The author of a new book exploring Bob Dylan’s faith, as revealed in many of his lyrics, claims that the famed performer had a previously undisclosed depression period after his divorce with his Gospel singer wife.
Dr. Adam Bradford, who is a family doctor and Biblical historian in the London area, said this revelation came to him after looking at the lyrics from Dylan’s 1997 album “Time Out of Mind.” The book, Out of the Dark Woods – Dylan, Depression and Faith, was released Tuesday.
Although he came just short of giving a clinical diagnosis of depression, Bradford told The Christian Post that his “medical finding” was the result of discovering that the album’s lyrics were “literally loaded with the strong language of depressive illness – symptoms of depression.”
Bradford said it was this depression that caused Dylan’s “creative lapse” between 1990 and 2001, in which the singer released only one album (“Time Out of Mind”) containing his own original material.
Templehouse Publishing asked Bradford, who also wrote “The Jesus Discovery,” to write the book on Dylan because of the author’s similar Jewish Christian background as that of the singer.
“When the album ‘Time Out of Mind’ was released, nobody knew that Dylan had been married as a Christian to a Christian, had a child, and then four years later got divorced,” Bradford said. “At the time, [the album] was regarded as being dark in content. Nobody took that further and asked why it was dark because nobody knew about the divorce.
“When I went over the lyrics, looking for a Biblical perspective, I was struck by the number of references to symptoms of depression in the tracks on the album. Every single track has symptoms of depression written into it,” he said.
The highly private Dylan married his Gospel back-up singer, Carolyn Dennis, in 1986. It was his second marriage. She filed for divorce in 1990. The couple had a daughter, Gabrielle Desiree.
Music critiques during the time of the album’s release were unaware of Dylan’s personal family situation, Bradford said. It wasn’t until 2001, as the result of a journalist’s story, that the marriage and divorce were revealed.
During the interview with CP, Bradford gave the parts of song verses from “Time Out of Mind” that were examples of a depressive state:
"Insanity is smashing up against my soul..." (Highlands)
"...blues wrapped around my head." (Standing In The Doorway)
“They tell me everything is gonna be all right, but I don't know what 'all right' even means..." (Tryin' To Get To Heaven)
Bradford said that Dylan’s songs from the album make more sense once you know that they are being written by someone who was divorced.
“You can understand the lyrics on the songs of that album: ‘You left me standing in the doorway crying,’ ‘I don’t know how long I can go on like this,’ ‘Every day your memory grows dimmer. It doesn’t haunt me like it did before.’ Most of the songs relate to his marriage breakup. Every single song has at least one line, and some have many lines which elude to a depressed mood. The album title is not a coincidence either,” he continued.
In the book release announcement, publishers also gave more examples of the lyrics that reveal the possibility of mental illness:
"There's voices in the night trying to be heard, I'm sitting here listening to every mind-polluting word." (Million Miles)
"Feel like my soul has turned into steel... Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb." (Not Dark Yet)
"I'm beginning to hear voices, and there's no one around..." (Cold Irons Bound)
Bradford said he attempted to confirm his diagnosis with Dylan but was unsuccessful.
“You cannot contact Bob Dylan. You can try. It’s not possible. You can write to his publishers or his lawyer, but they will not forward anything to him. He is one of the most private people in the music business,” Bradford said. “I don’t believe it is a coincidence that we have 13 songs (including out takes) which are in sessions from 1997 that all have language indicating a mental health problem.”
Bradford said that Dylan, 70, who is currently touring in the United States, has been opening his recent shows with a song that was not on the artist's playlist for 29 years. Dylan's revised version of "Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking" contains the lyrics: "I'm stepping out of the dark woods, I'm jumping on the monkey's back."
"The 'monkey' he refers to in the song is what's known as reactive depression and the 'dark woods' is the depressive state," he said.
Bradford said that as a Jewish Christian he can identify with the writing of other Jewish Christians. "I believe that Bob Dylan is a Jewish Christian. In other words he is a Jew who has faith in Jesus as the Messiah,” he said.
In 2009, unhindered by any restrictions from a record company contract, Dylan released an album called “Christmas in the Heart.” The album includes Christmas classics such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Bradford related a story about Dylan’s interview with journalist Bill Flanagan in regards to the Christmas album. The account is also available on the singer’s website, BobDylan.com.
Flanagan told Dylan: “There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.’ I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.”
“Well, I am a true believer,” Dylan replied.