• James McGee

Chimes of Freedom...


Last Sunday's edition of Desert Island Discs had me heading to You Tube as soon as the programme ended. The castaway was Professor Phil Scraton, Professor Emeritus at the School of Law at Queen's University Belfast. A criminologist and author, he's director of the Childhood, Transition and Social Justice Initiative and was lead researcher of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

A fascinating programme, as was his choice of music, which ranged from Gerry and the Pacemakers to Labi Siffre and Billy Holiday. Also tucked in there was a Bruce Springsteen track of a Bob Dylan song: Chimes Of Freedom, a cover version which, to my shame I don't recall hearing before. Hence my visit to You Tube to check out The Boss performing the song. There are several versions available, most notably the one performed in East Berlin in 1988.

This was before the wall came down, remember.

From The Guardian:

'When Bruce Springsteen turned up in Communist East Germany on 19 July 1988, it was, according to one fan, a "moment some of us had been waiting a lifetime to hear". The US rock star greeted an audience that was restless, jaded and sick of being locked behind the Berlin Wall. And nothing, as it turned out, was to provide a better outlet for their frustration than a rock'n'roll concert.

The highlight of Springsteen's four-hour concert, in which he played a total of 32 songs, was undoubtedly a passionate speech, delivered in a creaky but understandable German, that carried a subtle but clear political message. "I'm not here for any government. I've come to play rock'n'roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down," he said to a crowd that erupted, before he launched into Bob Dylan's Chimes of Freedom, whose lyrics – about the "city's melting furnace … with faces hidden while the walls were tightening" – could hardly have resonated more with his captive audience, many of whom the crowd waved homemade American flags.'

You can check out that performance by clicking on the image below.

Not being too familiar with the lyrics, I had a gander at those as well and they blew me away. As relevant - and as moving now when you hear them sung - as they were when Dylan first penned the song back in 1964, I just had to include them here:

"Chimes Of Freedom" - Bob Dylan.

Far between sundown's finish an' midnight's broken toll We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight An' for each an' ev'ry underdog soldier in the night An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

In the city's melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched With faces hidden as the walls were tightening As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin' rain Dissolved into the bells of the lightning Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an' forsaked Tolling for the outcast, burnin' constantly at stake An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind An' the poet an the painter far behind his rightful time An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

In the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales For the disrobed faceless forms of no position Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts All down in taken-for granted situations Tolling for the deaf an' blind, tolling for the mute For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an' cheated by pursuit An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Even though a clouds's white curtain in a far-off corner flashed An' the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale An' for each unharmfull, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look Spellbound an' swallowed 'til the tolling ended Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse An' for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Another stonking version is the one recorded in Paris in September 1988 for the Human Rights Now! concert - with Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Youssou N´Dour and Claudio Baglioni. If the hair doesn't rise across the back of your neck when Tracy Chapman takes up the song you have no soul...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbEr240Tfsk