Desire was the first feature album by Bob Dylan I put my hands on as a kid. I was about thirteen years old when I bought the CD I would tirelessly listen to while doing my homework.
Before Desire I had only listened to a Greatest Hits, falling in love with acoustic songs such as The Times They Are A-Changin’ or Blowing In The Wind.
Little I knew, at that point, of the many different phases, Bob Dylan had gone through as an artist.
As a weird adolescent, a bit of an outsider, a bit of a rebel, I loved the “protest songs” of his beginnings (the only ones I knew back then). Dylan reminded me of a beloved Italian singer and songwriter who would often write about social and political themes: Fabrizio De Andrè.
Bob Dylan and Fabrizio De Andrè, with the collaboration of Joan Baez, helped me understand how important music was to me. I can say without a hint of a doubt that they acted as educators, teaching me so much on many poetical, musical, political, human levels.
Desire was a bit of a turning point: the acoustic ballads where you could only hear Dylan’s raspy vocals and his lonely guitar and harmonica were now replaced by fully rounded songs, with electric instruments and mesmerizing violins.
There were no longer protest songs, but stories with an underlying meaning: the epic civil rights anthems turned into novels in music, keeping, however, their message of openness and tolerance, at least to my ear.
Romance in Durango, the seventh track of the 1976 album, is a perfect example of the peculiar storytelling Dylan put into this release. A distracted listener would simply enjoy the story of these runaway lovers, as one would do in an adventure movie. But my judgment, influenced by Dylan’s early songs and Fabrizio De Andrè, suggests a subtle meaning: Romance in Durango gives new dignity to the life of two outcasts, a man who allegedly killed, without real awareness (“Was it me that shot him down in the cantina/Was it me who held the gun?”), and his beloved woman.
Fabrizio De Andrè made it one of the main points in his artistic production to talk about outsiders and the “bad” part of the city, often portraying the roughest side of Genoa and the variegated humanity walking through its streets.
So you won’t be surprised by the fact that De Andrè himself translated Romance in Durango into Italian and included it in his 1978 album Rimini.
There are no main differences between the two versions, as De Andrè kept most of the original narrative and structure. For example, the Spanish dialect in the chorus of Dylan’s version becomes a Southern Italian dialect in De Andre’s rendition.
As I decided to start a project called Dylanology, featuring YouTube videos where I cover some of Dylan’s songs and articles like the one you are reading now, I planned to start off with Romance in Durango, to connect the dots between Fabrizio De Andrè (I did a similar project about him in the past) and Bob Dylan.
Here is the first video of the series: