Bob Dylan Countdown #162: “Seven Curses”

It’s a rite of passage for folk singers to take a crack at this oft-sung tale. Variations abound; Dylan chooses to put the focus on the daughter pleading for the life of her condemned father and the judge who holds their fate in his hands.

By approaching “Seven Curses” in this manner, Dylan chose a prime target for his venom in the figure of the judge who abuses his power. Even in our modern world, the outrage that arises when a judge puts his or her own personal desires over fairness, impartiality, and justice is passionate and hard to temper. By creating a fictional version of such a scoundrel, Bob has a natural outlet for his innate distrust for authority figures.

As such, the songwriter could have overdone it with this despicable judge who has his way with the daughter in return for the father’s freedom, breaks his promise, and hangs the father anyway. Instead, Dylan simply relates the details of the story and lets the audience’s reaction be what it will, although he may nudge them a little bit with his evocative descriptions like this:

The gallows shadows shook the evening                                                                                                                                                     In the night a hound dog bayed                                                                                                                                                                 In the night the ground was groanin’                                                                                                                                                       In the night the price was paid

And so, the “Seven Curses” are invoked on the judge. One can only hope that this mystical comeuppance actually came to pass. Dylan’s ends the song before we know for sure, but not before we know that his version of this tale as old as the hills is uniquely his own. 




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