Bob Dylan - "Dark Eyes" (Lyric Interpretation)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by RayS, Sep 12, 2015.

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  1. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    It seems like many (most?) Dylan fans enjoy or admire this song. But I rarely hear or see conversations about what the song is about, or at least what the song evokes.

    The song has been one of my favorites since it's release in 1985 (as you can see, I borrowed my "location" from the lyrics). I was lucky enough to be at a number of December, 1995 shows when Dylan broke the song out, in duet with Patti Smith (he had tried performing it live in 1986, but quickly gave up). I've linked a video of one of those performances below.

    So I'm hoping to get a good conversation going (apart from "It's great", "I own 9 copies of it", "Empire Burlesque is overproduced", "Dylan can't sing", "I gave up on Dylan after Album X") about why the song is good (assuming you feel it is). What does it do for you? I have plenty of opinions of my own, but I'll keep them in my pocket for a while so as not to stifle what others might post.

    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


     
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  2. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    The studio original:

     
  3. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    A million faces at my feet? (Well, maybe 50,000 anyway)

    [​IMG]
     
  4. arthurprecarious

    arthurprecarious Forum Resident

    Location:
    North East England
    I know someone who claimed to know who "the French Girl" was. Somebody called Angel Bonnie (or something like that)
     
  5. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    Can you elaborate?

    I've gone with the obvious guess - that he was referencing the Ian & Sylvia song that he covered during "The Basement Tapes" and again at the '87 Dylan/Dead rehearsals. It'd be interesting to know that there's a specific individual behind that line.

     
  6. arthurprecarious

    arthurprecarious Forum Resident

    Location:
    North East England
    Well, it was a long time ago - well, when that album came out. I used to know a guy called Dennis Grice (RIP) and he told us that he was friendly with this Angel Bonnie who was French and lived in Paris I think. Anyway, Dennis reckoned that she told him that that during the 84 European tour she and Dylan had some kind of fling so she was "The French Girl". Of course, I don't really know if there's any truth in any of that.
     
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  7. John Rhett Thomas

    John Rhett Thomas Forum Resident

    Location:
    Macon, GA, USA
    It seems certain to me that the "dark eyes" Dylan references are those of his audience, particularly the closing passage where he notes the "million faces at my feet".

    I don't care to try to derive meaning from Dylan lyrics, but I do like to form an impression of them. It seems to me this song is Dylan dwelling in his feelings at the time about how he felt about his place in the world, his vocation. I'm sure he felt adrift in the mid-80s, and what better way to symbolize it than with this gentle, haunting, solo acoustic track appended to the end of an album full of synthetic music.
     
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  8. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident

    Since Dylan rarely gives much insight into his songs I have no reason to doubt his recollection in Chronicles.

    On trying to write an ending song for the album...

    "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."

    The brief, chance encounter inspired Dylan to write "Dark Eyes"
     
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  9. cc--

    cc-- Forum Resident

    Location:
    brooklyn
    I think the song is great, but the statement of detachment from his audience makes me sad and somewhat deflates the rising rhetoric of the other verses.
     
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  10. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    Yes, I remember reading this, and thinking it was completely made up. :) But who am I to doubt a man who has always been so forthcoming? :)
     
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  11. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident

    Inspiration aside, in general, I think this is Dylan putting how the world is beside how he sees it in song.

    All the little scenes from the simple (men drinking by the riverside) at the same time deep things are going on (a mothers child is rebelling, a soldier scared in prayer about his fate). Dylan simply records these things. And yet those that he shares with he has difficulty relating to and sees the emptiness within in mass. A perspective rather unique to the observing performer. The French girl, the prostitute in the elevator and hall is both a metaphor for innocence lost yet transcending beauty that is possible but ignored by the blinded. The dark eyes.

    There is an overlying feel of night to the song. The rhythm is not Manhatten but not quite Mississippi either. Yet you can feel the heavy moon and deep moss as the lines pass by the scenes. Dylan many times gives us glances into peoples nature ;but when he points to himself with "all I see" those are the times we really feel we should listen. I think thats the appeal of the song also.
     
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  12. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    In that vein it reminds me of "Property of Jesus", where he also clearly feels he lives in "another world" than most everyone else.
     
  13. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident

    Probably is made up. However, some things that only occur as inspiration in Dylans mind are much more real than reality.
     
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  14. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident

    "Hunger pays a heavy price to the fallen gods of speed and steel"

    This line sticks out to me.

    I guess this could be taken two fold. Dylans commentary on the poor and misfortunate as compared to those who are powerful (gods of speed(fast paced wallstreeters of the 80s) and steel(the towering results of "progress") )

    and on a more personal level- Dylans hunger is gone. Its being snuffed out by the credit card 80s. Those things that once seemed to inspire may have seemed ancient to him at the time of the writing of the song Dark Eyes. Maybe the dark eyes are his own. Seemingly becoming more lost as to what to even commentate on in song.
     
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  15. Phil147

    Phil147 Forum Resident

    Location:
    York UK
    I gave up a long time ago trying to work out what the great man's lyrics mean, however I love reading other people's opinions on them. So I'm going to sit back and enjoy this thread :) this is why I love this site, so many knowledgeable, intelligent people in one place discussing music. It's a bit like been in the worlds greatest virtual bar!!
     
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  16. cc--

    cc-- Forum Resident

    Location:
    brooklyn
    true -- although at least at that stage, he could feel (or was supposed to be feeling -- it was probably starting to fade) the fellowship of his Christian community members in that detachment from the world.

    nice -- and there is some repetition of Dylan-isms in the image of the fat cats "drinking up" at the end of the night. I think Heylin or Riley (one of those guys who writes about Dylan yet seems more in hate with him than in love). But I think he ventures into authentically new material as the song progresses.
     
  17. alchemy

    alchemy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sterling, VA
    Very good question.
    On a very superficial level, I took Dark Eyes to be his love for African-American women and their dark eyes.

    But then again:

    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

    I take to mean as a wandering celebrity, Bob has l had many lovers around the world, each one a pearl. And each one is dark eyes of what once was.

    On a simplistic level, the picture on the back of Real Live reminds me of the Janis Joplin story where she play ths great concert, everyone just loved her. But afterwards she felt very lonely. I think Bob feels the same way, feel the love but sees dark eyes.
     
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  18. sirwallacerock

    sirwallacerock The Gun Went Off In My Hand, Officer

    Location:
    salem, or
    I think it is about the general despair of life, especially as one grows older. Stating the obvious, of course. Once I took care of a dying friend and (somewhat horribly) all I could think of was the line "all I see are dark eyes" when I peered into his wasting face.
     
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  19. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    A lot of interesting and perceptive contributions already - awesome!

    Giving it a close examination, the first verse conjures up a number of other Dylan lyrics for me. The allusions are subtle or fleeting - I don't think he intended them, or that someone not unnaturally obsessed with the man's lyrics (I say self-deprecatingly) would likely notice them.

    The gentlemen drinking brings to mind both "Restless Farewell" and "Changing of the Guards". In "Restless Farewell" Bob is part of the group, the gang are collegially killing each bottle. His rift is not with his fellow drinkers but with the naysayers inside and outside of the press, who spread the dirt of gossip. In "Changing of the Guards", the protagonist seems to be addressing the "gentlemen" derisively - they are in power and he's done their bidding (marking cards, shining shoes - perhaps while going barefoot himself, moving mountains). Perhaps these gentlemen are even criminals in their coats and their ties, free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise. Nothing in the song overtly implicates the gentlemen, but when the narrator states "I live in another world" (My favorite line in the song, if you haven't already guessed), he is implicitly suggesting that their world, and their values, are flawed at best (or at least they involve things he does not value at all - like laughing at salvation, or playing Olympic games).

    "Where life and death are memorized" brings to mind one of the eventually unused lyrics for "Jokerman" - "The rifleman's stalking the deaf and the dumb, in a world yet to come, that's already been predetermined". The narrator's life and death are memorized, I suggest, because they are predetermined, in God's hands, not his own.

    Also brought to mind (this time a song that followed, rather than preceded "Dark Eyes") is "Things Have Changed". "Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through." Once again, we have the "gentlemen" who appears to have a different set of values (transitory, worldly) than the narrator. Both sets of lyrics bring to mind an old spiritual that Dylan was certainly familiar with (Jerry Garcia performed it, among many others):

    “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through,
    My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
    The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
    And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.


    It's not dissimilar to Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home", which Dylan covered.

    "Lovers' pearls", I must say, leaves me more or less stumped. Are the pearls literal? Are the pearls particular shining moments, or loving words? Got me.
     
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  20. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident

    I dont mean to take your premiss and run with it RayS (have to be careful not to take things too far when associating ideas) But if the gentlemen in dark eyes are the ones of speed and steel; and the same gentlemen from other songs of a life Bob must be a part yet is not *of*, then perhaps the "lovers pearls" are a reference to the woman in "Just Like A Woman".

    "Till she sees finally that she’s like all the rest
    With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls"

    This woman is not dissimilar to the french woman who seems to be more from Bobs world (one of circus characters, dramatic deep blues, tossed hair and strong atomized perfum you can smell as each black netted pantyhose moves in stride.) Bob seems to relate to more the everyday than the largeness of life. Even the waitress from "Highlands" has a wiff of a look to the left in Bobs world.

    No doubt Bob is a romantic in his way. Perhaps he sees the safety in the down trodden woman that he idealizes. A strange refuge, yet uncommon in a maddeningly common world. The line before also is connected imo "where life and death are memorized". He "lives" (writing is where Bob lives) in a place where his living is practically dependent upon the investigation/exploration of life and death matters. They are imprinted into his mind and being. Another world.

    A big part of the song seems to be about not relating imo.
     
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  21. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower Thread Starter

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    A number of really good points ... feel free to "run" with anything I come up with, any time. To follow what you've suggested, this all seems to relate to the other world Bob lives in (his world of art, creativity and spirituality). That's the world where beauty is given its fair due - not like in the gentlemen's world, where it goes unrecognized.
     
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  22. Koabac

    Koabac Self-Titled

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    It seems as if the song COULD be fairly straight forward, post-Infidels "Dylan-religion" song, where the spirit of God, or whatever, faith, belief, is what would define the opposite of "dark eyes" - the light behind the eyes of those filled with the faith. Dylan wanders the planet and sees everybody going about their lives, seemingly happy, drinking, reveling, loving (in this context the "lover's pearls" would merely be a poetic way of saying the people in love/lovers circling the planet, the metaphor being a string of pearls) but without the spirit of God, their pursuits are hollow, they're missing the boat, they're already dead, etc - so all he sees are "dark eyes."
     
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  23. S. P. Honeybunch

    S. P. Honeybunch Presidente de Kokomo

    Location:
    California
    Dylan potentially uses a few different Biblical images here: good use of pearls vs. pearls before swine, the cock crowing when Peter denied Christ, worrying about a dead child (which occurred in the gospels) vs. the dead that rise.
     
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  24. alchemy

    alchemy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sterling, VA
    Till she finally sees that she that she's like all the rest
    With her fog, amphedimmes and her pearls.
     
  25. alchemy

    alchemy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sterling, VA
     
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