Discover more from Flagging Down the Double E's
1995-12-17, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
Flagging Down the Double E’s is an email newsletter exploring Bob Dylan shows of yesteryear. Some installments are free, some for paid subscribers only. Here’s a discount in honor of the 12th-month tour we’ve been covering:
Today, we reach the end of our look back at the mini-tour Bob christened Paradise Lost, the ten shows in eleven days he did with Patti Smith in December 1995. Here's a quick recap of where we've been (most are for paid subscribers only):
1995-12-07, O'Neill Center, Danbury, CT
1995-12-08, Worcester Auditorium, Worcester, MA
1995-12-09, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
1995-12-10, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
1995-12-11, Beacon Theatre, New York, NY
1995-12-13, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA
1995-12-14, Beacon Theatre, New York, NY
1995-12-15, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
1995-12-16, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
In all those posts, I've only mentioned one rather obvious thing in passing. Really, it's the main thing Dylan fans remember about this tour. That thing is "Dark Eyes," the acoustic duet Bob did with Patti almost every night.
Originally released in 1985, "Dark Eyes" has long been considered the only good song on Empire Burlesque by some fans (the misguided ones). Despite its immediate popularity, Bob didn't perform it for a full decade after the album came out.
Well, hang on. I guess that depends on your definition of "perform it."
On February 25, 1986, early in Dylan's tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, he gave "Dark Eyes" its grand debut in Sydney Australia. And with some new lyrics too! We all love when Bob changes the words in concert, right?
I transcribed them out, in their entirety:
"Dark Eyes" - New Sydney 1986 Lyrics
Oh, the gentlemen are talking
and the midnight moon is on the riversi—
I can't do that.
I don't know what key to do that in.
I'd like to do it later.
If I knew what key I was in…
I can play it but I can't sing it.
It's too late.
I'm gonna bring Tom Petty back up.
Yeah, Bob's "Dark Eyes" debut didn't go so well. And bear in mind that one-and-three-quarters lines he did sing came after what felt like hours of him tentatively strumming the chords, over and over again. So I question his "I can play it" assertion.
If you want to hear it (you don't), it's here:
He was apparently so discouraged by that that he didn't try again for another decade. And he might never have if Patti hadn't intervened.
Here's her describing how their "Dark Eyes" duets came about:
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.
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 would have been very obvious to do Highway 61 or something, or Like A Rolling Stone. It would have been fun, but I wanted to experience doing something beautiful with him. And it was beautiful.
She has told the "looked through his lyric book" story elsewhere, and it may be true on a literal level. But she didn't choose "Dark Eyes" at total random. She'd already been covering it herself, in the months before the Dylan tour. So it was a natural song for her to suggest (though perhaps even more natural would have been "The Wicked Messenger," which she'd already recorded for her forthcoming comeback album - and, as discussed earlier, performed every night in her opening sets).
Here's a recording of a "Dark Eyes" she sang at her own show, also in Philadelphia, the month before her tour with Dylan:
Patti told the lyric book story about "Dark Eyes" years later, but there's a more contemporary account. It's in that Boston Phoenix article I shared a few days ago. Writer Al Giordano rode along for the entire tour, and, as you read his piece, you can see in real-time how the Bob-Patti duet came into being. Not only did they not sing it the first few shows, they hadn’t even discussed singing it at that point.
It's an extremely long article, so I pulled the bits about the duet (duets plural, in one case!) so you can follow along, day by day. I encourage everyone to read the full article, which is a rare window into life on the road as Dylan's opening act.
Before the tour: "I don't know whether I'm gonna get to sing with Bob yet," Patti told me the week before tour. "I may have to use my womanly charms on him."
Second show: We arrive at the Worcester Auditorium. It's the second night of the tour, and Dylan still has not shaken hands with Patti, much less conversed with her.
Third show: Meanwhile, on Day Three of the tour, the Pope has yet to even hold his ring out to our girl: Dylan and Patti haven't spoken yet. Imagine that. So she's wandering around with her hood on, singing her heart out on his "Wicked Messenger" every night, stepping out onto Jim Morrison's turf for the first time in almost two decades, and Mr. Tambourine Man has done little but lurk in the shadows, watching her sets from beneath his hood.
Third show, later: During tonight's sound check [later that night in Boston], Patti finally encountered Dylan. She did not fall on her knees, my sources report. She asked for, and was granted, more time for her nightly sound check, and she asked that Bob say hello to her son, Jackson, when he joins us in Philadelphia. But there's no word on what else they talked about. She had told me last week that the song she really wants to sing with him is "Dark Eyes," an obscure number from his Empire Burlesque album, which she has performed acoustically a few times this year. We'll see.
Fourth show: I mooch a ride to the Orpheum with Patti Hudson, and when we get there I hear a familiar melody wafting out the stage door.
"‘Dark Eyes’! Patti's gonna sing with Bob tonight," I say. Word that something was up has leaked to me out of the Dylan camp. As we enter the hall, there she is, on stage, with Dylan's band. (Mind you, Dylan isn't rehearsing with her. But I guess he figures he knows the words.)
I stand there, awestruck, as Patti sings to the empty theater:
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
"Beverly [Smith]'s gonna get to see her daughter sing with Bob," I think.
Fourth show, later: Raymond [Foye, Patti's friend and publisher] comes out beside the stage, too, and shows me Dylan's set list. There it is: "Dark Eyes."
Dylan calls Patti onto the stage. She stands beside him, humble and proud. She sings the verses, and Dylan joins her for the tag lines:
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
He gazes into her eyes while singing from the same microphone, smiling ear to ear. Patti has to sing the song both lower and higher than Bob to keep harmony. And she still has the range to do it. As she walks off stage, the crowd rises.
Bob speaks: "A lot of girls have started since Patti's started, but Patti's still the best."
Sixth show: I sneak behind the stage with [Tom] Verlaine to watch Patti sing "Dark Eyes" with Dylan. I can see from behind them that she is touching his back with those long spider fingers of hers. After she sings, Patti is led back off stage with a flashlight, and makes straight for Verlaine, giving him a big hug. After all, he knew her when.
Tenth and final show: Tonight, for the first time on the tour, Dylan plays "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" -- as an encore. Patti walks onstage next to him, in a black velvet dress with white fringe. Dylan is singing, "Ma, wipe these tears off my eyes," and Patti is gently touching his cheek. She sings her verse, and Dylan plays a lilting guitar lead. They trade lines ("knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door") back and forth.
As the refrain builds, Dylan cracks a smile. It grows each time Patti sings, until he is overcome by a sublime, joyous laughter.
As the Men in Hats band colors the final bars of the tune, Patti Smith, her resurrection fulfilled, turns around again, and slowly, step by step, fades back into the darkness, walking . . . out . . . into . . . the . . . world.
Giordano hits at the way this "Dark Eyes" differs from many of Dylan's duets. Typically, a special guest joins Bob and his band, trying to follow him (no easy task!) as he sings "I Shall Be Released" or something.
In "Dark Eyes," Patti is the clear leader. Bob settles into the harmony role, only joining for the second half of each verse. It works beautifully, two imperfect singers who sound perfect together. I like the way Roger Dalrymple describes it in his "Dark Eyes" essay in the new book Dylan at 80:
Over the seven performances, hints of his fluid approach surface as he experiments with slight variations of harmony and timbre, but Smith’s dominant vocal serves as a lodestone, drawing his vocal back into close harmony based on the third of the scale.
Performed in this way, the song’s poignancy is conveyed with renewed force, not least in the lines evoking the narrator’s isolation: ‘I live in another world’; ‘I can hear another drum’; ‘I feel nothing for their game’; ‘All I see are dark eyes.’ Meanwhile, Smith’s visceral delivery summons up the song’s cast of lonely characters as if she can dimly make out their forms on the other side of the footlights: ‘another soldier’s deep in prayer’; ‘Some mother’s child has gone astray’; ‘The French girl, she’s in paradise.’ It’s perhaps Smith’s total immersion in the song that prompts Dylan to accede to a much more faithful rendition than he would normally proffer, following her lead on melody, intonation and phrasing, acknowledging the echo.
It will surprise no one to learn they didn't spend a whole lot of time practicing before they debuted it on stage. That's certainly Bob's M.O., and probably Patti's too. She later explained, "We didn’t rehearse. We just went over the song quickly in his dressing room, just to find a key. We just sort of did it on stage. We mapped it out, and he said ‘I’ll come in, and I’ll do a little guitar break, and come back in.’"
Like Bob, Patti works off spontaneity. On the final night of the tour, today's show in Philadelphia, she decided to sing the last line of the song a second time. She didn't tell Bob in advance. Afterwards, she says, he looked at her and sardonically said “good ending.”
You can hear that ending on the tape, and it's a treat. They sing the last verse, Bob is strumming his guitar to wind the song down, but wait! Suddenly Patti's back at the mic. Bob catches on quickly, joining her in the duet one last time.
Start at 1:22:40 in this video to hear the double-ending unfold:
But it wasn't really the last time, because just few songs later, Bob brought Patti back up for the tour's one and only "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" duet.
This is more of the traditional sort of Dylan duet I mentioned, where the band plays the song normally and donates a verse to the guest star. But Patti's not content to be a side character. She adds a word or two at the end of each line of the chorus (tough to make out) and then grabs a solo chorus for herself.
The song proper ends after four-and-a-half minutes, but they continue on for another six, jousting the title line back and forth. I suspect this was rehearsed even less than "Dark Eyes" (that is, not at all), but it's fun to hear Dylan paired with such an assertive sparring partner. Bob gets into the spirit in the closing jam too, throwing out new lines; after one of the "so many times before"s, he hollers the addition, "But it ain't gonna be no more!"
And with that, we'll close our look back at the Paradise Lost tour, and the second year of this newsletter, with a quote from the great Dylan chronicler Paul Williams. His essential Bob Dylan, Performing Artist book series unfortunately ends before 1995, but he wrote a piece about this tour for something called Fi Magazine. He ends it like this:
The Paradise Lost Tour was more than a marvelous event. It was also the occasion of the recording, by amateurs if not professionals, of works by these great artists that will likely survive them and keep pleasing listeners for centuries to come.
What it takes to be present at a great moment is to have the impulse to go down to the show, and then to follow one's intuition. I can't help but remember a day at the end of June in 1975 when I had the impulse to finally go see this Patti Smith my friends had been telling me about. At the Other End on Bleecker Street, I found myself sitting in a booth next to Bob Dylan's, another music fan who apparently had had the same impulse. Patti and her group were great that night, and Bob went backstage to congratulate her. It was their first meeting. For some reason I found myself there. And twenty years later I found myself again a fly on the wall backstage, this time Patti had just come upstairs in Boston after her first conversation with Bob on the Paradise Lost Tour, and Michael Stipe was lovingly braiding her hair, helping her get ready for the show. Why was he there? Because Patti Smith, as he and other members of R.E.M., as well as their contemporaries Bono and The Edge of U2, have often said, was as important to his inspiration and career choice as Dylan was to Patti's. And so the wheel turns. And music lovers become music creators, and paradise is found again. I'm gonna tell my grandchildren. And better than that, I'll play 'em the tapes.