The Narrow Bed: Nick Drake – Black Eyed Dog (Song Review)

  March 15th, 2008

Nick Drake

“A black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog. A black eyed dog.

I’m growing old and I wanna go home
I’m growing old and I don’t wanna know
I’m growing old and I wanna go home.

A black eyed dog he called at my door
A black eyed dog he called for more.”


Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog”: the narrow bed upon which fear of death and longing for death sleep side by side:

Nick Drake – Black Eyed Dog
    (from the anthology Way to Blue)

Drake’s quavering voice, ageless, simultaneously 9 and 99. Singing from within this life, and at the same time from outside it. Voice that’s prophet of its own extinguishing. The hunger for release (“growing old and I wanna go home”) and anxiety around the details of that release (“and I don’t wanna know”). The push and pull of death and life while breath and blood moves in us.

Then the extended guitar line: the agitation, the energy, the gorgeous stop-muted syncopated run of it, expressing perfectly that vacillating agitation of fear of and desire for end.

This Swans cover of “Black Eyed Dog” features Jarboe’s haunting vocal:

Swans – Black Eyed Dog
    (from the collection Various Failures: 1988-1992)

I don’t love this cover, but I like how it takes the urgency & fear of the original and turns it into spit-flecked seething.

So many narrow passageways into and out of this song with its bone-lean lyrics, raw and elemental as a myth: The dog, the door, the name, the home; the asking for more, the not wanting to know. It seems there’s not much here.

But there’s everything here. Everything we need to know about living, dying, wanting not to die and wanting not to live. Fear of the unknown and hunger for whatever blackness lurks beyond that door.

The moment I heard this song I felt myself fall apart in grateful and scared recognition.

Years later — tonight — it does the same. Comforting me even though everything about it lyrically and musically should do the opposite. Out of death, out of time, that weird keening voice sounding as tremblingly alone as humans can be helping me feel less so.

Thank you Nick, Swans & Jarboe; thank you dog and door and name and home.

C. Way/ © 2008

[posted by C Way at 12:34 AM]


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Comments (2) To “The Narrow Bed: Nick Drake – Black Eyed Dog (Song Review)”

  1. pierce said:

    i found this completely by accident. big Nick Drake fan, but i never heard the Crows version of the song before. Nick’s is still the best, but i loved hearing another take on it. thanks.

  2. C.W. said:

    Thanks pierce! Totally agree, the original in this case can’t be touched.

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