Covers Corner: “With God On Our Side” by Bon Iver

Back in the ’60s, Bob Dylan was a member of the counterculture, leaning more on the political protest side than the hippie. You can hear that in one of his most famous songs, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which describes how the national mood is starting to shift. Today’s Covers Corner provides another example of the exhaustion and anger people were feeling during that decade. “With God On Our Side” is a long ballad about the way America has justified violence.

Bon Iver covered the song at a concert in 2011. The group slows the tempo way down and adds strings and saxophone. Justin Vernon is perhaps uniquely suited to sing part of the song: he, too, comes from the country called the Midwest. Bon Iver’s version takes out the references to World War II and the Cold War. Yet he still includes the lyrics referring to our weapons of “chemical dust.” It’s chilling; you realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I have to say – and at the risk of incurring internet backlash – when it comes to this Covers Corner, I like the Bon Iver version better. Okay, I know that Bob Dylan is, of course, iconic. His gravelly talk-singing has been around for decades, and people will be collecting vinyl pressings of Highway 61 Revisited for decades to come. The fact that Bon Iver performed a cover when he was still relatively on the come-up shows just how much of an institution Bob Dylan really is. Yet Bon Iver’s slowed version makes the song feel more expansive. It’s not as much of a long list of events. Instead, I feel like you settle into each occurrence that the song describes and are forced to sit with it for awhile.

I am loathe to post low-quality concert footage on my blog, but unfortunately the Bon Iver version isn’t available in other formats.

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