Sunday, December 13, 2009

Listening to: Women singers interpreting Dylan's song Dark Eyes

"Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riverside,
They're drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide.
I live in another world where life and death are memorized,
Where the earth is strung with lovers' pearls and all I see are dark eyes

A cock is crowing far away and another soldier's deep in prayer,
Some mother's child has gone astray, she can't find him anywhere.
But I can hear another drum beating for the dead that rise,
Whom nature's beast fears as they come and all I see are dark eyes.

They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,
They tell me revenge is sweet and from where they stand, I'm sure it is.
But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,
All I feel is heat and flame and all I see are dark eyes.

Oh, the French girl, she's in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel,
Hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel.
Oh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies,
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes".
Bob Dylan, Dark Eyes
Some Dylan songs display their greatness when performed by others and I reckon many of the best interpretations have been by women, including June Tabor, Joan Baez, Odetta, Judy Collins, Patti Smith, Nina Simone, Marie Muldaur, Cat Power, Nanci Griffiths, Eliza Gilkyson and Emmylou Harris, to name a few.

The song Dark Eyes, which first appeared on Dylan's 1985 CD Empire Burlesque, is the perfect example of a song bought to life by female singers. The song was written by Dylan* to provide an acoustic close to the CD and whilst his version is one of the better tracks on that CD, it lacks the power and pathos that female performers are able to extract from the song.

Judy Collins's version of Dark Eyes appears on her CD Judy Sings Dylan and I reckon it stands as one of the finest interpretations of a Dylan song. Judy Collins version can be viewed here.

When Patti Smith was coaxed out of self imposed retirement to share a stage with Dylan she chose to sing Dark Eyes. Patti Smith describes how she came to choose the song
"...he gave me the opportunity to choose any song from his catalogue and we could do it together. So I looked through his lyric book, and I realised what a profound opportunity this was. This was somebody that I had adored and admired since I was 15 years old, giving me the opportunity to sing any one of his songs with him. So I chose Dark Eyes, and Bob and I sang it for the next several days. Ending, I believe, in Philadelphia, where I’m from.
Patti Smith has this to say about the song itself and the experience of singing it with Dylan
"I chose Dark Eyes because its one of his lesser known songs, and I just think the lyrics are very beautiful. They’re sort of in the tradition of Milton and Blake; the lyrics stand as a poem. Also, it’s a good song for my voice. It’s tonally dark.........It was one of the great experiences of my life, singing the song with him"
A clip of the concert version of Patti Smith and Dylan singing the song together can be viewed here

* In Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles, he tells how the song was written on demand when the producer suggested a simple final track. Dylan liked the idea of closing the album with a stark, acoustic track, particularly when the rest of the album was so heavily produced. However, Dylan didn't have an appropriate song. He returned to his hotel in Manhattan after midnight, and according to Dylan:

"As I stepped out of the elevator, a call girl was coming toward me in the hallway - pale yellow hair wearing a fox coat - high heeled shoes that could pierce your heart. She had blue circles around her eyes, black eyeliner, dark eyes. She looked like she'd been beaten up and was afraid that she'd get beat up again. In her hand, crimson purple wine in a glass. 'I'm just dying for a drink,' she said as she passed me in the hall. She had a beautifulness, but not for this kind of world."

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