Dark Eyes is the stand-out 10th and final track from Dylan’s much maligned 1985 Empire Burlesque record. The simple acoustic style and arrangement of this timeless classic isn’t replicated again until Dylan went all acoustic guitar on the 1992 record Good As I Been To You. Dark Eyes is devoid of the “80s style” aesthetic for which the rest of the album is known. Empire Burlesque is an overly produced 80’s churn-out session. It’s a real shame since most of these songs work really well live – especially this Emotionally Yours version with Tom Petty at Farm Aid 1986 NY.
Dark Eyes is one of my favourite Dylan tracks from the 1980’s. I think he is unfairly criticised for his output in this decade. He made some obscenely good records and a plethora of classics, many unreleased until the bootleg series came out. Dark Eyes is indeed the high-point of Empire and arguably of the 80’s decade as well. But the unreleased gems Blind Willie McTell, Caribbean Wind and Series of Dreams give it very stiff opposition as well as many other commercial releases.
According to Wikipedia: According to his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan wrote the song specifically to close the album at the suggestion of engineer Arthur Baker. Dylan claims that inspiration for the song came from seeing a prostitute in a hallway at the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street in New York City: “As I stepped out of the elevator, a call girl was coming toward 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’d been beaten up and was afraid that she’d get beat up again. In her hand, crimson purple wine in a glass. ‘I’m just dying for a drink’, she said as she passed me in the hall. She had a beautifulness, but not for this kind of world. Poor wretch, doomed to walk this hallway for a thousand years“
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,Verse 1, 2 Dark Eyes
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.
Dylan only played Dark Eyes 8 times in concert. All of the 1995 outings were performed as duets with Patti Smith who was Dylan’s opening act for that leg of the Never Ending Tour. According to Smith, Dylan invited her to choose a song that they could perform together and “Dark Eyes” was her choice. I saw Patti open for Dylan in Sydney 1998. She was tremendous and narrated of lot of her own Poetry as well as singing some of her big hits. I hadn’t heard of her before that night, but she left one heck of an impression on me.
The irredeemable original studio track isn’t available for copyright reasons on You Tube. Their are some OK recordings of Dylan and Patti live, but I’ve decided to relay a fan tribute recording of Dark Eyes by Virginia in celebration of Bob’s birthday (May 24, 1941) this year: