Is Dylan god (at least in the Battlestar Galactica universe)?

In the late ’70s while I was in high school, it wasn’t that unusual to see “Clapton is God” scrawled on a wall. Less frequently seen1 was the message “Dylan is God.” As my musical horizons expanded after high school, my respect for Bob Dylan grew and I began to think of him as a sort of Ur-Creative, pulling songs out of the collective unconsciousness. So from that perspective, the Battlestar Galactica producers’ choice to use Dylan’s song “All Along the Watchtower” as a critical plot element seems perfect2.

In a mere three verses/stanzas, “All Along the Watchtower” packs a timeless story that can fit equally well into the context of a Vietnam protest rally or an epic science fiction journey. Through the song, we hear the voices of two classic (and eternal) archetypes — the Joker and the Thief.

“There must be some kind of way out of here,
Said the joker to the thief.
There’s too much confusion,
I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine,
Plowmen dig my earth.
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth.”3

An inevitability emerges in the second stanza. Regardless of how clueless the rank and file remain, the Thief and Joker understand what is coming. The listener realizes this is a song about change — change that is nearly upon us — and the status quo will never be the same.

“No reason to get excited,
The thief he kindly spoke.
There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that,
And this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
The hour is getting late.”4

One dominant theme of the recent Battlestar Galactica is the belief that reality is cyclical (“this has all happened before and will all happen again”), and that theme is reflected in “All Along the Watchtower.” While the first two stanzas take a very narrow view (focused on the conversation between the Joker and Thief), the third and final stanza pulls back to provide a dramatic overview of the situation. And ultimately by moving to the wider view, Dylan shows us that even as the song ends, the story — or the action — is really just beginning.

“All along the watchtower,
Princes kept the view,
While all the women came and went —
Barefoot servants too.
Outside in the cold distance,
A wildcat did growl.
Two riders were approaching, and
The wind began to howl.”5

Another primary theme of Battlestar Galactica is the search by sentient beings for their god (or gods). And while the show remains vague about any ultimate spiritual truths6, it does confirm one thing — when it comes to artistic talent, Bob Dylan is at the top of music’s Pantheon.

  1. But more plausible for my specific musical/religious tastes []
  2. The specific details of how the song was used in Battlestar Galactica have been detailed extensively on at least a couple hundred other websites, so I won’t repeat those here. []
  3. Song copyright © 1968; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music []
  4. ibid. 1968, 1996, Dwarf Music []
  5. ibid. 1968, 1996, Dwarf Music []
  6. Now that we’ve seen the entire series, can anyone answer, “Who are/were the Lords of Kobol?” []

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