Dylan nobody knows; the Dutch and French versions

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Dylan’s work has been translated into several languages over the years, here is just a couple we wanted to share with you.

One is in Dutch and one in French and as we don’t speak either language we reached out to our Dutch friend Jochen for assistance (he speaks every language known to mankind and a few of the dialects found on the outer moons of Jupiter).

First up, the Dutch seem to have rewritten Death Is Not The End as a comedy song! Here is Freek De Jonge with Levon Na De Dood :


Judging by the laughter of the audience, everyone is having a grand old time here and lapping up all the humorous lines. I (Aaron) used to love when the Dutch came to Scotland to play at Hampden (the national stadium of the Scotland football team) the bars the night before and again after the match would be crammed full of orange wearing Dutch fans who were all up for a good time, regardless of the outcome of the match (to be fair they did usually win, except that one time we won 1-0 in a Euros playoff game…which I was at – happy days!). So I know first hand the good humour of the Dutch.

According to Jochen the track is fairly well known and even reached number 1 in 1997!

Even in the google translate version there are some funny lines.

So drive slowly through orange 
and give extra throttle to red
There is life, there is life after death

Or, how about this commentary, which Jochen tells us refers to the Mad Cow disease outbreak in England in the mid 80s.

Feel free to eat some English beef 
with your vegetables or on bread
There is life, there is life after death

And then another line referencing a missed penalty by Clarence Seedorf, who was a striker for the Dutch National Soccer Team. He missed a penalty against France at Euro ‘96 in the semi final which knocked the Dutch out of the tournament.

What could happen to Seedorf 
when he shot from eleven meters
There is life, there is life after death

If it was Scotland we’d say Gary McAllister or English fans would say Stuart Pearce…both famous for missing penalties at important times in their career!

Here is the lyric kindly translated by Jochen, although apparently the artist would change the lyrics during subsequent performances to highlight recent current events.

Whether you're Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew.
There's life, there's life after death...

Feel free to eat some English beef
with your vegetables or on bread
There is life, there is life after death

So pitch your tent in Mecca, pray full of fire
Allah's great,
there's life, there's life after death

So ignore the yellow traffic light,
and speed up at red.
There's life, there's life after death.

After death. (After death)
After death. (After death)
There's life,
there's life after death.

According to my father in heaven, it's party all day.
And my father should know, because he's been there...

If you want to get out of Tirana,
then take the boat for fun.
There's life. There's life after death.

If you've conquered your fear of death, it's party every day.
So I guess you'd better start today, it’s over before you know it.

What could go wrong with Seedorf
when executing the penalty?
There's life, there's life after death


The second track we wanted to look at today is this French version of Mr Tambourine Man by Hughes Aufray, called “L’Homme Orchestre”.


The track was released on an EP in 1965 not long after Dylan’s own version was released.

According to Wikipedia Aufray is known for French language covers of Bob Dylan’s songs. Aufray knew Dylan and his work from his time in New York City,as well as from record shops, and his translations capture the rawness of the original songs.

While supporting Peter, Paul and Mary in New York in 1962, he struck up a friendship with Bob Dylan,who would then visit him in Paris in 1964. Aufray translated many of Dylan’s songs into French:their appearance on his 1965 album Aufray chante Dylan helped form the tastes of the new French generation.

He also joined Bob on stage in 1984 at shows in Grenoble and Paris, here is their version of The Times They Are A Changin’

Jochen provided some interesting additional information on the artist that we weren’t previously aware of:

Hugues’ second Dylan album, New Yorker: Homage á Bob Dylan from 2009, is even more beautiful than Aufray Chante Dylan – thanks also to the cooperation of an all-star-ensemble with names like Carla Bruni, Johnny Hallyday, Jane Birkin and especially Francis Cabrel (on one of the most beautiful covers of “Girl From The North Country” ever – La Fille Du Nord).

Dylan himself also contributes, in the form of winsome, melancholic and particularly elegant liner notes:

“Hugues a traduit et enregistré beaucoup de mes chansons et j’ai parfois l’impression qu’elles ont d’abord été écrites en français et que c’est moi qui, ensuite, les ai traduites. Il est un ami cher.”

(Hugues has translated and recorded many of my songs in the past and sometimes it makes me think that they were written in French to begin with and it was me who translated them back. He is a dear friend.)

Here’s  the translation for L’Homme Orchestre:

Hey, Mr. Orchestra Man.
Play me your song
I'm not sleepy.
And life just leads me anywhere...

Hey, Mr. Orchestra Man.
Make my nights sing
In this Money-Jungle
Take me far away from here

I saw in the setting sun, an empire crumbling down
To the sands let’s fly
Before my wounded but still awake eyes
Tired, exhausted, and shackled feet
No one to talk to
To the dead cities of my emigrant dreams

Hey, Mr. Orchestra Man.
Play me your song
I'm not sleepy.
And life just leads me anywhere...

Hey, Mr. Orchestra Man.
Make my nights sing
In this Money-Jungle
Take me far away from here
Take me very far there
On your magical three-masted ship
My hands are torn, my toes are frozen...
But since yesterday my boots are those of a vagrant...
Ready to go anywhere
To sleep in a hole
At the heart of the big parades
Put a spell on my ballads
I want to go away with you, I'm ready for anything.

Hey, Mr. Orchestra Man.
Play me your song
I'm not sleepy.
And life just leads me anywhere...

Hey, Mr. Orchestra Man.
Make my nights sing
In this Money-Jungle
Take me far away from here


Our series on covers of Bob Dylan songs a few years back contained in part 7 a couple of non-English covers in case you want to explore this further:

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  1. Bonjour mes amis.
    Merci beaucoup. Très charmant.
    Les frontières sont fermées, mais les cœurs sont toujours ouverts lorsque vous entendez la musique du sud.

    I can´t say I like the translation of “Mr. Tamburine Man” from french to english, but the french words sounded beautiful.
    It exemplifies how much is lost both ways.

  2. I am very GOOD at doctor latin, so maybe we can talk about the MAD COW disease.
    Once upon a time, a few days ago, I diagnosed one of the first patients in my country with MAD COW disease. Nobody would believe me. The patient was as mad as a man can be both day and night. All parts of his brain were disturbed. I can say, if I was him, I would rather be dead than alive. Another mad man, was only mad in the nights. In the daytime he was totally normal. In my night watch as a doctor in the neurologic department, I examined him, and then I called the older and wiser doctor and told: I think the patient has malaria. The older doctor did not believe me, but the next morning, when I had made the test, the diagnose malaria was confirmed. He recovered fully after treatment. And so you see, I have become a specialist in mad men. Sometimes mad men are only mad, when they watch football, but I don´t notice it, because I am too busy to watch the game. I like orange, but I am not dutch.

  3. Babette, your a good Dr. I’m sure! And it sure helps you love the Orange ‘Dutch’ colour!
    You must have enjoyed the Dutch Women Football team too? They became Champions a while ago! They we’re high class and great to watch!
    Thanks for yr informative comment!

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