The Best Dylan Covers: Patti Smith – Changing Of The Guards

Patti Smith 2015 Bergenfest-6
Patti Smith 2015 Bergenfest (Photo: AllDylan)

I stumbled to my feet
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending beneath a heart-shaped tattoo
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you.

The Best Dylan Covers: Patti Smith – Changing Of The Guards

“…I had finished Gone Again in memory of Fred [‘Sonic’ Smith, her late husband], and I really didn’t think about touring at all, since my children were in school, but I heard from Dylan in 1995, and he asked whether I wanted to do a series of East coast dates with him.

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. I mean, Bob – the man I know – is a man of few words, but the words are always meaningful. And so that was very important. He was very encouraging to me about my place in the community of rock’n’roll.”
– Patti Smith (Kirk Elder, interview 2009, AlternativesToValium)

Changing of the Guards is a song written by Bob Dylan, released in 1978 as a single and as the first track on his album Street-Legal.

Lyrically, this song has provoked much critical insight, both positive and negative. According to Oliver Trager author of Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, “Changing of the Guards” has been criticized as a “song in which Dylan unsuccessfully and cynically parodies his anthemic self in haunting fashion…

Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, commented that “Changing of the Guards” is a thorough description of Dylan’s journey, from the beginning of his musical career, about sixteen years prior (the opening line is “Sixteen years”), through his marriage and divorce with Sara Dylan, up to his soon-to-be-announced conversion to Christianity. Indeed, much religious and biblical imagery is readily apparent in this work, especially apocalyptic imagery—not new ground for Dylan. Dylan once commented: “It means something different every time I sing it. ‘Changing of the Guards’ is a thousand years old'”. However, even the song’s critical supporters admit that there is a good amount of opacity in this song’s lyrics: “Like much in ‘Changing of the Guards,’ the intended meaning of this passage is opaque…”

Twelve is an album by Patti Smith, released April 17, 2007.  As the title suggests, the album contains twelve tracks, all of which are cover versions. One of the covers is her fine interpretation of Dylan’s Changing Of The Guards.  Like few others are capable of, she transforms the song into a personal story. We believe in the words and we believe that the story she sings is her own story (even if we know it is not).

A very good Bob Dylan cover by Patti Smith, Changing Of The Guards in one studio version and one live interpretation:

Patti Smith 2015 Bergenfest-6
Patti Smith 2015 Bergenfest (Photo: AllDylan)

Other entries in the series:
The Best Dylan covers: Stevie Wonder – Blowin’ in the wind
The Best Dylan Covers: George Harrison – If Not For You
The Best Dylan Covers: Emmylou Harris – Every Grain of Sand
The Best Dylan Covers: Them – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
The Best Dylan Covers: Joan Baez – Farewell Angelina
The Best Dylan Covers: Roger McGuinn – Up To Me
The Best Dylan Covers: Jeff Beck Group – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
The Best Dylan Covers: Susan Tedeschi – Lord Protect My Child
The Best Dylan Covers: Lucinda Williams – Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
The Best Dylan Covers: Jerry Garcia Band – Simple Twist of Faith
The Best Dylan Covers: Bruce Springsteen – All Along The WatchTower

– Hallgeir