Bob Says ya “Gotta Serve Somebody” … Do you?

By J. William DeMarco

So true…think about it and then ponder…who are you serving? Yourself? Your office or organization? Your family? Your wallet? God?

Bob Dylan took five months off at the beginning of 1979 to attend Bible school. His subsequent album Slow Train Coming reached No.3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and included this Grammy-winning song: “Gotta Serve Somebody” … I ponder the tune deeply almost every time I listen to it. Why is this such a hard concept for us as humans to grasp?  Is service second nature or not?

For Dylan “Gotta Serve Somebody” won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male in 1980. The song was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It stands as Dylan’s last hit single, peaking at #24 on the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 singles chart.

In response to “Gotta Serve Somebody”, John Lennon wrote and recorded the song “Serve Yourself,” which was a parody mocking the injection of religion into Dylan’s songwriting. Yoko Ono later apologized for the work in 1998. In his diary, Lennon said of Dylan’s song, “The backing was mediocre by Jerry Wexler, the singing was really pathetic, and the words were just embarrassing.”

John Lennon’s “Serve Yourself” criticized Dylan’s preaching and instead asserted: “You gotta serve yourself/Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.

Devo would even offer a sarcastic cover of Dylan’s song live as their Christian rock alter-egos, Dove.

Dylan took a lot of flak for his spiritual discovery or his “issues”…I am sure many of us can relate. Much of the album thus deals with Dylan’s faith and Christian teachings. While the religious issues of the record alienated many of Dylan’s older fans, the album also gained Bob a new wave of Christian fans….of course it is most interesting to note the difference between these two musical geniuses…Dylan and Lennon. One chose to accept that we do indeed serve somebody, somebody greater than ourselves. The other did not. In their choices you see which master they decided to serve. No matter what you choose, where you go…you are serving somebody, but it is indeed an individual choice as to who.

Years ago they … said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No it’s not me.” They used to say “You sure are a prophet.” They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, “Bob Dylan’s no prophet.” They just can’t handle it. -Bob Dylan

This song is about finding meaning in life through serving God. John Piper wrote on his blog: For those who listen with biblically informed ears the refrain echoes Paul and Jesus:

Paul: “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16).

Jesus: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

Dylan’s refrain:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed,
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

In 1978, Bob Dylan’s energy was tapped out from constantly being on the road, and on top of other pressures in his life, his last album (Street Legal) didn’t do so well. Legend has it he saw a vision of Christ that year, a few months after a fan threw a silver cross on stage while Dylan was performing. Some members of his touring band were members of a Southern California-based organization called the Vineyard Fellowship, and a girlfriend of Dylan’s, another Vineyard member named Mary Alice Artes, asked pastor Kenn Gulliksen to speak to the singer. And so Dylan began an intense study at the Vineyard, which would go on to influence nearly all the songs he would write in the next few years. (Kenn Gulliksen Comments about Dylan’s Status As Believer)

“Being born again is a hard thing … We don’t like to lose those old attitudes and hang-ups. Conversion takes time because you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. You have to learn to drink milk before you can eat meat. You’re reborn, but like a baby. A baby doesn’t know anything about this world, and that’s what it’s like when you’re reborn. You’re a stranger. You have to learn all over again.” -Bob Dylan, 1980

What grabs me is…we all go through this, don’t we?

Some might believe that we do not need to serve anybody. Such a belief is popular, it is very American…‘rugged individualism.’ And, from a strictly personal level it isn’t all that bad a position to take. Such a person enters into society to further his/her own interests, or at least demands the right to serve his/her own interests, without taking the interests of society into consideration.  But wow… what a sad place to be–living somewhere where the world and your very existence is all about you.

I often tell folks I work with… we need to develop ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually.  We can not talk religion at work but we can define spirituality as serving something bigger than ourselves…at least it is a step in a positive, less than self serving direction.

In religious circles, a purist of the individualistic bent would enter into the community of believers from a position of meeting his/her own interests, not the interests of the community, or the interests of the Deity unless these interests just so happen to coincide.

But.. it’s not possible to say that one has no allegiances. Allegiance is ultimately to God or evil. I’m sure that sounds too black and white or too simple for many. Maybe we just choose to exist…but what would that look like?

Dylan delivers messages, as he always has. It’s indeed excellent to have writers such as Bob that can be inspirational and Dylan is inspirational on a myriad of topics. This type of message never gets old because it’s something we need to consider from day to day. And the delivery of the songs Dylan wrote we need. If nothing else… the song and Bob Dylan’s journey is a great reminder…honestly, I recommend listening to this piece everyday..well okay once a week.

Bob Dylan – Gotta Serve Somebody Lyrics

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,

They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

_______

2 Replies to “Bob Says ya “Gotta Serve Somebody” … Do you?”

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