Patti Smith & Bob Dylan – Dark Eyes
Bob Dylan met Patti Smith for the first time when her group played at The Bitter End on June 26, 1975. Smith had yet to record an album, but she was attracting a lot of attention from the music press and industry. Dylan was out and about, looking for ideas and musicians and he would certainly have known about her.
Patti Smith spoke to Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore in 1996:
TM When did you first meet Bob Dylan?
PS Backstage at The Bitter End. We didn’t have a drummer yet. It was just the four of us, we hadn’t been signed yet.
TM Did you see him in the audience?
PS No. Somebody told us he was there. My heart was pounding. I got instantly rebellious. I made a couple of references, a couple of oblique things to show I knew he was there. And then he came backstage which was really quite gentlemanly of him. He came over to me and I kept moving around. We were like two pit-bulls circling. I was a snot-nose. I had a very high concentration of adrenaline.
He said to me, “Any poets around here?”
And I said, “I don’t like poetry anymore. Poetry sucks!”
I really acted like a jerk. I thought: that guy will never talk to me again.
And the day after there was this picture on the cover of the Village Voice. The photographer had Dylan put his arm around me. It was a really cool picture. It was a dream come true, but it reminded me of how I had acted like a jerk.
Photos taken from The Village Voice, July 7, 1975
And then a few days later I was walking down 4th Street by the Bottom Line and I saw him coming. He put his hand in his jacket—he was still wearing the same clothes he had on in the picture, which I liked—and he takes out the Village Voice picture and says, ‘Who are these two people? You know who these people are?’
Then he smiled at me and I knew it was all right.” 
She also recalled:
“To me, Dylan always represented rock’n’roll – I never thought of him as a folk singer or poet or nothing. I just thought he was the sexiest person since Elvis Presley – sex in the brain, y’know? Sex at its most ultimate is being totally illuminated, and he was that, he was the King. And he still has it. I don’t think his true power has been unleashed.”
“The neat thing about him is that his energy is a real thing. And he had a lot of it. He’s really an amazing storehouse – he’s so full of grace, speed and urgency, it’s a real thing.”
A few days later, Dylan, Smith and Sam Shepard attended a party at Allen Ginsberg’s Greenwich Village house, where Ken Regan took several photos of Dylan and Smith in conversation on the stairs.
Dark Eyes – The LP Version
The song was recorded on 3rd March, 1985 at Studio B, The Power Station, New York. He had 6 attempts, with three being incomplete. The final one was released on ‘Empire Burlesque’ and as a B side to ‘When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky’.
The released version sounds like it is played in standard tuning, although the strings seem to have been taken down a whole step, but I’m not 100% sure about that. It is a lovely, understated performance and his voice has a gentle rasp on some of the lower notes.
The guitar playing is excellent on what is an unusual and relatively difficult piece. The strum and pick style is very precise and not easy to maintain, as it is so tightly structured. Try playing it – it’s not as simple as it sounds! I’m not so keen on the harmonica sound, but it works, and the little guitar slide at the end is perfect.
In ‘Dylan behind closed doors, The recording sessions [1960-1994]’ Clinton Heylin attacks the guitar playing on this song:
“Even after Dylan had written the song, the guitar part proved problematic as he repeatedly hit the wrong strings accidentally in the studio. With only three strings necessary for what is actually a rather trite melody, the other three strings were taped down, at which point Dylan finally got the song on tape (p.161).”
That is not true. You can hear all 6 strings clearly on the record. Also, the bass notes he hits may be ‘wrong’ to Mr Heylin, but they work musically and the so-called mistake is repeated several times, which points to it being wholly deliberate. The bass notes he uses are slightly unusual, but they are certainly not ‘wrong’ in any way, shape or form. Dylan does have a very particular and often archaic style of guitar playing, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
In Chronicles Vol 1, Dylan mentions the creation of the song:
“All the songs were mixed and finalized except (Arthur) Baker kept suggesting that we should have an acoustic song at the end of the record, that it would bring everything to the right conclusion. I thought about it and knew he was right, but I didn’t have anything.
As I stepped out of the elevator (at the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street), a call girl was coming towards 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 had been beaten up and was afraid that she’d get beat up again. In her hand, crimson purple wine in a glass.
She had a beautifulness, but not for this kind of world. Poor wretch, doomed to walk this hallway for a thousand years.
Later that night I sat at a window overlooking Central Park and wrote the song ‘Dark Eyes’. I recorded it the next night with only an acoustic guitar and it was the right thing to do. It did complete the album.” [p210]
Until 1995, aside from trying it at a ‘Live Aid’ rehearsal in 1985, Dylan only played the song once in concert and, even by his standards, it was a very bizarre on-stage incident. On 25 February 1986, in Sydney, Australia, he started to perform it, alone with an acoustic, but gave up, saying:
“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.”
It has been said that Australian film-maker, Gillian Armstrong (who was filming shows at Dylan’s request), had asked him to play it.
“Dylan and his manager approached my agent because they’d seen my work and they liked it. I wanted to shoot the concert (‘Hard To Handle’) because it was a challenge. It was like making a film with anyone, you hope they can trust you and take your advice on the way things should be shot, but it takes time to build up that relationship. I think with Dylan that took a bit longer.” 
And then, on the ‘Paradise Lost Tour’ in December 1995, Dylan performed it seven times, as a duet with Patti Smith.
Dark Eyes with Patti Smith
“A lot of girls have started since Patti’s started, but Patti’s still the best.” – Bob Dylan
“Bob and I know who each other is, and I am grateful for all I have gotten from him, from afar and in close proximity.” – Patti Smith
“Bob and I spoke privately and I thanked him for giving me the opportunity, and he really encouraged me to come back into the fold. He said the people would be happy to see me. I truthfully wasn’t certain how I would be received, or what I should do, and being encouraged by him was very important to me.”
Dylan watched Patti’s set a few times before they sang together, as Al Giordino writes:
“Dylan himself, still hooded, appears at the side of the stage and watches…and during tonight’s sound check, Patti finally encountered Dylan. She did not fall on her knees, my sources report. 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.” 
Patti sang the song solo, as a tribute to Jerry Garcia on September 4th 1995 in San Francisco (and at other dates), so she had a working knowledge of the structure and lyrics.
“…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. 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.’“
“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. He gazes into her eyes while singing from the same microphone, smiling ear to ear.”
They performed the song together 7 times on the 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th of December, 1995.
The first time they perform it, on the 10th, it is a little unsteady and Dylan’s harmonies are not particularly well executed and he comes in a bit strong at the start. It is a credit to both artists that they can adjust their voices extremely quickly to avoid it collapsing. John Jackson’s guitar is lovely and although Dylan gets the words wrong at the end, the audience love it and rightly so. It is transfixing.
There is an excitement in the audience that is very real. I get shivers every time, too, watching the footage. There are several elements and ‘X’ factors here. Dylan and Smith singing together is exciting enough as they have a rock n roll history that intertwines. It is also a song that Dylan has performed so rarely and then neither artist is prone to doing duets. There is an added layer of tension due to Patti Smiths’ recent bereavements and, of course, the blatantly obvious affection between the two.
“It was really one of the great experiences of my life, singing the song with him. The people were so electric, and the concentration of the two of us on this very beautiful song under very hot lights – the sweat was dripping from our noses – and he’s so charismatic; he has so much mental and physical energy that performing with him is very special.”
The performance on the 11th of December is my personal favourite – the rhythm of the guitar fits perfectly with Patti Smith’s delivery, where she often hits the consonants in perfect time with John Jackson’s guitar. It is little things like this which make all the difference. The tune and rhythm of ‘Dark Eyes’ is quite formal and strict, almost medieval in form, whereas the vocals are fluid and emotional, yet Patti’s delivery is rhythmically perfect.
The tempo of this version seems a little quicker and the duration is only 4:57, which is much shorter than the other nights. I think the slightly faster guitar picking helps with the timing and neatness of the vocal delivery – sometimes rhythmic constraints can be really good, anchoring the song and making its symmetry very satisfying. Tony Garnier’s bass is lovely too.
The harmonies are much better than the previous night, and there is an extra excitement created by the possibility that they might not work. Their voices are so unusual and recognizable and it is almost inconceivable that they would blend, which makes it so exciting and pleasing when the two voices do twine together.
There is also something very moving about the care that both artists are taking with the song and the performance. Dylan has a reputation for having a somewhat cavalier attitude towards rehearsing and consistent delivery of his own material, but you can tell that he is enjoying the moment and recognizes the importance of it for Patti Smith and the audience. I have seen Dylan play many times and I know for a fact that he responds to an audience as much as any performer I have ever seen.
Dylan’s timing is impeccable and his voice slides beneath Patti Smith’s really well, and he even adds a little Irish folk flutter to the “beauty goes unrecognized” line in the final verse, while Smith skilfully lifts and flattens her voice around his. It’s no wonder the audience applaud each time. The last line is particularly well delivered – it really is five minutes of heaven.
It seems an inspired song choice, too:
“I chose Dark Eyes because it’s 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.” 
I suspect that the subject matter of the song drew her to it as much as the sonorous and moonlit tune. I won’t break my own rule of never analyzing lyrics, but overall, the song does, for me, show a preoccupation with death, sorrow and loneliness and would appeal to someone immersed in the process of grief.
Her husband of 18 years, Fred “Sonic” Smith, guitar player for MC5, died of a heart attack in November 1994 at the age of 44. A month after her husband’s death, her brother Todd died of a stroke. Robert Mapplethorpe, her best friend, died of AIDS, as did several other close friends. Richard Sohl, the original Patti Smith Group piano player, whom she deeply adored, died of heart failure at age 37.
From my own experience, I know that the grieving process can last a lot longer than a year, and to have so many important people pass away must have been not only traumatic, but life-changing. When I watch footage of the duets, I see a beautiful fragility in her performances and a genuine bond between them, with Dylan’s body language beside her appearing very protective.
There is also joy and humour in the performances with Dylan.
As Patti herself said: “I find that sorrow breaks the heart open, makes you more vulnerable,” she says. “In some ways sorrow is a beautiful state. It can heighten one’s sense of humor. You can find strength and clarity in sorrow. Sorrow is a gift. You have to treasure it. The important thing is to honor it.
The 13th has a lot of audience shouts (one of my personal annoyances – just shut up and listen!) and the first verse has Dylan struggling to stay in tune, although the rest are nice. The guitar is mixed a little low at this show, which is a shame. Bucky Baxter’s pedal steel works really well, sounding ghostly and so much like a cello at times that I had to check to see if there was a cellist on stage that night! (There wasn’t).
The repeated ending of the 17th is lovely, and apparently Smith improvised it, catching Dylan off-guard, to which he said, sardonically, “nice ending”. Of course, Dylan has never thrown curve balls to fellow performers…
Sometimes, for a few beautiful moments, magic happens through live music, and in a variety of ways. It can be the joy of a band simply hitting the perfect groove or a soaring, searing solo, or a singer who harnesses a little flash of the celestial and moves your soul. I am so glad that these moments of Bob Dylan and Patti Smith catching the joy of being human and alive, together, through music and voice, are captured.
For me, they are treasures.
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
Copyright © 1985 by Special Rider Music
This review is Copyright © 2013 William Henry Prince. Please contact author for permission to reproduce.
Credits & Sources
 From an on-line interview with Kirk Elder at the Alternatives to Valium blog.
 From On the Road with Patti Smith and Bob Dylan by AL GIORDANO, March 7, 2012
 1977 Interview. Copyright © John Bauldie 1991
 Interview by Thurston Moore, BOMB Magazine 54/Winter 1996
 Encore 13-26 March 1986. Louise McElvogue. Patti Smith quote at start of section 3 is from The Observer, Sunday 2 November 2008 by Amy Raphael
Also, Chronicles Volume One, bjorner.com, expectingrain.com, searchingforagem.com
Lyrics to 'Dark Eyes' are by Bob Dylan and Copyright © 1985 by Special Rider Music
Bob Dylan talking to Patti Smith, in stairwell during party at Allen Ginsberg's House in Greenwich Village. © Ken Regan, 1975
Dylan/Smith names in lights 1995 & Patti Smith playing acoustic backstage © Michael Stipe. Courtesy of the artist and Akashic Books. Published by Akashic Books. Used with permission. http://www.akashicbooks.com
#3 & #4 1995 Patti Smith & Dylan by Andrea Orlandi.
#1 & #2 1995 Patti Smith & Dylan by Donny Brice. I have made every effort to find the original photographers and to seek permission. I haven't found all of them, and, for that, I apologize.
Dag Braathen for his incredibly huge archive of photos and recordings.
Michael Stipe for letting me use his photographs of Patti Smith in 1995.
Johanna Ingalls at Akashic Books for helping with the permission for Michael Stipe's photographs.