Bob Dylan's Jokerman

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by onlyconnect, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    I love this song from Infidels, and it seems appropriate to discuss it now, following the release of the Trouble No More bootleg series, even though it falls outside the period covered there.

    It's obvious that the "Jokerman" is Jesus Christ at least in part, thanks to many references like "standing on the waters, casting your bread" even though there is no biblical account of Jesus doing both at once :)

    But I've always been fascinated by Dylan's use of the word Jokerman. It's appropriate because a court jester is one who is able to speak truth to power, as Jesus did. But it also has a nuance of "one who jests", that is, does not tell the plain truth and one who knows the power of misdirection. So I see this as kinda post-Christian even while at the same time the song celebrates its subject. And there is just a hint of "have I been taken for a ride". "Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twister."

    I also wonder if there is a bit of self-reference here as well. Dream twisting, manipulating crowds, that's the stuff of pop music, right?

    Thoughts?

    Tim
     
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  2. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Location:
    Central PA
    I'm going with the anti-christ or Satan. I haven't listened to the song in awhile though or thought about the lyrics but in scriptures the Devil is called a liar,the father of lies,a lion walking around seeking to devour,the main false manipulator.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
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  3. Frosst

    Frosst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Sweden
    I love this song, never thought it really was that christian but you may be right.
     
  4. uzn007

    uzn007 Forum Resident

    Love this song but never dug into the lyrics that deeply. Looking forward to what comes up in this thread.
     
  5. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    It strikes me that "A woman just gave birth to a prince today and dressed him in scarlet," is the reference to Satan. Who is referred to as "He" rather than "You" so someone distinct.

    Tim
     
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  6. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Location:
    Marple, PA, USA
    Great video, and you can draw some conclusions on some phrases based on what's shown on the video
     
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  7. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Location:
    Central PA
    The coming Antichrist,Satan's last days agent maybe?
     
  8. jeddy

    jeddy Forum Resident

    Nah...can't be Jesus...
    It reads more like a charleton
    The devil...
    You know, in keeping with the song "man of peace" off the same album.
     
  9. jeddy

    jeddy Forum Resident

    I think it's one of his best lyrics ever though...
     
  10. asdf35

    asdf35 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Austin TX
    I really like the vocabulary and flow of words and images in this one. Those elements make it one of my favorite Dylan songs. Despite the modern apocalypse vibe, I've never wondered who or what Jokerman is...Being the simpleton that I am.
     
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  11. A similar lyrics appears in The Grateful Dead's "St. Stephen";

    "Wrap the babe in scarlet covers call it your own"

    I've always taken that line to be a reference to Moses, who, as a baby, was found floating in a basket in the water, and Pharaoh's daughter called him her own (adopted him). So when I hear the similar line in "Jokerman" (Moses could be qualified as a prince, twice over, as he was adopted in the king's family while his true identity was that of a Hebrew prophet), I think of Moses.

    Dylan, of course, performed "Little Moses" on a regular basis during the Never-Ending Tour.

     
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  12. 1 - Everything needn't be, but this song clearly is.
    2 - All the people who are reading the thread, except you.
    3 - Good suggestion! :)
     
  13. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    That depends on who made the video. It might just be someone else's interpretation?

    Tim
     
  14. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    Larry Sloman, quoted in Heylin's bio, says the video was directed by Sloman and George Lois:

    "Lois had each lyric from Jokerman blown up and tacked to the wall in the conference room, and underneath each line was the corresponding visual image we had selected. Now the big pitch ... Lois began his lecture. 'Now when you say You were born with a snake in both of your fists, that's the Minoan Snake Goddess from Crete, circa 1500 BC. Case closed. That's what you meant, right Bob? Dylan managed something between a shrug and a nod."​

    :)

    Tim
     
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  15. dee

    dee Forum Resident

    Location:
    ft. lauderdale, fl
     
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  16. MagicAlex

    MagicAlex Gort Emeritus

    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    I find these lyrics fairly revealing.

    "You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah
    But what do you care? Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister
    Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame"
     
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  17. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    Location:
    Atlanta
    I think it's about men who seek and acquire power - good, bad or indifferent, they all have similarities. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they commit atrocities, sometimes they have good motivations and sometimes they're just "staying one step ahead of the persecutor within." In the end they are all jokers because the next one to come can undo everything they did and make it all for nothing.
     
  18. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I've never really been able to fully unwind Jokerman, so I'm curious to hear people's thoughts. The whole Infidels album is such a kaleidoscopic jumble of apocalyptic Judeo-Christian fundamentalism and interpersonal politics and political social commentary, that it's pretty dense. I really have always loved the record because of that...I mean I always love Dylan in his cranky prophet calling down doom mode anyway, so stuff like "License to Kill" is right up my alley....the cranky political stuff like Union Sundown and Neighborhood Bully, is less my cup of tea, but to me the two most mysterious and mystically theological songs are Jokerman and I and I, and frankly, I'd love for someone who has spent time with them (and with the Book of Revelation and any of the other sources of Dylan's cranky fundamentalism) to hold my hand and walk me through 'em. I think Dylan has said of Jokerman that it's one of those songs he kind of lost the thread on or something like that, so maybe we're looking for something more coherent in the song or its central image than he ever felt like he fully achieved.

    I feel like the Jokerman of the song, if it's not the singer himself, is humanity itself -- trapped between freedom and truth (Freedom just around the corner for you/But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?), the big truth, the one truth, trying to outrun or escape one's internal sinfulness and conscience ( or, did he mean not conscience but self-hatred when he wrote of keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within, did he really mean persecutor or prosecutor?)

    Is the "you" in every verse the same "you," the same Jokerman? Is the morally frail sinner and doer of evil -- the manipulator of crowds -- the same you as the you resting in the fields with the dog licking your face? And is that dream twister actually evil -- that "you" who also is a friend to the martyr and friend to the woman of shame? Maybe I'm just confused but maybe it's actually just not that focused.

    One thing I think is clear is that the Jokerman is NOT the baby prince dressed in scarlet -- if that's satan. That creature seizes controls of the priests, pimps children, but he's not the jokerman. The Jokerman knows what Satan wants.....but the Jokerman has no response. That's another reason why the Jokerman seems to me to be more of just kind of humanity hanging in the balance of the reality of man, between freedom and truth, between sin and virtue, between god and satan (the sick and the lame being chased by the rifleman and the preacher, who'll get their first is uncertain) -- in this evil world of sin and temptation and false-hearted secular leaders, with its promises of freedom and pleasure, will you act, can you act, when you act will you do the right thing? I always thought that was kind of the gist of the song.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
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  19. MagicAlex

    MagicAlex Gort Emeritus

    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    ...or possibly Dylan asking himself that question.
     
  20. I agree that the song is not FULLY "unwindable", but I think you do a very good job of navigating it (or I like your ideas because they align with mine .. or both :))

    I don't have enough time at the moment to fully express my thoughts on the song, but the recent appearance of "Making Me a Liar Out of Me" has helped put "Jokerman" into better perspective for me.
     
  21. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Absolutely, both himself and humanity, for sure.
     
  22. MagicAlex

    MagicAlex Gort Emeritus

    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    "Half asleep near the stars with a small dog licking your face"

    [​IMG]
     
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  23. mrjinks

    mrjinks Optimistically Challenged

    Location:
    U.S.
    One of my favorite Dylan songs ever. However...

    I think there's nothing "obvious" about the lyrics to the song, like many of Dylan's best works. There's plenty of mystery hidden between somewhat vague and somewhat evocative lines that make it worth listening to a thousand times over. :)

    Look forward to the thread comments, though. Has this one really escaped it's own thread in the past? Hard to believe here!
     
  24. DeeThomaz

    DeeThomaz Forum Resident

    Location:
    In The Felony Room
    No "Jokerman" thread is complete without this (hoping I didn't miss someone else posting it):

     

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