feeling even worse than I’d felt when I was in San Diego. I said, ‘Well, I need something tonight.’ I didn’t know what it was. I was used to all kinds of things. I said, ‘I need something tonight that I didn’t have before.’ And I looked in my pocket and I had this cross.”
Dylan believed he had experienced a vision of Christ in his Tucson hotel room. “Jesus did appear to me as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,” he’d later say. “There was a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus…Jesus put his hand on me. It was a physical thing. I felt it. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble. The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up.”
So Dylan had a conversion to Christianity, which he would soon after write about in his albums “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved”. Many critics criticized his overtly religious and apocalyptic lyrics. It was clear that Dylan had a lot of passion and maybe not a lot of knowledge of his faith at this time, but years later Dylan’s faith would prove to be sincere. He would still claim, though having faltered through the years from time to time, to still hold on to this faith that he once proclaimed so loudly in 1979.
Two years before that in 1977, following a period of deep depression nearly leading him to throw himself out of a hotel window and commit suicide, Lennon had a similar experience to that of Dylan;
“One day [Lennon] had an epiphany—he allowed himself to be touched by the love of Jesus Christ, and it drove him to tears of joy and ecstacy,” writes Rosen, a New York journalist briefly employed by Ono.
“He drew a picture of a crucifix; he was born again, and the experience was such a kick that he had to share it with Yoko.” He wrote about it in a song called “You Saved My Soul”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=musbzUWbDpk
Ono, whose first husband Anthony Cox became an evangelical Christian in the 1970s, was displeased with Lennon’s changed outlook.
“This dramatic conversion worried Yoko,” Giuliano writes.
“She feared that John’s new faith would clash with her own ideas about spiritualism and threaten her iron hold over him.”
In the end Ono won. In his final years, the man best known for his lines “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try” was living a life dictated by astrologers, numerologists, clairvoyants, psychics, herbalists, and tarot-card readers.
Two years later, Lennon wrote a parody of Bob Dylan’s song “Gotta Serve Somebody” in which he urged his listeners to believe in no one but themselves, he titled it “Gotta Serve Yourself”
A long lasting relationship by two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century came to a strange twist.
Lennon’s frustration at tasting the essence of pure joy and then being torn between his love for Yoko Ono and this truth he had experienced is evident in his song “Gotta Serve Yourself”. It reiterates the truth that Paul (the apostle, not McCartney!) wrote about in the scripture when he said that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
And this true joy, this real meaning, this treasure and peace that everyone is searching for, merely seems crazy to those who won’t allow it to be the most powerful, important reality to grasp (and it certainly is!).