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OnFaith Conversations: Andrew McCarron, author of Light Come Shining: The Transformations of Bob Dylan

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•• Andrew McCarron holds a PhD in Social/Personality Psychology and a Masters in Divinity and has most recently put these qualifications to task in his book Light Come Shining: The Transformations of Bob Dylan. We sat down with the psychobiographer to discuss Dylan’s complex relationship with religion and the sacred role he plays for his most devoted fans•• Q. Where did your interest in religion begin? A. It was through the Beat Poets (Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in particular) that I became aware of a more mystical way of being in the world [in a way] that appealed to me. I’m interested in religious experience outside of organized contexts; what it means to be spiritual if you’re not religious—I’ve always been intrigued by that. Q. Can you describe the process of writing this book? A. It was a real challenge, my goodness! – just given how much there is out there about this guy who I have never met. I tried to use the tools of William James and really just focus on Bob Dylan’s own self-reportage—the language that he has used to describe his experiences, especially around these instances of fundamental change (I take three of these up in the book). It was deeply rewarding, but challenging work intellectually. Q. If you had to come up with an over-arching religion for Bob Dylan, what would it be called and what would its core theology be? A. It wouldn't have a name, and it would be incredibly syncretistic. Just like his lyrical compositions and song writing, he draws on so many different traditions—whether it’s Orthodox Judaism, Southern Californian Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Tarot Cards or New Age. I would say that the theology [of his religion] is one of continual reinvention, transformation, change, transfiguration—whatever word you want to use for it. He has spoken of being called from an early age by a feeling of destiny that's mystical in nature.  It's the realest thing in his life, and it's something that he isn't interested in rationalizing through language.  Q. What is the difference between Bob Dylan’s personal religiosity and the religiosity of his most devout followers (the Dylanologists)? A. I cannot speak for his devout followers because that would require making sweeping generalizations about a very large number of people. But I will say this. Bob Dylan is a very religious person and many of his most ardent baby boomer devotees don't really understand this about him. I would [also add] that I noticed that a lot of Bob Dylan’s fans tend to believe that one of Dylan’s reinventions is the authentic one, the valid one, and tend to really focus on that. Q. How do Dylan’s own religious narratives about his life (especially following his 1978 conversion) serve him? What purpose do they fill in his life? A. There’s something to be said about his response to fame: the demand that he be this, that, or the other thing continually from the time of late adolescence or his early twenties on. I think he gravitated to figures who exemplified transfiguration and change as a way of escaping the demands of fame. [These figures] gave him some fluidity that allowed him to avoid being stapled into this identity or that identity by all these people that wanted to be around him. I think that the narrative of Jesus' death and resurrection appealed to him because he always felt fluid and had a handful of born again experiences of one sort or another before accepting Jesus as his personal savior in 1978.  Q. In your opinion, what are Dylan’s most religious songs? A. The album O Mercy! from 1989 has a lot of deeply religious songs. My book explores the lyrics of the song "Where Teardrops Fall," which contains allusions to Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. This song captures the pain and catharsis of spiritual transformation in a way that doesn't hold back. The saxophone solo that concludes the song, which Dylan reflects on in Chronicles: Volume One, is the sound of a resurrection. ••• This interview has been edited for clarity and length. LIGHT COME SHINING: THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF BOB DYLAN (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS) will be out January, 2017