Bob Dylan's Jokerman

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

  1. gohill

    gohill Forum Resident

    Glasgow, UK
    If only...especially when it comes to 'Infidels'. If that was the case we would have got Blind Willie McTell on this album as well as the first version of Tight Connection To My Heart. He seems impatient in the studio to get the recording takes down but if he has to redo a song over a few takes, he likely won't do it the same way twice to get a perfect version; but once in the can it seems there is nothing more he likes than messing about with the running order and content of proposed albums. Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind were tinkered with a lot too, much to the chagrin of all other parties involved. Dylan by all accounts and evidence, seems to relish making sudden last minute decisions over track approval for albums.
  2. lschwart

    lschwart Forum Resident

    Richmond, VA
    I lean toward option two, although with a sense that the power the image implies might not have been fully realized in the Jokerman's case, uncertain, impotent, or abstracted as he seems to be in the song's present moment). The reason I don't think the image suggests that the Jokerman is evil is that the image feels to me like an allusion to the myth of Heracles/Hercules, who was famous for, among other things of course, strangling two snakes in his crib as an infant, rescuing himself and his twin brother from them. I don't know if Dylan knew it, but Heracles was also for a long time seen as a symbolic "type" of Christ (divine dad, bringing back people from Hades, infant with superpowers--although the latter is from folk belief not the NT or doctrine, etc.).

    The third possibility survives, though, in another sense. I don't think the song suggests that the Jokerman is evil, although the things he can do might serve evil purposes (manipulation, dream twisting). I do think that the song strongly suggests that he's using his powers (or is unable to use them for some reason) to affect the violence and injustice that the song describes happening all around him. He knows the what's going on, but shows no response. He has no affiliation, says goodbye to no one, has invested in no future, whether foolish or angelic, the product of risk or prudence. He's a friend to the martyr and the woman of shame, but we're not told of any heroic or consoling actions taken on their behalf.

    It's a portrait of an artist (or perhaps some other sort of person), who has powers, skills, and abilities, but a puzzled will. He has lost, at least for the time being, the native hue of resolution.

  3. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Central PA
    Shedding off one more layer of skin,
    Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within

    Some thoughts....

    In the Garden Of Eden narrative,Genesis 3,14&15 the Lord God says to the serpent....

    Because you have done this (tempted Eve to doubt God and go against his command to not eat or touch the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden) You are cursed more than all cattle,and more than every beast of the field.On your belly you will go and eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed.He Shall bruise your head,and you shall bruise His heel.

    So, is this Satan shedding off one more layer of skin in reptilian fashion? Is the persecutor within conscience (is it possible Satan has a conscience?) or the death sentence proclaimed.... He (God) shall bruise your head. If Jokerman is Satan in the song, is he out to cause as much enmity between his seed (unbelievers) and her seed (Christ and His seed) knowing his days are numbered? Satan wants to do as much evil as he can, while he can, so that drives him to keep one step ahead of the persecutor within. The fact that he knows his destruction is certain but not known as far as when it will happen. The persecutor within is the catalyst for his race to out run God and leave a path of destruction wherever he can.

    Revelation 20:2 He (the angel coming down from heaven) laid hold of the dragon,that serpent of old; who is the Devil and Satan,and bound him for a thousand years. So, the Devil finally gets put away but then released after the 1,000 years (freedom just around the corner for you), But with truth so far off what good will it do. The Devil just mis-uses his freedom to fight God and His saints once again but this time his head will be wounded for eternity Revelation 20:9,10.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
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  4. lschwart

    lschwart Forum Resident

    Richmond, VA
    In the above, I meant to say, "...that he's NOT using his powers...."

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  5. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Marple, PA, USA
    I contend that Bob paid more attention to this album than several of the previous ones. The number of outtakes/alternates suggest he was on a roll and faced many tough decisions about what songs/takes to use. Columbia had to have been excited about hearing Bob was off his ("non selling") tangent. His first video into the world of MTV land. His return to chart success. There's no way he wasn't really pleased about the songs and the sessions, and that he didn't at least have a clue that this album was going to smack people upside the head. Yea, he may just churn out a lot of stuff today without a lot of deep sweating, but back then, I think he gave this one a lot of thought and consideration.
  6. IbMePdErRoIoAmL

    IbMePdErRoIoAmL lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate

    I wouldn't trust anything written in that book. It's chock full of factual errors. The authors even claim that The Carter Family were aboard the Titanic. Caveat emptor.
  7. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    I knew somebody would say that. Surprised it took so long.
  8. RayS

    RayS Paying attention like a rattlesnake does

    They were. Leo and Clio Carter. They survived, obviously, or they couldn't have written the song.
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  9. RayS

    RayS Paying attention like a rattlesnake does

    Very well said. Thinking about the Jokerman's apparent inability to act and affect change (change that the "prince" in the last verse WILL be able to affect), I think, is also reflected in one of the couplets that Dylan dropped - "You're a king among nations; You're a stranger at home". Applying an autobiographical lens for the moment, he could be speaking about the greater respect he seems to get as an artist in Europe versus the land of his birth. But I think that would be too shallow of a reading - something an armchair Dylanologist like myself would try to peddle. He's famous, his words are sought after (both in the interviews he seldom grants and the song lyrics that are scrutinized), but when he spoke his heart about his religious epiphany he wasn't "heard". Not by his audience, and apparently not even by his family (some of whom tried to persuade him to change his ways - see "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody").

    I'm thinking that this song may quietly mark the beginning of the great withdrawal, that continues on through "Things Have Changed" and culminates in "Ain't Talkin'". He feels nothing for our games.
  10. lschwart

    lschwart Forum Resident

    Richmond, VA
    I think you might be right. 1979-81 is the last time that Dylan was fully engaged and doing "battle" as an artist. It took him a while to find the right mode, but his art since O Mercy, and even more so since TOOM, has been the product of a profound withdrawal into the space of his own peculiar imagination--and he seems to have been making his way there starting in '82. Even though he included three directly political songs on Infidels (two at least not the strongest songs on the record), and even though a few others look back at the Christian records, this song and "I&I" (and "Blind Willie McTell, too) suggest a different path. Once he figured out where that path was leading and settled into a new way of doing things, his work has been profoundly disengaged from the world except in so far as he continues to put stuff out there and perform. It's not that the work is meaningless or not engaging and often very beautiful on its own terms, but it's not a response to any stimuli coming in from out there in the world, and it doesn't reach out in the hope of affecting the world either. It follows an inner imperative and engages with words, sounds, and images echoing out of the past, rather than those making demands in the present.

  11. Joey_Corleone

    Joey_Corleone Forum Resident

    Rockford, MI
    I have no idea the meaning of the song really. Obviously, it is full of biblical references and imagery, but I don’t know how it all fits together. One of my favorite Dylan tunes on one of my favorite albums. Fantastic lyrics, music, and imagery.
  12. Catbirdman

    Catbirdman Forum Resident

    @lschwart, I admire literally every one of your posts, but you've outdone even yourself here. When you think of all the things Jokerman (the song) could signify, and all the identities Jokerman (the character, the symbol) could take on, it all just swirls into a blooming, beautiful mess. But these sentences here get at the heart of why it's still so satisfying. Your framework of a powerful artist with a "puzzled will" lends to the listener a very fulfilling way of experiencing this work of art. When you accept it within that landscape, all the incongruities feel right.

    "Tangled Up In Blue" is only the most famous example where Dylan intentionally eschews linearity, time, and logical association. But it is by far his last. So many of his masterworks are in this class, and Jokerman is one of the best.

    Thanks everyone for such a great discussion.
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  13. lschwart

    lschwart Forum Resident

    Richmond, VA
    Thank you! I'm so glad it helps make sense of the song for you. The more I've been thinking about it these past couple of days, the more it feels like a song that, despite what feels maybe unfinished or unrealized about it (or over-worked, too multiply determined), does have a pretty strong center of gravity. It holds a range of implications in its orbit.

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  14. Kevin55

    Kevin55 Forum Resident

    All will be revealed...

    The Bob Dylan Archive:
    Box 35 Folder 03 - "Jokerman" manuscript and typescript lyrics from the album Infidels, c. 1983. Includes numerous iterations of lyric, extensive revisions, and marginalia and notes.
  15. lschwart

    lschwart Forum Resident

    Richmond, VA
    I'm buying my tickets to Tulsa right away.

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  16. RayS

    RayS Paying attention like a rattlesnake does

    This thread has certainly created a tighter connection (pun slightly intended) in my mind between "Jokerman" and "I And I", which I consider the linchpin songs of "Infidels". I was searching my mind for more "withdrawal" lyrics from 1983 to present. A short list off the top of my head:

    "You rise up and say goodbye to no one."
    "You don't show any response."
    "I got nothing to say, especially about whatever was."
    "The world could come to an end tonight, but that's all right."
    "I feel nothing for their games."
    "If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself."
    "The party's over, and there's less and less to say."
    "I used to care, but things have changed."
    "Ain't talkin', just walkin'."
    "I'll burn that bridge before you can come across."
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  17. This song always reminds me of the interview with Dylan in the book Songwriters On Songwriting. The interviewer asked Dylan for feedback on several lines of his lyrics. One of them was the opening line to "Jokerman". Dylan didn't recognize it, asking "Isn't that something very old?". It surprised me I knew this song better than Dylan himself.
  18. lschwart

    lschwart Forum Resident

    Richmond, VA
    Good list! The one I bolded is, I think, the next really important step beyond the Infidels songs toward the late Dylan style and its preoccupations.

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  19. PJayBe

    PJayBe Forum Resident

    "No store bought shirt for you on your back,
    One of the women must sit in the shack and sew one."

    Simply stunning line. Wish it had made the final version.
    RayS likes this.
  20. SonicBob

    SonicBob Forum Resident

    West Virginia
    Despite the fixed verse-chorus arrangement, which does recall Blonde on Blonde's structure, Jokerman is one of my top favorite Dylan songs. I love the lyrical imagery and mystery attached to its pleasant but contemplative melodic tone. I've pointed out on another thread in regards to Infidels itself, that it's one of Bob's best records of the 1980's. Sweetheart Like You, I and I and Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight are also top notch and in context with Jokerman as far as definitive material is concerned. Love it!
  21. RayS

    RayS Paying attention like a rattlesnake does

    This line brings Gandhi to my mind.
  22. PJayBe

    PJayBe Forum Resident

    Watching the Letterman Jokerman I feel that if he had taken that band out with him in 1984 the Never Ending Tour could have started 4 years early....
  23. streetlegal

    streetlegal Forum Resident

    I've not had a good deal of time to revisit "Jokerman" (hopefully I will in the light of this thread) but I am enjoying the various comments.

    On the theme of artistic disengagement (for want of a better term) there are, of course, these lines:

    "But it’s like I’m stuck inside a painting
    That’s hanging in the Louvre
    My throat start to tickle and my nose itches
    But I know that I can’t move"


    "Maybe I’d have done some good in the world
    ’Stead of burning every bridge I crossed"

    From "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" (which, it has just occurred to me, is not dissimilar to "Solid Rock" in its sentiments, its desperation to hang on to something).

    And, on a slightly different note, without straying too far from "Jokerman" I hope, both "What Can I Do For You?" and "What Good Am I?" raise the question of the role of the artist in the world.
    RayS likes this.
  24. RayS

    RayS Paying attention like a rattlesnake does

    So is:

    "You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah
    But what do you care? Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister"

    a little bit of humor from the usually-grim Biblical Bob, or is there something more judgmental a foot related to his earlier "sermon" about San Francisco?
    DeeThomaz likes this.
  25. RayS

    RayS Paying attention like a rattlesnake does

    Very insightful and spot on in regards to "DFAOMT". That verse reminds me of "Visions of Johanna", in which things are equally static in the museum/Infinity.

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