This first became clear to me when I purchased Twelve in 2007.
The song by Bob Dylan that Patti Smith chose to cover on Twelve was “Changing of the Guards” from Street Legal (1978). The song has a depth that is at times beyond description and meaning. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve played and replayed that track try to discern what the song is about. Each time we get caught up in the imagery of knights, chivalry and England, enjoying the pageantry but never solidifying the tale. Dylan once commented: “It means something different every time I sing it. ‘Changing of the Guards’ is a thousand years old'”.
I owned Street Legal on vinyl in 1978 but somehow the sands of time erased that song from my consciousness. It wasn’t until Patti Smith sang and then polished this gem with her band on Twelve that I gained the appreciation for the magnificent imagery this song portrays for the listener
Patti Smith was quoted in the December 9, 2010 Rolling Stone magazine special issue, The Playlist Issue: 50 Artists Pick Their Personal Top 10s about her favorite Bob Dylan Love songs:
In 1995, my band toured with Bob Dylan along the East Coast. He relayed, through his people, that if I chose one of his songs, we could sing it together. All night long I contemplated what I should choose, and how I might sing it. I chose “Dark Eyes,” a relatively obscure song with a lyric worthy of William Blake. Each night he would call me to the stage, and we sang it side by side, so close that at times beads of sweat dripped from his lashes to my cheek. I have tried many times, without success, to write a song to Bob Dylan, to express my gratitude for all he has given us through his work. But perhaps, having been faithful in my own way, from afar since I was 16 years old, is song enough.
Patti Smith recently recorded Bob Dylan’s “Drifter’s Escape” from John Wesley Harding for the Bob Dylan 70th Birthday and Amnesty International 50th Anniversary Dylan tribute recording. The album is titled Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International, the set arrives on November 22, 2011.
Again I am taken with a gem that Patti Smith hand-picked by Bob Dylan. I have listened to John Wesley Harding often yet this song escaped my grasp. I will be listening more intently now through Patti Smith when I get this recording. 🙂