Bob Dylan's Jokerman

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

  1. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect The prose and the passion Thread Starter

    Winchester, UK
    I did say "at least in part" :)

    Some things are obvious, like that it is chock-full of biblical references.

    Though "fools rush in where angels fear to tread" is Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism :)

    But I agree it is opaque and full of mystery :)

    mrjinks likes this.
  2. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Marple, PA, USA
    Do you think Bob would let a video come out with him in it that he wouldn't have perused and personally approved? I don't
  3. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect The prose and the passion Thread Starter

    Winchester, UK
    See Sloman's quote above. I think he might take the view that any authentic interpretation was fine. I think it would be foolish to assume that the video is definitive in terms of what he meant by the lyrics.

  4. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    I thought he got it from Lou Reed.

    "Let's face it I made a mistake,
    Well you know, fools rush in where angels take a break."

    But seriously, we know they BOTH got it from Elvis.

    TeddyB and onlyconnect like this.
  5. Atmospheric

    Atmospheric Forum Resident

    Newberg, OR USA
    Christ or Satan? Hard to tell, although I lean towards the latter interpretation.

    For me, Neighborhood Bully is also problematic. He seems to be referring to Israel, but alternates between sympathy and disapproval.
    enro99 and MagicAlex like this.
  6. Jimmy B.

    Jimmy B. Forum Resident

    I don't like to read analyses of Dylan's lyrics myself; it can sometimes be good with music, at other times it can make the songs lose their magic, as how you have it in your own personal perception;
    so I don't want to take the chance of having the greatness and magic and beauty of the songs of my favorite lyricist ruined for me.
    This song doesn't matter as much to me as others by him, but I like to interpret or take the songs as *I* personally view them.
  7. sbeaupre

    sbeaupre Everything must go

    Inner Horner
    A powerful opening number on the ‘94 tour (or thereabouts). After hearing it live, it was hard to go back to the studio version, which sounds a bit thin in comparison.
  8. Jimmy B.

    Jimmy B. Forum Resident

    thank you
    redsock likes this.
  9. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Over in the "Trouble No More" thread there was a discussion of how Bob chose to be "on the nose" with his lyrics in 1979. At least a portion of "Infidels" appears to be conscious turn away from that approach.

    In "Trouble in Mind", Satan is described as, well "Satan".

    In "Foot of Pride", he is vaguely couched in the persona of Red, the retired businessman who happened, coincidentally, to be cast out of Heaven.

    I realize there are exceptions, but on "Slow Train Coming" Satan's coming after you, full frontal attack. On "Infidels", he is a retired businessman, he's a local priest, he can walk on clouds but he'll twist your dreams, he's that guy you barely notice, he can (insincerely) display many of the same qualities as Jesus, even.

    As David Crosby once said about drug addiction (a lyric that Dylan could easily have written about Satan),

    Now, he's sneaky
    And he'll smile
    Right at you, pretend
    To lick your boots
    And all the while,
    He'll be thinking
    How to rip your soul
    Out by the roots.

    But apart from Satan hiding out and taking different forms on "Infidels", there's duality. "I and I" and "Jokerman" simply drip with duality - the good and bad intertwining because humanity is so imperfect (and always so good at letting Bob down - see "Making a Liar Out of Me"). This isn't the first time we hear about the "persecutor within" - he's right there on "Where Are You Tonight?" ("I fought with my twin, that enemy within, 'til both of us fell by the way")
    Zeki, Dflow and MagicAlex like this.
  10. asdf35

    asdf35 Forum Resident

    Austin TX
    Well, he starred-in and must have personally approved the "Tight Connection" video. I was going to post it for reference but I just can't.
    smoke likes this.
  11. adriatikfan

    adriatikfan Forum Resident

    Thanks for posting this. One of my favourite ever Dylan performances. Over the years I must have added considerably to the YouTube count total for these three tracks.

    This three-song performance with 'The Plugz' is *for me* one of the highlights of Dylan's performing career. I know that there are many who dislike the interpretations but Dylan is *for me* at the top of his game here. Dylan is so caught up in the performances, his energy driving and being driven by the band. And this pared down version of Jokerman is the true highlight of this three song cameo. Dylan is in control of the band, leading and directing, fully aware of the raucous music-making they are involved in and then wanders off-stage and off-camera on live TV in front of a huge audience to locate the correct harmonica.

    For me, the greatness of this song is that the meaning is always just tantalisingly out of grasp - but the song always makes sense to me. I can't conjure up a time when 'Jokerman' didn't exist

    If only Dylan had toured with this band.

    Just as a slightly OT aside, I'd love to know the true story behind this performance of 'License To Kill' - is it really true that, although it had been one of the songs they rehearsed, they weren't expecting to play it on the show and that this was sprung on them by Dylan, literally with the announcement to Letterman of what song they were performing next

    It sure does look as though JJ Holliday (guitarist) and Tony Marsico (on bass) look a little confused and lost for the first few bars until they have taken their lead from Dylan and then get into the song. Has this ever been documented anywhere?

    Best Wishes,
  12. uzn007

    uzn007 Pack Rat

    Baja Virginia
  13. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    For those looking for Jesus on this album, I believe that the girl being addressed in "Sweetheart Like You" is representative of Jesus during the time of his earthly incarnation.
  14. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    "Neighborhood Bully" is about Israel and the disapproving statements are meant to represent the attitudes of those in opposition to Israel. It's meant to be ironic.
    RayS and uzn007 like this.
  15. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    From all the stories one hears about Dylan, it seems like he barely bothers with approving his albums never mind videos. He just kinda does his part of the work -- write and record some songs -- as quickly as possible and then moves on to the next gig. He doesn't seem like a guy who is that engaged in the product-making part of the music. I don't think he had much or anything to do at all with the Jokerman video. I wouldn't look to the video for any insight into the song.
    onlyconnect, uzn007 and dkmonroe like this.
  16. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Marple, PA, USA
    we agree to disagree.
  17. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    I think the most striking image in the video is the quick "Dylan through the years" collage during "Shedding off one more layer of skin", suggesting that Dylan takes on and shrugs off personas every so often (protest singer, surrealist, country gentleman, etc.), which insinuates (at least for this viewer) that he is shedding his "Born Again" skin. If Dylan was aware of the subtext and allowed its inclusion does that suggest that the interpretation was on target? Was he speaking of himself and his own "persecutor within"?
    Wright, MagicAlex and dee like this.
  18. bobc

    bobc Bluesman

    This is a great thread and I love the discussion. I have never considered that the subject of the song might be JC or the other guy. I still don't think it's that simple, but I may be wrong.

    I have listened to this song in many circumstance over the years and every time I am so obsessed by the fantastic rhythm section of Sly & Robbie that in the end I don't hear anything else. This doesn't happen with any other Bob Dylan song, but the drums and bass are so marvellous on this one that I just completely ignore the meaning of the song.
  19. dee

    dee Forum Resident

    ft. lauderdale, fl
    A favorite in many ways. Standing on the water is Bob on stage, as a star, and by bread maybe he means money. Whose eyes are those in thine iron head? Is he shifting perspective to the audience, is he the idol? Distant ships make me think of a relationship, sailing into the mist into obscurity or mystery, the snakes equaling a penchant for deception, the fists power and violence, or something to hold tightly onto, amidst the hurricane storm of birth and relating back to the storm those ships are facing? Love how he seems to pit freedom and truth against one another. It's such a dramatic and conflicting first verse that ends with a question. A series of dreams. Not showing a future, not showing your hand, love how he sings ain't nobody there would want to marry your sister, I always chuckle at that. The chorus seems to be a lament. I always thought it was with a small dark look on your face ;).
    Anyway, that's my gibberish while giving the tune a listen.
    Atmospheric likes this.
  20. warewolf95

    warewolf95 Forum Resident

    Greenville, SC
    One of my top 10 personal favorite Bob songs. Great taste, op!
    trumpet sounds and redsock like this.
  21. lschwart

    lschwart Senior Member

    Richmond, VA
    I've never tried to fully unwind this song either, and I agree with those who suspect that Dylan lost the thread of it, too somewhere along the way. But it has always left a very strong impression on my mind, and I do think it has a kind of thematic center of gravity. maybe I'll try and explain my sense of it a little more fully later tonight or tomorrow if I can clear some time to do it, but in a nutshell I'll say this. I suspect that at its core the song is another of Dylan's songs about himself as an artist. It's strongly linked I think to "I & I," which I had a go at in the earlier thread that Ray links to above. I think the Jokerman is a version of or figure for Dylan's own feelings 9and maybe confusions) about his art, and at this particular point in his life as an artist he suspended between points of intensity and engagement, possible truths, systems, motives, possible freedoms just around the corner, etc. The nightingale and the moon are big symbolic giveaways. I think perhaps that the opening images are images of the way his work and life are suspended between religious systems and idolatry ("standing on the water" is Christian faith, "casting your bread" is a reference to the Jewish repentance ritual of tashlikh, and the idol is, well, an idol).

    More later.

    dee, Atmospheric and RayS like this.
  22. Chemguy

    Chemguy Forum Resident

    Obvious? Sorry. It's about the devil.
  23. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    I just looked up the song in the book Bob Dylan: All The Songs and it says that there are three possible identities for the "Jokerman":

    1. Caribbean spirits called the "jumbis."
    2. The Antichrist.
    3. Dylan himself, who entertains crowds by "dancing to the nightingale tune."

    It also says that Dylan himself dislikes the song, because he says it was "written and rewritten and written again." Perhaps it's a bit overworked which adds the confusion.
    Dflow likes this.
  24. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I certainly have the same sense that it's a song of being suspended between faith (or faiths) and something else, which I think the first verse makes pretty explicit, not just in those opening lines you note but especially in the verse's final question -- freedom just around the corner from you, but with truth so far off what good will it do? It was around the item of his religious albums that he told someone in Rolling Stone I think: "That lie about everybody having their own thruth inside of them has don a lot of damage and made people crazy." So I think we're talking about truth here in a received religious sense.

    And it's certainly possible to read a lot of autobiography into or out from the lyric -- shedding off one more layer of skin from the master identity change artist, you're a manipulator of crowds a dream twister: well that's certainly the voice of his generation rock star, even the rich man without any name, half asleep beneath the stars with a dog licking your face in some peaceful clime -- didn't he have a boat out in the Caribbean at the time and wasn't he pictured maybe on that album's sleeve with a beagle or something on a beach? can't remember but it seems familiar. In the last couple of verses though the song definitely looks outward, to a world where the rifleman and the preacher are both stalking the sick and the lame, where the priests are in the pocket of Satan and where the Jokerman just looks without betraying any emotion.

    But I've completely ignored the chorus. I don't know what the nightingale and moon or the Jokerman's dancing really have to do with it all. Does it just sound good and rhyme? Or is it telling us something about this Jokerman, suspended between freedom and Truth, taking the most nitpicky of old testament rule from Deuteronomy and Leviticus and the law of the jungle -- that only the strongest survive -- as his only guides?
  25. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    To complicate matters, here are the lyrics to the circulating alternate version:

    Standing on the water casting your bread,
    While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing.
    Distant ships sailing into the mist,
    You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing.
    Freedom just around the corner for you,
    But with truth so far off, what good will it do?

    Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
    Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
    Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

    So swiftly the sun sets in the sky,
    You rise up and say goodbye to no one.
    No store bought shirt for you on your back,
    One of the women must sit in the shack and sew one.
    Shedding off one more layer of skin,
    Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within.

    Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
    Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
    Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

    You're a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds,
    Manipulator of crowds, you're a dream twister.
    You're going to Sodom and Gomorrah, but what do you care?
    Ain't nobody there would want to marry your sister.
    Scratching the world with a fine-toothed comb,
    You're a king among nations, you're a stranger at home.

    Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
    Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
    Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

    Now, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
    The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers.
    No crystal ball do you need on your shelf,
    Michelangelo himself, could've carved out your features.
    So drunk, standing in the middle of the street,
    Directing traffic with a small dog licking your feet.

    Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
    Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
    Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

    Well, the preacher man talking about the deaf and the dumb,
    And a world to come, thats already been pre-determined.
    Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, and padlocks,
    Molotov cocktails and rocks can't drown out his sermon.
    You let the wicked walk right into a trap,
    You give away all the good things that fall in your lap.

    Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
    Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
    Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

    It's a shadowy world, skies are slippery gray,
    A woman just give birth to a prince today and she's dressed in scarlet.
    He'll turn priests into pimps and make old men bark,
    Take a woman who could have been Joan-of-Arc and turn her into a harlot.
    Oh, Jokerman, you know what he wants,
    Oh, Jokerman, you don't show any response.

    Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
    Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
    Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman
    mtvgeneration, enro99 and MagicAlex like this.

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