Beautiful Obscurity: The Dignity Covers

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

There is an index to earlier articles in the series here.

Tony: If you are a regular reader of Untold, you cannot but be aware of the work of Jochen, who takes the review and analysis of Dylan compositions to places way beyond anything any of us could ever have imagined – and then some.

Consider his opening comments on part 1 of his series on “Dignity”

“Oh Mercy! is quite a beautiful album… Otherwise we would have been forced to impose a serious reprimand on Dylan for omitting the masterpieces “Series Of Dreams”, “Born In Time” and “Dignity”. One reproach can still be made, though: “Dignity” would have been a much more successful opening than the equally driving, but melodic and lyrically much less catchy “Political World” – great song, but hardly as monumental as “Dignity”.”

You can read the whole series through these articles…

So I think we can safely say that the insights into the song have been covered – and the series of articles tells you everything you ever needed to know.

Yet there is one point from the opening article that I’d like to reiterate, for as Jochen points out at the beginning, “Dignity” was one of a collection of songs (like Angelina, Caribbean Wind and Blind Willie McTell) which Bob felt could wait for “better times with a fresh producer”

For the staggeringly beautiful and amazing “Angelina” were it not for Ashley Hutchings, the wait would still be going on, but Dignity has been brought back into the fold, not only by Bob himself but by others.   As ever, Aaron has made the choice, and it’s left to me (Tony) to ramble on for a while in the hope that something interesting might emerge at the end of it all.  Here we go…

Joe Cocker from his 1996 album Organic

You want a classic rhythm and blues opening – that is it.  And suddenly this is a completely new song, and this really does send shivers down my spine.

OK that might be because the central heating has gone off and despite it being mid-summer it’s rainy and cold in the England countryside.  But even so…

What works so incredibly well here is that the rhythm n blues approach is kept through making the instrumental breaks into 12 bar blues.  Such a simple idea, but boy does it work.

Brilliant.  5 stars. I love it.

Robyn Hitchcock from the 2002 Robyn Sings album

Robyn Hitchcock has a wonderful website which is worth seeing for its own sake.

And the music… just listen to what he does with Mary Lou – oh goodness, that is so, so clever.  And believe me if you think its just one idea then you’ve not tried to take a long song like “Dignity” and re-develop it in a way that shows respect to the original but still takes it somewhere else.   Nor is the engagement of the bass half way through.  Whoever thought of that.

Because I suspect many readers from outside my country won’t know Robyn I’m going to quote from his website in the hope that you start to listen to more of his music:

“A surrealist poet, talented guitarist, cult artist and musician’s musician, Hitchcock is among alternative rock’s father figures and is the closest thing the genre has to a Bob Dylan (not coincidentally his biggest musical inspiration).

“Since founding the art-rock band The Soft Boys in 1976, Robyn has recorded more than 20 albums as well as starred in ‘Storefront Hitchcock’ an in-concert film recorded in New York and directed by Jonathan Demme”.

The Low Anthem

This time: not a band I know, so I have to quote from elsewhere… “The Low Anthem is a band from Providence, Rhode Island formed in 2006 by friends Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky. The current lineup consists of Knox Miller (vocals, guitars, trumpets, saws), Prystowsky (vocals, drums, double basses, synths), Bryan Minto (vocals, guitars, harmonicas) and Florence Grace Wallis (violins, vocals).”

Give it five seconds and you know this is another really worthwhile and intriguing reworking.  Love it.

Denny Freeman

There must be something quite magical about “Dignity” for it to be possible reinterpret in so many ways, and yet still keep the integrity of the piece intact.

Denny Freeman, who sadly passed away last year, played with Bob from 2005 to 2009 and on “Modern Times”   This was the band of which Bob said, “This is the best band I’ve ever been in, I’ve ever had, man for man. When you play with guys a hundred times a year, you know what you can and can’t do, what they’re good at, whether you want ’em there. It takes a long time to find a band of individual players. Most bands are gangs…. On this record I didn’t have anybody to teach. I got guys now in my band, they can whip up anything, they surprise even me.”

Francis Cabrel

Cabrel has sold over 25 million albums, and to quote the wiki article on him, he is “Considered one of the most influential French musical artists of all time.”   Very enjoyable version for me, and indeed during the past year I have started to listen to more Dylan in languages other than English – I should have started doing this years ago.  It really is a good thing to do to gain extra insights into the music.

Such a superb bounce, and great piano work without the feeling that the pianist is trying to show off.

Francesco De Gregori

We didn’t include a link to this version in Jochen’s first article in the series – and I’m glad to put that right now.  We have mentioned this artist several times however including including his remarkable Tweedle Dum

The point is that Dylan is not a poet, he is a songwriter, and the music of the songs is as important as the lyrics; that is part of what makes Bob so amazing.  Listening in a language that one does not speak (and for me, these days, even my French is fading away) really does help understand what Bob was up to.

Aaron – this is an utterly superb collection.  I can’t tell you how much pleasure it has given me to listen to these and try and find a few words to express my thoughts.

If you would like to read more, Untold Dylan also has a very active Facebook group: Untold Dylan.

If you would like to see some of our series they are listed under the picture at the top of the page, and the most recent entries can be found on the home page.

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