Michael Des Barres reconnects with his rock & roll muse on “Gotta Serve Somebody” with a little help from Clem Burke, Paul Ill and Loren Molinare
By PKM Editors
When Bob Dylan released “Gotta Serve Somebody” as a single in 1979, the song (and the album on which it appeared, Slow Train Coming) was easily dismissed as part of “Dylan’s Christian phase.” So much other good music was bubbling around in that post-punk era that only the most diehard Dylan fans spent much time trying to deconstruct the meaning of the song (which actually won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Male that year).
Many older Dylan fans were just hoping he’d get this “God stuff” out of his system and move on once again to something else new and brilliant. (He did, but not soon enough for everyone’s tastes).
So, when Michael Des Barres released his own blistering version of “Gotta Serve Somebody” in 2018, all of us doubters suddenly had to sit up and take notice. Not only does Des Barres now have one of his hottest-ever bands to back him—Clem Burke on drums, Paul Ill on bass, Loren Molinare (of Little Caesar) on guitar—he has recast Dylan’s now 40-year-old song for the brave new world of Trump and Putin by performing it at what he calls “100 miles per hour” and interjecting some subtle changes.
“This song isn’t about religion or God,” says Des Barres, his voice rising with emotion. “It’s about corporate power and control, and its message could not be more pertinent.”
Though Des Barres is happily ensconced at his popular daily radio show on Sirius XM and with his recurring role in the revived television series MacGyver, he has never let his rock & roll impulses grow weak and flabby. After all, he fronted the rock bands Silverhead, Detective and Chequered Past (with Steve Jones and Clem Burke) for several years and replaced Robert Palmer as the singer in Power Station.
“God yeah, that fire never went away,” he says now, having just celebrated his 70th birthday. “When you start with Sonny Boy Williamson, you just can’t turn back after that.”
What was it that recharged his batteries?
“If I’m going to write songs at my age, it’s not going to be about fucking and carnality, like in my younger rock ‘n’ roll days, you know,” he says. “I feel we have to address the issues that plague us. I did ‘What’s Goin’ On’ last year and am doing versions of P.F. Sloan’s ‘Eve of Destruction,’ which I’ve renamed ‘Eve of Distraction’, and ‘Ball of Confusion’ and then there’s one, ‘Welcome to the Revolution,’ which I dedicate to Emma Gonzalez of the Parkland High School in Florida. Enough is enough.”
As for his choice of Mr. Zimmerman, Des Barres explains, “Bob Dylan is a terrific well to mine. He’s so sly, isn’t he? If you can claim something from 40 years ago and give it a new sense of urgency, then that’s a testament to the timelessness of art. If Hamlet can be done for 500 years and still ring true, then so can ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’. Great art is forever. And there’s a sense of urgency to everything right now.”
For ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, Des Barres slipped in a new lyric. Where Dylan sings about the socialite (“You might be a socialite / With a long string of pearls”), he sings “you might be a boy who wants to be a girl.”
With a deep, self-deprecating laugh, Des Barres adds, “Rewriting a Dylan lyric is like spitting in the face of the Nobel Prize. Takes a lot of gall!”
And he loves his new band.
“We are somewhat circumspect,” he said. “Just four guys with one mission. We almost forgot what a band was, didn’t we?”
You may own guns
And you may even own tanks
You may be someone’s landlord
You may even own banks
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody