Seth Rogovoy, author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, wrote about Bob Dylan’s Judaism, Jews who write Christmas music, and the album itself. He is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.
Bob Dylanâ€™s worst, after all, is typically a lot better than many peopleâ€™s best, and as good as even more peopleâ€™s mediocre efforts. But in its lack of inspiration and imagination, and in the poor quality of the performances, especially in Dylanâ€™s horrible vocals, this seemed nothing more than a tossed-off, misguided effort, ranking even below such Dylan misfires as Self Portrait, Knocked Out Loaded, and Down in the Groove. (Whatâ€™s that, you say? You never heard of those? Well, thereâ€™s a reason.)
Which still leaves the unanswerable question, why? Or, more precisely, what does it mean?
I think, short of getting inside of Bob Dylanâ€™s head — which, having studied him long and hard for more decades than I care to admit, is a place Iâ€™ve concluded you donâ€™t want to go — weâ€™ve established as well as we can why Dylan would want to make a Christmas album. It makes perfect sense in the greater context of Dylanâ€™s career as an American musician, and even as a Jewish-American musician (see parts 1-3 of this series).
As for what it might mean, with the implication being what it might mean regarding Dylanâ€™s self-identification as a Jew or a Christian, thatâ€™s a much more difficult question to answer. Indeed, itâ€™s impossible to say.
Itâ€™s not my place to comment on the meaning of Christmas in contemporary America, although Iâ€™ve had plenty of chances to observe it up close and personal being celebrated by a wide cross-section of people from all walks of life. And Iâ€™ve often had it explained to me by those who do honor the holiday in one way or another that it has little to no religious significance (this is often by way of their inviting me to join in the festivities).