At the highfalutin ceremony in which the absent Bob Dylan was honored with his Nobel for Literature, Dylan’s friend and kindred spirit Patti Smith got the yips so bad in singing his masterpiece “Hard Rain” that she forgot the words.
Talk about awkward. Candidly admitting she was nervous, she repeatedly apologized to the Swedish royalty on hand for the ceremony before she hit stride with vigor and passion.
All in all, her imperfect performance could not have been more perfect. Dylan’s always been tangled up in blue imperfections, starting with a nasal-drip voice that ain’t for everybody.And yet it seems that most everybody, sooner or later, develops a taste for Dylan’s music and word play. Great poets and singers are irresistibly seductive (and the same could be said of Patti Smith.)
I watched the youtube of Smith, accompanied by an acoustic guitarist and orchestra with a steel guitar overlay that made me want to weep, with my 3-year-old Belizean daughter cuddled by my side. I noticed that she sat up and paid complete attention with her little mouth agape. It held us spellbound the second time as well.
Smith’s musical interpretation of “Hard Rain” definitely did justice to Dylan’s apocalyptic protest poem, which I take to be about a broken, sin-sick world in need of God’s healing power and grace, complete with the call to go out and make things right lest we all get swamped in a hard and very hard rain that seems now more than ever upon us.
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall