Bob Dylan's Jokerman

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

  1. stewedandkeefed

    stewedandkeefed Came Ashore In The Dead Of The Night

    Ian MacLagen who was on the 1984 tour once referred to a song in the show (he didn't name a song) and referred to the song as being about Reagan. I know the official video included a photo of Ronald Reagan making a face but Bob had nothing to do with the choice of images in the video. I don't know if Mac was just going off of the image in the video or if he had any inside knowledge (doubtful). Pretty sure Paul Williams tackles the who in "Jokerman" in Performing Artist 2.
    groundharp likes this.
  2. Holy Diver

    Holy Diver Forum Resident

    Great, great song. One of his best.
  3. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    BTW, it's also a song with a lot of anger towards men in robes, it seems to me. False-hearted judges trapped in their own webs, priests in the pocket of the scarlet-dressed prince who stalk the vulnerable, though in terms of the latter line, with the contrast between the priest and the rifleman, I'm not sure the priests are intended to be though of a predatory.....another thing that maybe got lost in the myriad re-writes.
    RayS likes this.
  4. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Does the preacher man seek the sick and the lame to help them (and save them from the rifleman), or to exploit them himself? I used to think the former but it could very well be the latter.
  5. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    I think any reductionist approach to this song (Reagan, Jesus, Satan) is going to fall flat. The alternate lyrics (which may be one set of many for all we know) suggest that Dylan was plugging parts in and out without necessarily worrying about a cohesive narrative. So if he didn't know for sure what/who he was writing about, what chance have we got to reduce it to one target?
  6. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Right, it's unclear, particularly in the context of the priests in the pocket of the prince. My initial assumption was like your initial assumption -- and I still suspect that's true rifleman vs. preacher suggests they're not both out for the same thing.....but that's one of the reasons the song is hard to parse, it's a little confusing.
    RayS likes this.
  7. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Central PA
    A few Jokerman lyrics make me think of Bible verses.

    The idol with the iron head,Daniel 7:19,the 4th beast.

    Freedom just around the corner for you Revelation 20,3-10. Satan is locked up for 1,000 years and then unleashed with freedom to deceive the nations and fight God and his saints. But with truth so far off,what good will it do.

    You're a man of the mountains,you can walk on the clouds Job 1; 6&7 The Lord asks Satan...hey,where you been? Satan says...walking the earth back and forth. I guess that has nothing to do with walking on clouds unless clouds are considered part of all creation along with the earth. My Bible has a small e earth whatever that might mean.

    This song is a mystery that we all seem intrigued by. I can't figure out if it's one long narrative with a theme or just fragmented poetic visions. It can be enjoyed on many levels. The music and recording has a great mysterious vibe too.

    Edit: I had not read RayS post #55 before posting but seems to tie in with my last paragraph.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
    dee likes this.
  8. jeddy

    jeddy Forum Resident

    Maybe it's a swipe at Zappa...

    Frank was suppose to produce the album.
    Zappa does come off as moralistic but "denying the power,thereof..."

    Their "meeting" may not have gone over well with Bob...
    Zappa's dog was barking at Dylan and Frank said something to the effect:
    " It's dog doesn't like Christians"

    Perhaps Bob was stuck on Frank producing the album and when he was turned down Dylan may have felt "stung."
  9. lschwart

    lschwart Senior Member

    Richmond, VA
    I'm thinking of the moon and the nightingale as traditional symbols for poetic imagination and expression. The moon has had those associations in art and poetry for a long time for its reflected, ambiguous--or ambiguating--light, associations with lunacy and love, etc.--think A Midsummer Night's Dream. The nightingale's associations with poetry and song go back to the myth of Philomela and descend through a long line of poems and songs--think the invocation to Book III of Paradise Lost, Keats' "Ode...," etc. So all of that, along with the images that suggest things about Dylan's own career and artistic persona, make me feel like it's a self-referential song at its heart. I see those last verses as placing the artist in a difficult, violent and hostile world--one to which he does not have an adequate response.

    But I don't think Dylan ever got whatever it was he was reaching for fully under control--perhaps because he did not have the issues he was wrestling with under control either, I don't know. It still works as an evocation of a set of related ideas and problems--with some pretty great lines. They might not all add up, but the song is full of pretty powerful moments. "Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks,/ Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain," for instance, is a pretty extraordinary example of how a verbal line can suggest a powerful shift in the kind of more sketched or implied than composed melodies Dylan often creates in his songs (certainly in verses of this one). It takes the melodic line and shakes it into a new shape--and Dylan sings it wonderfully with something close to his live 1981 vocal approach. Every verse is filled with amazing bits and sequences, all carved in the smoke of the twilight.

  10. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I happen to love the song, and have from the moment I've heard it, it's actually one of my favorite Dylan tunes, but it's proven a little elusive to me too, not so unusual in that regard with respect to Dylan's work sometimes.
  11. Cassiel

    Cassiel Sonic Reducer

    NYC, USA
    Infidels for me is still a component of Dylan's "Christian" period - Biblical references abound throughout, and the more obvious "secular" songs are still shot through with spirituality. Maybe more Zionist than "born again" ("Neighborhood Bully", the reggae/ Rastafarian stylings and "I And I", and isn't Zimmy in Jerusalem on the album cover?), but with one foot ("Foot of Pride"?) still firmly in the proselytizing mode that he would soon abandon thereafter in his aggressively commercial mid-late 80's albums.
    dee and MagicAlex like this.
  12. lschwart

    lschwart Senior Member

    Richmond, VA
    Yes. I agree. My sense that Dylan didn't quite get it under control doesn't mean the result isn't great. It might not have ended up having as much mysterious power had he reduced it to one of its many possible determinations. At some point, in the case of some songs, it's best to resist the urge to "shovel the glimpse/ Into the ditch" of some fixed meaning. But I do think the song centers on and gets its energies from the same kind of self-confrontation at the heart of "I & I." More forgiveness here, though, I think. There's a lot of fear and danger and harsh judgement, but then we find ourselves with the Jokerman resting in the fields with that little dog....

    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
    RayS likes this.
  13. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Some of the lyrics stand in direct or nearly direct juxtaposition to each other. In some other places we get 1 or 2 positive attributes of the Jokerman, which are then quickly undercut by some shortcomings (or vice versa).

    A direct one:

    Now, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
    The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers.

    The books of the Torah present the laws of God, which stand in direct contradiction to the law of the jungle ("Only the strongest survive", "Eat or be eaten", etc.) and what I'm guessing Bob is suggesting is the law of the sea (The bigger fish eat the smaller fish, and then are eaten by the really big fish). If those 4 sources were your "only teacher", you would live in eternal contradiction, no?
    lschwart likes this.
  14. redsock

    redsock Forum Resident

    Ontario, Canada
    I have always though that Infidels is as much a religious record as Shot of Love. In my mind, the "Gospel Trilogy" is either 2 albums or 4 albums. (I say 2, actually.)

    Fantastic phrasing from Dylan on this one, especially:

    You're a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds
    Manipulator of crowds, you're a dream twister


    Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks
    Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain

    I agree with the person who said this is a Top 10 Dylan tune. And that Letterman clip is friggin' gold! ("... ain't nobody there would want to marry your SIS-TAAAAH!!!)
    Mike Ga, Zeki, Picca and 2 others like this.
  15. lschwart

    lschwart Senior Member

    Richmond, VA
    That's very interesting. I think maybe the "law of the sea," though, isn't an analog to the "law of the jungle," not dog eat dog, but something more like maritime law, the way the captain of a sea-going vessel is its law and prime authority. So, God's law, nature's law, and the law of the captain who is a law unto himself in his distant ship? In any case, I think you're right about the juxtapositions and the contradictions or suspensions.

    dee, MagicAlex and RayS like this.
  16. Atmospheric

    Atmospheric Forum Resident

    Newberg, OR USA
    Interesting. So there might be multiple Jokermans.
    dee and RayS like this.
  17. S. P. Honeybunch

    S. P. Honeybunch Presidente de Kokomo

    Agree that Jokerman has positive attributes, but don't see it applying to the first two lines of verse 4.

    I see the law books and laws of jungle and sea as all one thing that Jokerman subscribes to: law, rather than grace and freedom. Jokerman does not value freedom (what good would it do?), and he is a satanic serpentine persecutor (in light of him shedding his skin and holding snakes). He is also a passive accomplice of the Satanic prince by not showing any response to Satan's will.
    MagicAlex likes this.
  18. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Hadn't thought of that, interesting idea.

    Regarding the line "You were born with a snake in both of your fists", I see three possibilities. Assuming the Jokerman is "you", then the Jokerman is exceptionally evil (the snakes control him), exceptionally powerful (he maintains control over evil), or, my choice, he alternatively (or simultaneously) experiences both. His right hand draws back, while his left hand advances.
    Fender Relic likes this.
  19. Fender Relic

    Fender Relic Forum Resident

    Central PA
    They might seem juxtaposed but maybe he's saying that God's own law and the law of men are both inadequate for only by grace can you be saved by Jesus blood under the new covenant. Reminds me of some of the themes in Liscence To's ways are twisted and inadequate to achieve salvation or even understand your own life. Until your error you finally learn.It's only in losing...pride,greed,etc.. or should I say relinquishing your grip on life to that bloody hand that's reaching down to the masses on the Saved album cover that you finally learn what life is really all about.
    MagicAlex, RayS and dee like this.
  20. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Today's Dylan Trivia Question (because it just occurred to me).

    Dylan mentions the names (thought not necessarily referencing the actual books) of all 5 books of the Torah is his song lyrics. Using just the top of your head (ok, the middle and bottom too) and not giving in to the temptation of Google or "Lyrics"), what are the 4 songs that contain the 5 mentions? Cheaters will be punished ... some day ... some how.
  21. MagicAlex

    MagicAlex Gort Emeritus

    Atlanta, GA
    Maritime law. You nailed it! Natural law vs. manmade law.
  22. dee

    dee Forum Resident

    ft. lauderdale, fl
    By mentioning the nightingale and the moon, along with the sing/song quality of the chorus, I couldn't help but think of that old friend Mr. Tambourine Man.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
  23. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    My mind jumps right away to "the nightingale's code" from "Visions of Johanna".

    And the Jokerman seems to be a creature of the night - when the sun goes down, he rises up, moving (apparently) by the light of the moon. Much like our friend in "I And I" who seems to be going for a walk in the middle of the night.
    dee likes this.
  24. RayS

    RayS Little Lebowski Urban Achiever

    Too late to edit, but that should read:

    Today's Dylan Trivia Question (because it just occurred to me).

    Dylan mentions the names (while not necessarily referencing the actual books) of all 5 books of the Torah is his song lyrics. Using just the top of your head (ok, the middle and bottom too) and not giving in to the temptation of Google or "Lyrics"), what are the 4 songs that contain the 5 mentions? Cheaters will be punished ... some day ... some how.
  25. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect The prose and the passion Thread Starter

    Winchester, UK
    Some critics ma
    Yes, The Jester Tarot card, taking us back in some ways to Street Legal and the many Tarot references in The Changing of the Guard (would be another interesting song to discuss!).


Share This Page