How Does It Feel, Bob?

Barack Obama’s first official visit to Ireland came and went yesterday. It was certainly a success as the US president knocked back a pint of Guinness in the village of Moneygall and got to show off his command of the Irish language in Dublin. Another famous American who has been a regular visitor to these shores in recent years celebrates his 70th birthday today. In the early sixties, Bob’s music had been used to soundtrack the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Dylan’s championing by the movement was not something he encouraged, though he was present at the march in Washington on August 28th, 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his powerful I Have a Dream speech

On the same day, a white tobacco farmer named William Zantzinger was convicted and sentenced for the manslaughter of an African American barmaid named Hattie Carroll. In February of that year, a drunken Zantzinger had racially abused and physically attacked a number of workers at a bar and later a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the people he attacked was Hattie Carroll, who he beat around the head and neck with a toy walking stick. She collapsed and was taken to hospital where she died of a brain haemorrhage a few hours later. A team of lawyers got Zantzinger off on a charge of manslaughter and he was sentenced to six months in prison. Dylan heard about the case on the way back from Washington and spent the next few days writing a song that would eventually become The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. He performed the finished song soon after and recorded it for his second album, The Times They Are-a-Changin’ (1964)

It was one of the first songs I heard by him and I remember being struck by its simplicity and matter-of-fact stating of the case. Dylan chronicles the sad tale in four verses and repeats this refrain at the end of the first three: “But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears/Take the rag away from your face/Now ain’t the time for your tears.” In the final verse, he appears to show that justice was done by announcing the verdict. He then reveals the paltry sentence handed down to Zantzinger and this time he subtly changes the last two lines: “Bury the rag deep in your face/For now’s the time for your tears.” He leaves it up to the listener to consider that the law may not be equal for everyone. The song was an obvious choice for Irish folk singer Christy Moore to sing and he did so admirably on his Burning Times album from 2006. Christy first sang Dylan on his 1970 album, Prosperous, and later recorded I Pity the Poor Immigrant with Planxty on Words & Music in 1981. His version of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll is the first of seven covers of Dylan songs by (mostly) Irish performers – one for each decade of Bob’s seventy years

Christy’s younger brother, Barry, has also become a successful songwriter and performer and has been making music since the 1970s. He’s been known as Luka Bloom for the last 25 years and has released over a dozen albums under that moniker. Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love was one of ten songs he covered on Keeper of the Flame in 2000. The song originally appeared on Time Out of Mind (1997) and has recently been covered by Adele as well as by such luminaries as Billy Joel, Neil Diamond and Garth Brooks. Rhob Cunningham is an emerging Irish songwriter who used to be in a band called Our Little Secrets. Shelter From the Storm from Blood on the Tracks (1975) is one of my favourite Dylan songs from one of my favourite Dylan albums. I got Rhob’s version from this post at fellow Irish blog 2 U I Bestow last month and I really like it. I’m also a big fan of Marc Carroll‘s version of Gates of Eden from his All Wrongs Reversed LP from 2003. He sang Dylan’s Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) on that album as well and later did a version of Tombstone Blues

Sinéad Ó’Connor is a big fan of Mr Zimmerman and particularly Slow Train Coming from 1979. Her version of I Believe in You from that album appeared as an extra track on her Silent Night single in 1991. She was supposed to have performed the song at Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden in 1992. It was just a few weeks after she had ripped up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live and the negative reaction from the crowd caused her to sing Bob Marley’s War instead. I’m sure Dylan would’ve approved. Okay, Mike Scott and The Waterboys aren’t Irish, but they’re from Scotland, which is close enough. Besides, they lived on the west coast of Ireland during the late 80s and their 1988 album Fisherman’s Blues absorbed many of those influences. Their version of Girl From the North Country from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) sounds like it may have come from those sessions and turned up on an Uncut Magazine tribute to Dylan a while back. The final song is Forever Young from Planet Waves (1974) and is sung here by Liam Ó’Maonlaí with The Swell Season at the Archa Theatre in Prague in 2008. Happy 70th, Bob. “May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung and may you stay forever young”

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll – Christy Moore

Make You Feel My Love – Luka Bloom

Shelter from the Storm – Rhob Cunningham

Gates Of Eden – Marc Carroll

I Believe in You – Sinéad O’Connor

Girl from the North Country – The Waterboys

Forever Young – Liam Ó Maonlaí

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2 thoughts on “How Does It Feel, Bob?

  1. Cheers, Dan. I enjoyed yours as well & it’s made me want to listen to John Wesley Harding again

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