All Along the Watchtower
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view. ...A wild cat did growl. Two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl.
The similarity between these lines, and their general tone of impending doom, and the situation is Isaiah 21: 5-9 is striking: "Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield. ...And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed. And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights: And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground." It seems fairly clear that Dylan was at least influenced by this passage when he wrote this song. [Due entirely to David G. Thanks!]
Worshipping a god with the body of a woman well endowed and the head of a hyena...
I can't find a specific reference in mythology that matches this description, so this may be Dylan improvising a divinity to represent general paganism. It should be noted that Set (or Seth), the god of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology, was a man with the head of a jackal or hyena. The hyena has generally been thought of in folklore as a vicious, avaricious scavenger, so if this deity is made up by Dylan, he is creating an image of lustfulness mixed with these generally negative attributes.
Do I need your permission to turn the other cheek?
This phrase is taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, recounted in Matthew. One of Jesus' most famous sayings, it decrees that we should not seek revenge for wrongs done to us, but rather meekly submit to others' sins against us. Indeed, Jesus suggests that we go farther, and even invite others to take their anger out on us. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39).
In the valley of the giants...
Speaking of the limits of the lands of the tribe of Judah, the most important of the twelve tribes of Israel, Joshua 15:8 says that "the border went up to the top of the mountain that lieth before the valley of Hinnom [the place of a later slip into paganism by the Israelites] westward, which is at the end of the valley of the giants northward." (All this is repeated in Joshua 18). The valley is the same as, and is sometimes translated as, "the valley of the Rephaim," these being the people supposedly believed to be giants by the ancient Israelites.
Valley Of the Giants is also the name of a 1918 novel by Peter B. Kyne. It was made into a movie in 1938. It descibes the conflict between a Bill Cardigan, an honest mill owner in California, and a greedy businessman from out of state who plans to log the redwoods. When Cardigan won't sell his land or allow the logging, violence ensues, and the indomitable spirit of the noble landowner is pit against the forces of money, corruption and power. (Though the Biblical reference is possibly the most likely source for Dylan's line, it must be said that Dylan has shown a fondness for the themes of this book as well.) [Thanks much to Robert C. for pointing these out!]
...where the stars and stripes explode...
"The stars and stripes" is a common euphemism for the flag of the United States, decorated as it is with thirteen stripes (for the thirteen original colonies) and fifty stars (for the present fifty states).
...the peaches they were sweet and the milk and honey flowed.
The phrase "milk and honey" originates in the Bible, where it appears many times, most often in the books of laws, Deuteronomy and Numbers. It is used most often to describe the Promised Land, the land that God promised the Israelites in his Covenant with them. "Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey" (Deuteronomy 6:3).
There's a black Mercedes rollin' through the combat zone.
Mercedes-Benz (originally Daimler-Benz) is a car company whose (expensive) line of vehicles is primarily intended for the wealthy due to a (ostensibly justified) reputation for superior engineering and state-of-the-art production.
Tell me, tall man, where would you like to be overthrown? In Jerusalem or Argentina?
This line has always puzzled me. "Tall man?" Could this be a mondegreen? Is Dylan actually saying "Talmud," the collection of Rabbinic law? Seems unlikely (though see the Nazi connection to Argentina, below). But "tall man?" Is Dylan (a shortish fellow) feeling resentment against the tall? Hmmm.
Jerusalem (Hebrew Yerushalayim), the capital of Israel. The city's history goes back millennia to antiquity, and it is a key city in the world's three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The largest city in Israel, it is one of the most disputed sites in the world.
Argentina is a Spanish-speaking republic located in South America. A possible (albeit quite tangential) connection this country might have with Jerusalem is that immediately after Word War II, a number of high-ranking Nazis, meant to be tried for war crimes, fled to Argentina.
I see pieces of men marching, trying to take heaven by force. I can see the unknown rider, I can see the pale white horse.
This refers to the events described in Revelation, which tells of Armageddon, the end of the world and a battle in heaven. Note, however, that in the Bible the "pale horse" and the "white horse" are separate. During Armageddon, the Lamb of God opens seven seals, the first four of which release incarnations of the Antichrist (interpretations differ here, but this seems right), War, Famine, and Death. Revelation 6:2 says "And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." This is probably the Antichrist. Revelation 3:8 is clearer as to the identity of the fourth rider: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."
Are You Ready?
Are you ready to meet Jesus? …Will He know you when He sees you? Or will He say, "Depart from Me?"
This line is from the Gospel of Matthew. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Many will say to me in that day [the day when the Lord will ascertain whether or not they enter heaven], Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works [in other words, they profess to have performed miracles in God’s name]?" God will reply to them, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (7:22-23). In other words, it's not enough to be outwardly religious or even to do good deeds, but one must do the will of God in order to be saved.
The same sentiment is in Matthew 25:41. Jesus is describing the Day of Judgment: "Then shall he [God] say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." When the cursed ask why they are to be damned, God answers that they did not feed the hungry, clothe the poor or administer to the sick, for "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me" (25:45). This, by the way, shows that at least in this passage, good deeds do count for something in the day of reckoning, despite what some evangelicals will have you believe.
See also Luke 13:27, a very similar passage to Matthew 7:23.
Am I ready to lay down my life for the brethren…
This is from 1 John, not the Gospel but a letter from the Apostle John to an undisclosed Christian community. In the relevant passage, John expounds on the true meaning of "brotherly love" as taught by Christ: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren [probably meaning, our brothers in Christ]" (3:16).
…and to take up my cross?
From the Gospel of Mark. Jesus says to a crowd listening to him teach, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (This is not an exhortation to literally pick up a heavy wooden cross, as Jesus would as He went to His death, but a reminder that to follow the teachings of Christ is not an easy path.)
When destruction cometh swiftly and there's no time to say a fare-thee-well…
Possibly from Proverbs 1:27. Some commentators believe that God is speaking to the unrighteous when He says He will mock them "when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you."
Or, possibly an even more veiled reference to 1 Thessalonians 5:3. "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."
Are you ready for the judgment? Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
The phrase "terrible swift sword" is to be found only in the New Living Translation version of the Bible, in 27:1. "In that day the Lord will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent, the dragon of the sea." (The KJV, for example, calls it a "sore and great and strong sword.") Most commentators believe that the Leviathan is not intended to be a literal sea-serpent but a representation of the enemies of God.
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Armageddon, also sometimes Har-mageddon, meaning "hill or city of Megiddo," is a field in the Bible where Israelite victories took place, but also the unglorious deaths of two of Israel’s kings. At one point, during the final days, according to Revelation 16:16, unclean spirits are gathered, "together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." This is the only mention of the name in the Bible, but it has come to signify the entire final battle between good and evil, God and the Anti-Christ, that is to come and that Revelations describes.
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?
The phrase "day of the Lord" comes from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (5:1-2). In other words, the day of reckoning will take mankind by surprise.
[Again, thanks to the tireless Dan M. for the pointing me to nearly all of the Scriptural references listed here. And once again, the writing and opinions expressed are my own.]
As I Went Out One Morning
As I went out one morning to breathe the air around Tom Paine's...
Tom Paine (1737-1809) was a British-born American revolutionary who wrote the pamphlet "Common Sense" (1776) which argued for American independence.
Ballad Of a Thin Man
Because something is happening here, but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mister Jones?
The identity of the "Mr. Jones" of the chorus is, in my opinion, best left a mystery. The lyrics indicate he may be a clueless journalist ("with your pencil in your hand," asking questions. Some have speculated that Dylan might have been taking a jab at Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, but although Dylan was not above gently mocking the Stones, this seems pretty unfounded by the lyrics.
Others point to a magazine writer named Jeffrey Jones. I have no details on this as of yet.
You've been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was an American writer of novels, plays and Hollywood scripts. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, he made his reputation nearly overnight at an early age, much like Dylan himself. Some of his most famous works include This Side Of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful And the Damned (1922), The Great Gatsby (which was quoted in Dylan's "Summer Days"), All the Sad Young Men (1926), and Tender Is the Night (1934). Most of his novels are at least in part autobiographical and deal with the wealthy "smart young set" of the Jazz Age — a term Fitzgerald coined.
Fitzgerald was a great material success in his day, but one could also judge him a failure as a novelist in certain respects. His masterpiece The Great Gatsby was critically dismissed upon its publication, and did not undergo the revival that would cement the classic reputation it has today until after Fitzgerald's death. Fitzgerald also had to churn out short stories for The Saturday Evening Post (he became known as a "Post writer" rather than a respected novelist), and, later in life, he worked as a Hollywood script doctor, though he lasted only a year.
After Fitzgerald's death, The Great Gatsby was re-discovered by a new generation. By the 1950s, Fitzgerald was becoming celebrated as "the" great American 20th-century author. More copies of The Great Gatsby were sold annually than the total of books sold in Fitzgerald's liftetime. Because of this posthumous resurrection, it may be charged that Dylan (writing in 1965) is trying to present a subject who, reading "all of" Fitzgerald's books, is intellectually faddish rather than bookish.
Black Diamond Bay
She passes him on the spiral staircase thinkin' he's the Soviet Ambassador.
In 1976, when this song was written, a confederation of many eastern European states under the hegemony of Russia existed; this was the Soviet Union, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). So named after the Russian word "soviet" (council), its sole governmental body was the Communist Party. The influence and military reach of the U.S.S.R. made it the only other world superpower of worth besides the United States. The differences in ideology and often deliberate antagonistic relations between the two countries led to the Cold War, a period of political tension following World War II. Anyway, though comprised of many states and peoples, the U.S.S.R. acted as one country, and sent diplomats and ambassadors as such. The Soviet Union disbanded in 1991.
The dealer says, "Attendez-vous, s'il vous plait."
There are two possiblities here. Either the above line is written correctly, in which case it is incorrect French for "Wait a minute, please." (It should be "Attendez, s'il vous plait.")
However, it is entirely possible that this is actually a misheard or misreported French phrase, not "Attendez" but "Etendez-vous" (with the first syllable pronounced as an English long A instead of a short one). The official lyric book says "Attendez," but any Dylan listener knows that these lyrics are often obviously wrong. "Etendez-vous," meaning "Lay down (your cards)," would make more sense in the context of a casino. [Merci beaucoup à Raphael C.]
She's out on the balcony where a stranger tells her, "My darling, je vous aime beaucoup."
French for "I love you very much." Also, "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup" is a song written by Anna Sosenko; Nat King Cole did the most celebrated version.
I was sittin' home alone one night in L.A. watchin' old Cronkite on the seven o'clock news.
L.A. stands for Los Angeles, a city in California and the second most populous city in the United States. It was founded in 1781.
Walter Cronkite (born 1916) is an American journalist, television news anchor and author. After covering the Nuremberg trials for Nazi officers, he joined CBS news. He covered the first televised presidential nominations later became the anchor of his own news show, "The CBS Evening News."
Blind Willie McTell
Blind Willie McTell (1901?-1959) was one of the great early blues guitarists. His singing, a kind of high nasal whine, had an eerie quality to it which gave his songs of death and deliverance an even more unearthly tone. Little is known about his early life, though it's possible his birth name was Eddie McTier. Some of his better-known songs are "Broke Down Engine Blues," "Statesboro Blues," and "Southern Can Is Mine."
This land is condemned all the way from New Orleans...
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. The largest city in the state of Louisiana, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. It was founded by French explorers in 1718.
There are more than a couple of Jerusalems in the world, but it's a safe bet that Dylan is thinking of the overwhelmingly obvious choice: Jerusalem (Hebrew Yerushalayim), the capital of Israel. The city's history goes back millennia to antiquity, and it is a key city in the world's three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The largest city in Israel, it one of the most disputed sites in the world.
For what it's worth, the distance from Jerusalem to New Orleans is about 6870 miles as the crow flies.
Now, why is it "condemned?" Well, since the focus of the song is slavery ("cracking of the whips," "ghosts of slavery's ships," "big plantations burning"), the obvious answer is that these cities have known slavery, and the land around them (and between them) is desecrated due to that. New Orleans was a major port of embarkation for slave ships in the 19th century, while Jerusalem has been a land held in captivity for thousands of years (under the Romans, Babylonians, and, depending on how you look at it, the Arab peoples).
I traveled through East Texas where many martyrs fell.
These would not be martyrs in the traditional religious sense, but rather slaves working and dying in the plantations of East Texas, having arrived through New Orleans from Africa.
But power and greed and corruptible seed seem to be all that there is.
This last phrase comes from the first letter of Peter, in the New Testament. "See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1:22-23).
Bob Dylan's 115th Dream
I was riding on the Mayflower...
The Mayflower was the ship that the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England, and landed in present-day Massachusetts in 1620.
...when I thought I spied some land. I yelled for Captain Arab...
This song's theme has a continuing loose analogy to Herman Melville's Moby Dick ("Captain Arab" [pronounced throughout "AY-rab"] is a parallel for "Captain Ahab", the obvious whale link, and so on), crossed with the exploration of America ("the Mayflower" and so on).
Captain Arab he started writing up some deeds; he said "Let's set up a fort and start buying the place with beads."
A reference to the tale of the purchase of Manhattan island, then the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, in 1626 from the Algonquin Indians for beads and trinkets valuing about 24 dollars. Note, however, that the tale, like George Washington's cherry tree, is not historical. Rather, it is a surely incorrect extrapolation from one sentence in a letter written to a Holland newspaper from New Amsterdam, with no implication that the trinkets were for the whole island or even were a purchase rather than a use fee. [Thanks to Steve]
I saw three ships a-sailin'; they were all heading my way. ...He said his name was Columbus. I just said, "Good luck."
The three ships would be the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. These three ships, and a crew of about 90, sailed under the explorer Christopher Columbus in August, 1492. Columbus was searching for a quicker trade route from Europe to China, but reached North America in October. At first he believed he had landed in the East Indies, a group of Asian islands, and thus dubbed the natives "Indians," an appelation for Native Americans that lasts today. Columbus is popularly regarded as the "discoverer" of the New World, despite previous contacts by others, his inability to capitalize on his find or realize its extent, and (not least) the existence of indigenous people who already lived there. Still, his voyages inarguably marked a turning point in world history.
Well, there was this movie I seen one time, about a man riding 'cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck. He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself...
This is the 1950 film The Gunfighter, also starring Karl Malden and Helen Westcott. The plot description given after these lines is essentially correct, though chronologically shifted, possibly to mimic an actual retelling from memory. In the film, Peck plays famed gunslinger Jimmy Ringo, who is tired of his past and wants to escape it. In Cayenne, he meets his old friend, now the marshal, and tries to convince his ex-wife to come away with him. It's a fine psychological Western. Peck gives a great performance at the title character. It's a simple movie, but a powerful one, with all the little realistic touches and fleshed-out characters that made this era's films so solid.
Well, we drove that car all night into San Anton'.
Dylan is referring to (and cutting off the final two syllables of) San Antonio, a city located in south central Texas. With a population of about 1,100,000, it is mainly a tourist town famous for the Alamo (see below), Sea World and Six Flags, a theme park.
And we slept near the Alamo, your skin was so tender and soft.
The Alamo was a mission and fort located in San Antonio, site of possibly the most important battle in the history of Texas. This battle was part of the so-called "Texas Revolution," when the people of the Texas Territory fought for independence against Mexico, which possessed the land. In 1836, a Mexican general named Antonio López de Santa Anna led forces to San Antonio to take the fort, which was being held by Texan volunteers, including ex-Congressman Davy Crockett and famous knife-carrier Jim Bowie. The defenders held out as long as they could, but nearly all of the 183 or so were killed. There were approximately 200 Mexican soldiers killed.
Today, the Alamo is a popular tourist spot. The building has been restored numerous times and contains a museum of the battle.
Way down in Mexico you went out to find a doctor and you never came back.
Mexico is the country located to the south of the U.S., sharing a long border with Texas defined in part by the Rio Grande. San Antonio is about 225 miles (360 km) straight north of the Mexican border.
Well, we're drivin' this car and the sun is comin' up over the Rockies.
The Rocky Mountains are a mountain range extending from northern New Mexico northwest up to the Idaho-Montana border and Canada. Thus, it may be that Dylan's narrator is reminiscing about the events in Texas described in the song, but is now out of Texas. It's easy to imagine that the narrator drove to the panhandle (Texas' top rectangular region, defined by right angles) and up north out of the state.
Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curl.
Brownsville is a town (population 140,000) in south Texas, located on the Rio Grande directely across from the Mexican town of Matamoros.
It is also worth noting the traditional tune known (usually) as "Danville Girl," recorded by Jimmie Rodgers, Dylan's fellow Minesotan "Spider" John Koerner, and others. In this song, the narrator is "a thousand miles from home, bummin' a railroad train" (compare with the earlier train line in this song), and the Dansville girl has "a Dansville curl." [Thanks to John M.]
Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
As noted above, the panhandle is a region of Texas. It is the state's northernmost 26 counties of the state, defined by right-angled borders. (It might be more reasonably called the state's "chimney.")
Amarillo (Spanish for "yellow") is a city located in the Texan panhandle. With a population of 174,000, it is most famous as one of the country's leading beef exporters. (Indeed, when TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey was sued by ranchers for her comments on the safety of beef, the trial was held in Amarillo. Yeee-haw!) The city is also known as "the helium capital of the world" for some reason, and it is located on famous Highway 66.
Something about that movie though, well I just can't get it out of my head. But I can't remember why I was in it or what part I was supposed to play.
Although Dylan has been in two or three movies, including the acclaimed documentary Don't Look Back, the one that applies immediately here is the major motion picture and western Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. In this 1973 Sam Peckinpah film, for which Dylan also wrote the soundtrack, Dylan plays a bit part as a knife-wielding, taciturn mercenary named Alias. James Coburn stars as sheriff Garrett and Dylan's fellow songwriter Kris Kristofferson plays Billy the Kid. I think the film tries to demonstrate how changing times can change the hearts of men, unless they remain committed to their own beliefs. Like all of Peckinpah's westerns, it's a thought-provoking look at the human condition disguised as a cowboy story.
Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune.
Corpus Christi is a city (pop. 278,000) in south Texas, located on the Gulf coast just north of Padre Island.
As far as I am aware, there is not and never has been a newspaper in Corpus called the Tribune. There has been a paper in the town called the Corpus Christi Caller since the late 1800s; it is now the Caller-Times.
...You always said there was something about me you liked that I left in the French Quarter.
The most famous French Quarter (or neighborhood, from the French word quartier) is in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, since this song has its focus in Texas, I suppose one could place this particular French Quarter in Houston, which has a neighborhood of that name.
She was the Rose of Sharon from "Paradise Lost"...
Rose-of-Sharon is a name for at least two different kinds of plants: a variant of hibiscus tree and a St.-John's-Wort, also called Aaron's beard. Sharon is also the name of a plain in Israel, presumably where this plant grows. The plant is also mentioned in the Biblical book of The Song Of Solomon. "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys" (2:1).
"Paradise Lost" is an epic poem by the blind English poet John Milton (1608-74). Milton dictated the poem from around 1640 to 1660. Using Genesis as his starting point, Milton tells in great detail how Satan and Beelzebub were cast from Heaven by God for disobedience, and how Satan decides to tempt Adam and Eve into sinning and thus losing their earthly paradise, Eden. Milton's ultimate object in the poem is most likely to explain how evil can exist in the world and not be God's doing. As far as I know, "the Rose of Sharon" does not occur in "Paradise Lost," nor even the word "Sharon."
Rose of Sharon is also the name of a character in John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes Of Wrath. This book is the story of Oklahoman sharecroppers who flee the Dust Bowl for work in California. Rose of Sharon is the sister of the novel's main character, Tom Joad. Shy and secretive, she is pregnant, but loses the baby. In the final scene, trapped in a barn during a torrential downpour, she feeds a starving man with her breast's milk: "Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. 'You got to,' she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. 'There!' she said. 'There.' Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" (chapter 30). Deliberate evocations of the Virgin Mary seem clear in this scene. Rose of Sharon is thus said to represent the hope for humanity in even the direst circumstances, and the love that binds all people together, related or not. Milton's "Paradise Lost" was an influence on Steinbeck, and some of its themes (of exile, wrongdoing, and the loss of place) are similar to the novel's. [Thanks to John M.]
...From the city of seven hills near the place of the cross.
The city of seven hills is a nickname for Rome, the capital of Italy. It is so called because it is situated, more or less, on seven hills. The city was said to be founded on Palatine hill. The other hills are Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline (the seat of government), Esquiline, Quirinal, and Viminal.
It is possible that Dylan was also thinking of the Biblical book of Revelations. The vision of the Mother of Harlots astride a great seven-headed beast is explained in chapter 17. The beast's ten horns represent ten kings, while "the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman [commonly called nowadays the whore of Babylon] sitteth." So the city on the seven hills, or mountains, is also a city of corruption, possibly the seat of the anti-Christ.
The place of the cross is, of course, where Jesus was crucified. It is known in Hebrew as Golgotha, translated sometimes as "the place of the skull" (John 19:17, Mark 15:22). There is some dispute as to the exact location of Golgotha; it is, however, somewhere just on the outskirts of Old Jerusalem in what is now Israel.
I was playing a show in Miami in the theater of divine comedy.
For the benefit of non-American readers, we can note here that Miami is the second-largest city in Florida. It was founded in 1870 by Spanish settlers. As far as I know, there isn't a literal "theater of divine comedy" in the city, but I could be wrong.
"The Divine Comedy" is a 14,000-line poem written by Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), a Florentine writer. Broken into three books, "Inferno," "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso" (and subdivided into cantos), it concerns a trip made, supposedly by the author, to the three corresponding worlds of the afterlife. He is led by the Roman poet Virgil to Hell and Purgatory, where he sees the suffering of sinners. Finally, he goes to Paradise, where he is guided by his love Beatrice. (She was his love, but not his wife, a theme possibly visited by Dylan in a song or two.) "The Divine Comedy" was written around the last two decades of Dante's life.
And them Caribbean winds still blow from Nassau to Mexico...
The Nassau referred to here is the capital of The Bahamas, a nation made up of a chain of islands southeast of Florida. It's about 650 miles from Nassau to the easternmost tip of Mexico (Cancun), much more across the Gulf of Mexico.
Atlantic City by the cold grey sea...
Atlantic City is a resort town on Absecon Island, New Jersey. It is known primarily for its thriving casino industry and its oceanfront boardwalks.
This song is based on a real baseball player, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. He won the Cy Young Award in 1974.
Changing of the Guards
Merchants and thieves hungry for power; my last deal gone down.
"Last Fair Deal Gone Down" is a song by hugely influential blues guitarist and songwriter Robert Johnson (1911-38).
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo.
In mythology, Jupiter is the chief of the Roman gods, modeled after his antecedent, the Greek god Zeus. Jupiter ruled the skies, enforced laws, and wielded thunderbolts as weapons. Apollo (the Greek and Roman names are the same) is his son, the handsome god of archery and music, among other things. It was Apollo who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day.
Apollo, as the Sun, and Jupiter also have astrological conotations. I have very little knowledge of astrology, but here's a rough sketch. The Sun represents self-expression, joy and confidence, one's inate (not learned) life force. Jupiter could be said to stand as the obverse of these qualities: it represents moral and ethical knowledge, as well as luck and power, with a sense of entitelement to glory and righteousness. Thus, one could be torn between the ideals of a joyous, fully-realized life on one hand and the calling of luck, adventure and ever more achievement on the other.
...but Eden is burning...
As recounted in the book of Genesis, Eden is the paradise created by God for the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. It was a garden located in the east at the headwaters of four rivers (2:8-14). However, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, and placed as a guard at the entrance Cherubim with flaming swords (Genesis 3:24).
Covenant woman got a contract with the Lord. Way up yonder, great will be her reward.
From Luke 6:23. "Rejoice ye in that day [when others hate and oppress you], and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven."
Covenant woman, shining like a morning star. I know I can trust you to stay where you are.
The "morning star" phrase is from Revelations 22:16. Jesus is speaking to the prophet when he says, "I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." Perhaps the line about "stay[ing] where you are" is inspired by the previous Gospel image, of Jesus as the "root."
I've been broken, shattered like an empty cup. I'm just waiting on the Lord to rebuild and fill me up.
This is inspired by Jeremiah 51:34. The Lord is speaking on behalf of the injuries done to Israel: "Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out." The Lord then goes on to promise vengeance against those who have given His chosen people such shoddy treatment.
You know we are strangers in a land we're passing through.
In Genesis 15:13, God says to Abram, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them."
[Many thanks to the hard-working Dan M. for pointing out nearly all of this song's Biblical references!]
(A lot of names dropped in this song, often apparently with the most oblique of intentions. Oh well, no one ever said Dylan's lyrics weren't enigmatic. In fact, the opposite.)
They're selling postcards of the hanging...
In Duluth, Minnesota, June 14, 1920, a young white couple claimed to have been assaulted, and the girl raped, at gunpoint by six black circus workers. The accusation spread quickly, and black men were rounded up and jailed. Sometimes into the evening, three of those men (Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie) were removed forcibly from custody by a mob (though their white jailers did nothing to stop the crowd) and lynched from a nearby lamp-post. According to the paper The Duluth Ripsaw, postcards of this crime were later made from a scene photo (which does certainly exist) and distributed, to "celebrate" it (amongst Duluth's more virulently morbid racists, one assumes). Certainly Dylan, a Minnesota native, would have known of this, one of his home state's darker days. [Thanks very much to Daniel L!]
Cinderella, she seems so easy; "Well it takes one to know one," she smiles...
Cinderella is a character in an old fairy tale. She is the over-worked girl harassed by her ugly step-sisters and step-mother, and forced to sleep in the fireplace (thus her name). She was actually kind of virtuous, and that's why her fairy godmother helped her wed a Prince.
However, said prince's wooing of the virtuous Cinderella was virtually non-existent. A few dances and a momentary interaction one would have in a store with a shoe salesman was all it took for wedding plans to be made. In this sense, she could definitely be seen as rather "easy." [Thanks much to the perspicacious Dan K., who pointed this out to me and from whom I took his amusing wording verbatim.]
...and puts her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style.
Bette Davis (1908-89) was a stage and film actress known for her intense, sometimes diabolical portrayals of flamboyant characters. A good example is her work in All About Eve.
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning, "You belong to me I believe."
Romeo Montague, in Shakespeare's play "Romeo And Juliet," is the inescapable reference here. Since he was smitten with his forbidden love Juliet, this sounds like something he'd say. Except, you know, in more flowery speech than that.
All except for Cain and Abel and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, everyone is making love or else expecting rain.
Cain and Abel were the original sons of Adam and Eve, the first humans in the Bible. As recounted in Genesis 4, Cain slew his brother Abel because God preferred the latter's offering of meat. Cain had brought crops.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) is the name of an 1831 novel by French author Victor Hugo (1802-85). The titular character, Quasimododo, is cut off from humanity because of his grotesque appearance and lives hidden in the bell tower of Notre Dame cathedral. He falls in love from afar with a young gypsy girl, Esmerelda.
So, one gloss on the above lines would be that except for the brothers who symbolize violence, and the poor reject cut off from society, everyone is making love or else going about their business, discussing mundane matters such as the weather.
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing...
The Samaritans were a Semitic people who lived in proximity to the Israelites, Levites, Philistines, and so forth. The Samaritans were not particularly friendly with the Israelites and vice versa. But in Luke 10:33-37, Jesus explains what "love one's neighbor" means with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Though they are from different tribes, the Samaritan helps an unknown Israelite who has been left half dead by thieves, cleaning his wounds and giving him money with no thought of repayment.
Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window, for her I feel so afraid. On her twenty-second birthday she already is an old maid. To her, death is quite romantic...
This is a fairish description of Shakespeare's Ophelia. In "Hamlet," the young lady Ophelia loses her paramour Hamlet (thus becoming an "old maid" at a young age) when he either goes mad with grief or pretends to go mad. This causes her to go mad in earnest, and she drowns herself ("death is quite romantic").
...her sin is her lifelessness.
Continuing with the Shakespeare Ophelia reference: after Ophelia drowns herself, there is discussion whether she should be allowed full funeral rites. Since suicide was (and still is) considered a sin, this line is to be taken quite literally. In Act V, scene I of "Hamlet," a discussion takes place between two clowns, or fools, as to this point, and later another between Laertes her brother and the priest overseeing her burial. [Thanks to Ben B.]
And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah's great rainbow...
In Genesis, God floods the earth, saving only Noah, his family, and two of every animal. After the flood has abated and Noah and the animals are on dry land, God speaks to him. "And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth." Genesis 9:11-13.
Einstein disguised as Robin Hood...
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), most famous for his Theory of Relativity, was a German-born scientist who made a huge impact on modern physics. In 1921 he received the Nobel Prize for physics for his work on photoelectric effect. In 1935 he became a permanent US resident, having developed a distaste for the Nazi regime in Germany.
Robin Hood (13th century), on the other hand, is an English folk hero who, along with his fellow outlaws Little John, Friar Tuck, and the other Merry men, robbed from the rich landlords of medieval England, particularly his nemesis, The Sherrif of Nottingham. Hood rebelled against the tyranny of the ruler, Prince John, who acted as king in Richard I the Lion-Heart's stead. Hood was an outlaw, but he "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor." He's the root and inspiration for every single "good outlaw" tale since (Jesse James, John Wesley Harding, Pretty Boy Floyd, Joey Gallo, Lenny Bruce).
Although I can't explain what "Einstein disguised as Robin Hood" might mean, I have to say I've known a couple of very smart people who tried to pretend they were hippies or anarchists, and went on to become corporate yuppie types. Just a thought.
A more concrete thought, however, is that this line is a reference to Einstein's humanitarian efforts. He strongly decried the rise of the Nazis in Germany, extolled the ethics of Judaism, and as a vehement pacifist was a firm believer in banning the development of atomic weapons. So Einstein was like Robin Hood in that they shared strong moral codes. [Thanks again to Dan K.]
Now you would not think to look at him but he was famous long ago for playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.
Like many who are proficient at mathematics, Einstein was an accomplished musician as well. He played the violin. The phrase "electric violin" (juxtaposing the classical and quintessentially delicate instrument with a modern style, could very well be a reference to the fundamental shift in classical physics which Einstein thoroughly "modernized" with his relativistic reinterpretation. [Thanks a third time to the clever Dan K.]
Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are fighting in the captain's tower...
Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was an American poet most famous for his Cantos. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) was an American-born poet too. Pound was his mentor. As to "fighting," there are to ways to look at it. Either the poets are fighting amonst themselves or fighting others. Let's look at the latter case. Ezra Pound moved from his native Britain and settled in Italy in 1924. He was a fan of Mussolini and a proponent of fascism. During WWII, he made a series of radio addresses from Rome that were vehemently anti-Semitic, even to the point of approving of pogroms (persecutions or even massacres) of Jews. Some of Pound's Cantos were delayed publication because of their anti-Semitic content. Eliot was not as openly fascist in his leanings, but some of his poems and writings (most notably the poem "Burbank With a Baedeker: Bleistein With a Cigar") have been accused of containing anti-Semetic slurs. (Eliot's apologists offer the alternative theory that the poet is merely parodying such slurs in his work.) In any case, all this points to an interpretation of "fighting" as propagating violent and fascistic views on the rest of the world. [Many thanks to Megan E.!]
In the former case, the poets are "fighting," that is, arguing or disputing, about poetry or other academic subjects (both poets are known for their incredibly highbrow, erudite, oblique references). In this case, the "captain's tower" is a kind of figurative ivory tower, far removed from the working world of, say, calypso singers and fishermen. [Thanks to John M.]
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow...
Coming hot on the heels of the Eliot line, this reference to mermaids evokes a line from one of Eliot's most anthologized (and one of my favorite) poems, "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock." The titular narrator feels like an awkward outsider in social gatherings, and compares the beautiful women around him to mermaids, tempting figures of fantasy he could never touch: "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me." [Thanks again to John M., who makes many additions to this work.]
Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight
You know, it ain't even safe no more in the palace of the Pope.
This song, on the album Infidels, was released in 1983. It is probable, then, that Dylan had in mind an actual contemporary event: On May 13, 1981, the current Pope, John Paul II, was shot and badly wounded by a Turkish gunman named Mehmet Ali Agca, as he entered St Peter's Square. While this is not technically the "palace of the pope" (the Square serves as the forecourt to St. Peter's Basilica), it's as close to his doorstep as most people could ever hope to get.
You were so fine Clark Gable would have fell at your feet and laid his life on the line.
Clark Gable (1901-1960), star of such movies as It Happened One Night and Gone With the Wind, was a prototype for the handsome, virile man of his day. Nothing effete about Clark Gable, baby.
Floater (Too Much To Ask)
My old man, he's like some feudal lord...
This line is apparently lifted from the book Confessions Of a Yakuza, an oral history of Japanese gangsters by Dr. Junichi Saga, published in Japan in the late 1980s. In the English edition, translated by John Bester, is the line "My old man would sit there like a feudal lord."
Romeo, he said to Juliet, "You got a poor complexion. It doesn't give your appearance a very youthful touch!"
These two are Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, the two "star-crossed" (i.e., ill-fated) lovers of William Shakespeare's play "Romeo And Juliet" (written around 1590). They are the young son and daughter, respectively, of two feuding families, who fall in love despite their families' differences. Here, they are reduced to a bickering couple and given modern speech patterns, with humorous result.
I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound.
Again, from John Bester's translation of Dr. Saga's book, a gangster says, "I'm not as cool or as forgiving as I might have sounded."
Foot Of Pride
They sang "Danny Boy" at his funeral and the Lord's Prayer.
"Danny Boy" is an Irish song, based on an old melody originally known as "The Londonderry Air," whose author is unknown. A man named Fred Weatherly wrote the words, called "Danny Boy," in 1910, and made them to fit the tune. The song is told from the point of view of a young lass, telling her lover that while he goes away (to war? — "Danny boy, the pipes are calling"), she will wait for him. If she's dead when he gets back, she says, "as dead I may well be," he should kneel on her grave and say a prayer. Only then will the young lady rest in piece.
The Lord's Prayer is a daily prayer recommended by Jesus in Matthew 6, 7-13. It goes as follows: "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those, who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen." Jesus goes on to instruct us that prayer should be a private activity, without the "vain repetitions" of the heathens.
It's like the earth just opened and swallowed him up.
Compare the events in Numbers 16, in which an Israelite named Korah and his followers are swallowed up by the Earth for questioning Moses' authority during the exodus from Egypt. "And it came to pass... that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation" (31-33). In addition, 250 men who lit incense to show their solidarity with Korah's rebellion were burned with "a fire from the Lord" (35). Harsh!
And you'll fall by the sword love affair with Erroll Flynn.
I'm not sure if the line above is actually what Dylan says, or what it means in any case. Is it perhaps "your sordid love affair"? Or is "fall by [on?] your sword" a lengthy adjectival phrase describing the affair, meaning perhaps loyal?? Whatever; Dylan does definitely cite Erroll Flynn, however. Flynn (1909-1959) was an Australian-born actor most famous for his swashbuckling roles (most famously in films such as The Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Seahawk, and Captain Blood). He was also widely known as a womanizer; indeed in 1942 he was charged with statutory rape (but later acquitted). He was so much of a ladies' man, in fact, that the phrase "in like Flynn" can be traced back to his exploits. To give you another idea of how Flynn's personal life was viewed, his autobiography was titled My Wicked, Wicked Ways.
There's a retired businessman named Red, cast down from heaven and he's out of his head.
This refers to the war in heaven between Satan and God's angels described in Revelations. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels. And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (12:7-9). From this we infer the armies of guardian angels and demons of the Christian mythos.
In the New Testamant, Jesus states to his followers, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). The chronology is obscure; does Jesus simply mean He is envisioning a moral victory for the church, or is He telling his disciples that he was with God when Satan was literally ejected from heaven? See this interesting article for some Christian speculation.
Miss Delilah is his, a Philistine is what she is.
Delilah was the mistress of Samson as outlined in the book of Judges. It was she who beguiled Samson into revealing the secret for his strength, then betrayed him to the Phillistines. And who were they? Glad you asked. The Philistines were a tribe of Palestine that may have originated in Crete. They warred with the kings of Israel until David defeated them, and they lived under Solomon's rule. See, for example, the book of I Samuel. Nowadays, the term "Philistine" connotes an uncultured boor.
They sing "Amazing Grace" all the way to the Swiss banks.
"Amazing Grace" is a song written by John Newton (words based on a traditional tune) in 1748. Newton was a slave ship captain who repented after a violent storm at sea and eventually became a preacher. The song is, of course, a paean to God's grace and a claim of repentance for sin ("How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me... 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear").
And the banks are "Swiss" (based in Switzerland) because traditionally, Swiss banks have maintained a much higher standard of confidentiality in dealing with their clients. Swiss bank account are, therefore, notoriously difficult to trace back to a specific person. (However, in recent years, under pressure from international groups concerned with tracking down the accounts of criminals and Nazis, Switzerland has relaxed its confidentiality standards a bit.)
They got some beautiful people out there, man. They can be a terror to your mind and show you how to hold your tongue. They got mystery written all over their foreheads.
This is a reference to Revelation 17:5. In describing the image of the Whore of babylon (the queen of Harlots, riding a symbolic seven-headed beast), John tells us that "And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
From now on, this'll be where you're from. Let the dead bury the dead; your time will come.
From Matthew 8:21-22. Jesus is instructing his disciples to leave their previous lives and follow Him. "And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." Jesus is saying that no worldly link or rite, even the burial of one's parent, is more important than one's relationship with God. (The same episode is also in Luke.)
From a Buick 6
She walks like Bo Diddley...
Bo Diddley, guitarist, singer and songwriter, helped invent rock and roll in the late '50s, influencing Buddly Holly, the Rolling Stones, and others with his rock licks and flamboyant personality. He was known for a hip-swiveling dance on stage.
Gates Of Eden
As mentioned above, Eden is the paradise on Earth where the first humans, Adam and Eve, lived, as recounted in Genesis. After God drove Adam and Eve from Eden, he "he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24).
With a time-rusted compass blade Aladdin and his lamp...
Aladdin is the lad who found a magic lamp containing a genie, who granted Aladdin three wishes for freeing him from the lamp. This is a story from the set of Arabian tales 1001 Nights.
...sits with Utopian hermit monks side saddle on the Golden Calf.
Utopia is an imaginary land where everything is as perfect as it can be (like a Clinton-era America without the sex scandals). The word was coined by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name.
The Golden Calf is the molten image which the rather fickle Israelites made after Moses went up to the mountain to talk to God. When Moses didn't come back fast enough, the refugees decided, for some reason, to worship a golden image (despite all the miracles they'd seen). See Exodus 32.
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
Jesus said, "Be ready, for you know not the hour in which I come."
From Matthew 25:13. "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."
He [Jesus] said, "He who is not for Me is against Me," just so you know where He's coming from.
From Matthew 12:30. "He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad."
Hard Times In New York Town
Mister Hudson come a-sailin' down the stream and old Mister Minuit paid for his dream.
Henry Hudson (1570s-1611) was a British explorer. He wanted to find new sea routes to Asia, and so tried to sail through North America. In 1609 he travelled up the river in New York that now bears his name. In 1610 he made another voyage to North America and discovered the strait and bay that also bear his name. He was killed, presumably, by his own crew in a mutiny.
Although the official lyrics book spells this "Mister Minuet," I hardly think that Dylan is referring to a personified dance. Rather, the surprisingly erudite singer is referring to Peter Minuit (1580-1683), the Dutch colonial administator who purchased the island of Manhattan (for $24 worth of beads and trinkets, says the legend).
For what it's worth, Dylan mistakenly spoonerizes this name on the record. Listen closely and you will hear him say, "Old Minner Mistuit." (Dylan famously eschews fixing this kind of vocal error.)
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Charley Patton (1891-1934) is considered one of the earliest American blues singers. Born in Mississpippi, he escaped from plantation work by playing guitar and singing. Some blues scholars argue that Patton created the sound of Delta blues as we know it today. Some of his better known songs are "Pony Blues," "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues," "(Down the) Dirt Road Blues," and perhaps most famously, "High Water (Everywhere)." This last song tells of the devastation caused by a flood of the Mississippi River: "Lord the whole round country, Lord, creek water is overflowed... Back water at Blytheville, backed up all around / It was fifty families and children. Tough luck, they can drown."
Big Joe Turner lookin' east and west from the dark room of his mind.
Big Joe Turner (1911-1985) was a rambunctious rhythm and blues singer. He helped pioneer the "shouting" technique in the more upbeat boogie-woogie or rock and roll songs. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Some of his hits include "Chains of Love," "Sweet Sixteen," "Boogie Woogie Country Girl," "Honey, Hush," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "The Midnight Special," and "Flip, Flop and Fly."
Kansas City, Twelfth Street and Vine.
This line is taken from the song "Kansas City," by the enormously successful songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The song has been performed by Bill Halley, Dion, the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, James Brown, Fats Domino and many others. "I'm going to be standing on the corner, Twelfth Street and Vine / With my Kansas City baby and a bottle of Kansas City wine."
Bertha Mason shook it, broke it, then she hung it on a wall.
Bertha Mason is a character in the 1847 novel Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. She is the first wife of Mr. Rochester. A white Creole woman, she has descended into madness and at the time of the novel's events is hidden away in an asylum.
Does this prove that, contrary to the peevish waitress in "Highlands," Dylan does read women authors? :)
Water pourin' into Vicksburg, don't know what I'm going to do.
Vicksburg, Mississippi is the reference here, a small city with a majority black population.
Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew, "You can't open your mind, boys, to every conceivable point of view."
There are a few somewhat famous men of the name "George Lewis." Possibly the one in mind here is the jazz clarinetist (1900-1969, born George Zeno, which is a much cooler name, frankly). His most famous song is "Burgundy Street Blues," named after a street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Dunno why he would say such a thing.
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five.
Charles Darwin (1802-1882) was a British naturalist who is most famous for his 1859 book The Origin Of Species. This work, conceived after a sea voyage to the Galapagos Islands, outlines his theory of natural selection. This theory, often called "evolution" but actually just a part of that system, argues that species retain non-deterministic traits through reproduction by species members who have those traits. Darwin argued that individuals who have beneficial traits reproduce more often than those that did not, and thus species as a whole would adapt over time to inherit those desirable traits. Species succeed when they can propagate desirable traits in this manner: in short, life is "survival of the fittest" (though Darwin did not originate this phrase, and it should be noted that this phrase has today been corrupted to mean simple, unrestrained competition rather than natural selection).
The theory of evolution, while nearly universally accepted by reputable scientists, has been rejected by fundamentalist Christians who prefer Genesis' account of creation. The attacks continue to the present day especially in the southern states of the U.S. This may explain the later lines of this song (which is mostly set in the South) in which a judge demands Darwin "dead or alive."
I don't know what Highway Five is. Interstate number five, commonly called I-5, runs north-south along the west coast from Washignton to California. That doesn't seem to fit the context of the song. Perhaps there's a smaller highway five in the south?
The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies.
This is a line from a very old folk song that has many variations. It probably originated in the British Isles. One tune sometimes called "Bunclody" goes, "The cuckoo she`s a pretty bird, she sings as she flies / She brings us good tidings, and tells us no lies." Often the song is called "The Cuckoo Is a Pretty Bird" or just "The Cuckoo," and the line varies from "she sings" to "she whistles" to "she warbles." Often the cuckoo is contrasted with another bird that can sing better.
It's possible that the song is derived from a poem called "The Cuckoo" by the English poet John Clare (1793-1864). "It heard me rustle and above leaves / Soon did its flight pursue / Still waking summer's melodies / And singing as it flew."
I'm getting' up in the morning, I believe I'll dust my broom.
This, of course, is from the Robert Johnson song titled "Dust My Broom." Johnson (1911-1938) was an enormously influential blues guitarist and singer, whose very sparse output has thrilled blues, jazz and rock musicians to this day. Little is known about his life, other than that he grew up in Mississippi migrant labor camps and was not very successful during his lifetime. After his death, his reputation exploded, and many myths were propagated about him, the most popular being that Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in order to be the best bluesman ever. Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cowboy Junkies, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead have been among the many who have covered his songs.
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything is looking blue.
In keeping with the Mississippi theme, I'm going to cite Clarksdale, Mississippi (although there's one in Missouri as well). Clarksdale, MI, population 21,000, is widely thought of as the crucible of the Delta Blues and is home to the Delta Blues Museum. Some blues aficianados claim that the intersection of US 49 and US 61 in Clarksdale is where Johnson sold his soul to the devil. (This is disputed, of course, as the details of all legends will be.)
[Danke sehr to Manfred L for a great many of these references and leads.]
Though "highlands" can refer to any elevated geographical region, it's clear that Dylan is thinking of the Scottish Highlands, a mountainous region in Scotland. This sparsely populated area differs from the lowlands in culture and tradition, and is generally regarded as home to a more independent, Gaelic-oriented people.
Bluebells blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow.
The Scottish bluebell, a small flower that blooms in summer and fall and grows on grassy heaths, is interestingly known as the harebell outside of Scotland.
Aberdeen, an oil-rich harbor city that dates at least to the 12th century, is the capital of Aberdeenshire County, located in the Scottish Highlands. The city is situated on the east cost of Scotland, on the North Sea. The rivers Don and Dee flow into the sea north and south of the city, respectively.
I'm listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound.
Neil Young (born 1945) is a singer-songwriter from Ontario, Canada. Some of his better-known and most critically-admired albums include Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), After the Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Freedom (1989), and Harvest Moon (1992). He has worked with the bands Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Crazy Horse. I'm assuming Bob needs to turn up the sound because the music moves him, not because he's going deaf. It might be interesting to note that Neil Young and his partner Niko Bolas produce Young's albums under the moniker "The Volume Dealers." Turn it up!
I'm in Boston town, in some restaurant.
Boston, Massachusetts (founded 1630), another capital harbor city. But Boston is noted for its Irish-American, not Scottish, population.
Highway 61 Revisited
God said to Abraham, "Kill Me a son." Abe said, "Man, you must be putting me on!"
In Genesis 22, God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac on an altar to God. Abraham obeys and is about to slay Isaac when God sends an angel to deliver them.
For what it's worth, Abraham was also the name of Dylan's own father.
Well Georgia Sam, he had a bloody nose.
The name "Georgia Sam" may be a reference to Dylan favorite Blind Willie McTell. Born in Thomson, Georgia, in 1901, this blues legend recorded (for various labels) under the names "Georgia Bill," "Blind Sammie," even the bizarre "Red Hot Willie Glaze." I have not found any source that said that McTell recorded under the name "Georgia Sam" exactly, though it's possible, of course. Even if he didn't, the combination of two known McTell sobriquets makes the allusion likely.
Honest With Me
I'm not sorry for nothin' I've done. I'm glad I fought, I only wish we'd won.
These lines explicitly echo lines from a protest song that originated sometime after the American Civil War. Written from the point of view of an unrepentant Southern soldier, "Oh I'm a Good Old Rebel" (sometimes "I'm a Rebel" or just "The Rebel") decries the north, the Union, Reconstruction and everything the American flag stands for. I'll quote the opening verse in its entirety: "Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am / For this 'Fair Land of Freedom' I do not give a damn / I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won / And I don't want no pardon for anything I done."
Hoyt Axton did a fine version on a compilation album called Songs Of the Civil War. One version of the lyrics can be seen here.
This song, about the murder trial of a black boxer (Rubin "Hurricane" Carter) whom Dylan believed to be innocent, is based on fact. Patty Valentine and others named in the song, for example, are real persons. To sift the fact from the fiction in greater detail, however, is worth a book in itself and beyond the scope of what I attempt here. Dylan arranged a concert to benefit Carter, in which he, Roger McGuinn, and others performed.
"We want to pin this triple murder on him [Carter]; he ain't no Gentleman Jim."
This very clever line refers to "Gentleman" Jim Corbett (1866-1933), a white boxer and the first to win the heavyweight championship of the world under the Marquess de Queensbury rules. The line therefore has a double meaning: using "Gentleman Jim" in the broad sense it has come to mean — any refined individual — thus implying Carter's violent tendencies; and also using it to refer specifically to Corbett the historical figure, a white boxer, and contrasting him with Carter, stressing the fact that Carter was black and emphasizing the racism of his prosecutors.
...while Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell...
Buddha (about 5th century BC), family name Siddhartha, was an Indian philosopher who founded Buddhism, a religion which recognizes that human life is based on suffering and renounces the wealth and glory of life for an ascetic existence. One would be "like Buddha" in prison because of the sparse conditions and, perhaps, the experience of having been oppressed or martyred by those that revel in wealth and power (such as "the criminals in suits and ties" of the previous line), although the Buddha did not die martyred.
Perhaps Dylan simply means that Rubin is sitting crosslegged. In artistic representation, Buddha is nearly always shown sitting in the position known as the lotus (in which the legs are folded in and at least one foot is placed on the opposite thigh). This is a position felt by Buddhists to increase a state of peaceful, relaxed meditation. This physical resemblance between Buddha and Rubin is, I assume, thus meant to imply that Rubin also sits with inner tranquility, despite the injustice of his external circumstances. [Thanks to Esther for the suggestion.]
I And I
The title is an established Rastafari phrase. It is used among dreads to mean "My (spiritual) brother and I" or "God and I." Apparently, rastas avoid use of the word "you" and often refer to others as "I." I have even seen the word "Iniverse" used, the "I" replacing the "U" (you) in the word.
In another lifetime she must have owned the world, or been faithfully wed to some righteous king who wrote psalms beside moonlit streams.
The Biblical book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and poems. Scholars are unsure as to who wrote the Psalms. Most of them have captions which give their author; most of these cite David, King of Israel. Other authors include Solomon and Asaph. Of course, these captions may be later additions and incorrect. In the New Testament book of Luke (20:42), Jesus gives David as the author of the Psalms.
Took a stranger to teach me to look into justice's beautiful face and to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
This refers to the laws of the ancient Israelietes. Deuteronomy 19:19-21 contains this famous phrase" "Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." It is worth noting that this is the penalty for false witness. Pretty harsh stuff. No wonder Jesus would later refine this law (in Matthew).
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
There were two Saint Augustines. The later one, St. Augustine of Canterbury, died around 604. He is often called "Augustine the Lesser" to differentiate him from the much better-known, earlier Augustine (see below). This Augustine was born in Rome and was sent by the Pope to preach in England. He converted King Aethelberht and Christianity spread there. He is celebrated for consecrating Christ Church in Canterbury and for stating work on the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, both at Canterbury, Kent. Though there is little specific information in these opaque lyrics, it is not likely that Dylan refers to this man.
The far more famous Saint Augustine (354-430) was a Roman philosopher and theologian, known as Augustine of Hippo (an ancient city in what is now Algeria). His most famous book is the Confessions, widely regarded as the first autobiography, as well as an exegisis of Genesis. His religious writings helped form dogmas of the modern day Roman Catholic Church, especially the beliefs in the necessity of baptism, the existence of original sin and apostolic succession (the idea that the authority of Church leaders are forever imbued with the same authority Jesus placed in the first apostles). He also wrote on the problem of free will, declaring that God might be the creator of sin, but not its arbiter; that is, God can rule over evil but be unblemished by it, as it is only humans' own predisposition to evil that makes us choose sin.
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones that put him out to death.
Augustine was not exactly "put out" to death, as one usually thinks of a martyrs' execution. At the age of seventy-five, he caught ill and died during the siege of his city Hippo by a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals. (Augustine of Canterbury's death is unknown, but also assumed to be of natural causes.)
[Thanks once again to John M. for suggestions on this entry.]
I Shall Be Free
I's out there paintin' on the old woodshed when a can a black paint it fell on my head. I went down to scrub and rub, but I had to sit in back of the tub.
This is a reference to the so-called "Jim Crow" laws in America, which were gradually repealed over the 1960s. They targeted and oppressed black Americans in many ways, including segregation. In many states, blacks had to sit at the back on buses and trains, and give up seats to whites on demand.
My telephone rang, it would not stop; it was President Kennedy callin' me up. He said "My friend Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?" I said "My friend John, Bridgitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Anita Eckberg. The country'll grow!"
John Kennedy was President of the USA 1960-63. Bardot, Loren, and Eckberg were all screen stars famed for their beauty. "The country'll grow" might mean 'expand economically,' but it is clearly also a pun referring to the result of males gazing on such beauty, the erection.
I got a woman who works herself blind, works up to her britches, up to her neck, she writes me letters, sends me checks. She's a humdinger, folk singer.
Probably a reference to folk singer Joan Baez, with whom Dylan had a romance at the time of the song's writing.
Oh, I set me down on the televison floor. Flipped the channel to number four. Out of the shower comes a football man with a bottle of oil in his hand. Greasy kid stuff! What I wanna know. mister football man, is what do you do about — Willie Mays? Martin Luther King? Olatunji!
It seems pretty clear to me that Dylan is here contrasting some un-named black sports hero who is doing lame commericals for money with some of the great black Americans of the time. Around 1960, hair product Vitallis came out with the sneering tag line "Stop using that 'greasy kid stuff,'" or the repellent "Are you still using that greasy kid stuff?" This referred to Fitch, a competing brand. Dylan, I think, is here calling the very act of doing an ad "greasy kid stuff," when there is so much more valuable work to be done.
Willie Mays (born 1931), known as "The Say Hey Kid," was a black baseball player considered by many to be one of the finest the game has ever seen. He hit 660 home runs, collected two MVP awards, and accumulated 11 Golden Gloves in his career.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was, of course, the grand-father of the modern American civil rights movement. With his message of peace and non-violence, he helped rally the country against discriminatory laws and practices. He was noted for his persuasive eloquence; his most famous speech was the "I Have a Dream" speech, in which he foresaw a world of racial equality. Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and was assassinated four years later.
Babatunde Olatunji (born 1927), a Nigerian-born American drummer, was extremely popular with the cognoscenti during the '60s. Martin Luther King was a fan, as were John Hammond and John Coltrane. He opened a center for African culture in Harlem that taught students about African music and dance.
I catch dinosaurs, make love to Elizabeth Taylor, catch hell from Richard Burton.
Elizabeth Taylor was widely considered at the time to be the most beautiful woman in the world — perhaps Dylan felt that he had as much chance of making love to her as catching a dinosaur? Richard Burton, the actor, was her husband at the time the song was written.
I Shall Be Free No. 10
I was shadow boxin' early in the day; I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay.
Cassius Clay was the birth name of the heavyweight champion (and 1960 Olympic gold winner) who in 1964 would become Mohummad Ali. "The Greatest," as he was rightly known, was the first heavyweight to win the title three times, battling against such premier contenders of his time as George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and Sonny Liston (Clay predicted and then delivered an 8th-round stoppage against this older, experienced foe).
I Wanna Be Your Lover
Rasputin he's so dignified...
Gregory Rasputin (1872-1916), called "the Mad Monk," was a Russian peasant by birth who went on to become a royal favorite of the Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin (an acquired surname meaning 'the dissolute") seemed to be able to alleviate the suffering of Nicholas' hemophiliac son Alexis. Once he was part of the family, he became more influential, leading some royalists to kill him with poison, bullets, stabbing and drowning.
Well, Phaedra with her looking glass...
In Greek mythology, Phaedra was the wife of Theseus, the great hero who slew the Minotaur. She bore him two sons, and then fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus grown son by another woman. Hippolytus refused her; in some versions of the myth (Euripides' play "Hippolyta"), Phaedra then claimed he had raped her and demanded vengeance of Theseus. Phaedra hangs herself, Theseus thinks Hippolytus is to blame, and prays for the gods to destroy his son. Some lady, eh?
Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped! What's good is bad, what's bad is good --- you'll find out when you reach the top, you're on the bottom.
Though I don't think there's any external literary reference here, it does bring to mind similar lines in Dylan's own "The Times They Are A-Changin'."
Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull, from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
The Grand Coulee Dam spans the Columbia River near Spokane, Washington state. "The Capitol" here certainly refers to the capitol building in Washington D.C., which is located between Maryland and Virginia. Thus the "from...to" indicates the length of the United States.
Also, "The Grand Coulee Dam" is a song by Woody Guthrie; Bob sang it at a tribute concert in '68. This ties in nicely Guthrie's possibly most famous song, "This Land is Your Land," which contains many lines discussing the span of America ("..from the red wood forests, to the gulf stream waters..."). [Thanks to Ben B.]
If You See Her, Say Hello
If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier.
Tangier is a seaport in northern Morocco, on the Strait of Gibraltar.
I'll Remember You
There's some people that you don't forget, even though you've only seen 'em one time or two.
This is a paraphrase from the 1946 film noir The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart as detective Philip Marlowe. In it, a character named Agnes says to Marlowe, "There's some people that you don't forget even if you've only seen them once." (This is one of several lines from Empire Burlesque songs that are cribbed from classic film noirs. See "Seeing the Real You At Last."
In The Garden
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
The "He" throughout this song is Jesus Christ. Ths first line refers to Jesus’ arrest at the garden of Gethsemane, located outside Jerusalem across a brook called Credron. The garden's name means "olive press," and it was situated on the Mount of Olives. In Matthew and Mark it is referred to simply as "a place called Gethsemane" (Matthew 26:36), not a garden. The Gospel of John, however, identifies it (yet without naming it) as a garden that Jesus frequently went to with his disciples: “He went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples" (18:1-2).
As for "did they know," presumably Dylan means to ask rhetorically whether those arresting Him knew he was the Son of God.
Did they hear when He told Peter, "Peter, put up your sword"?
During Jesus' arrest, the disciple Peter attacks a servant of the arresting priest, for which Jesus rebukes Peter. "Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:10-11). This story is also in Matthew, but he does not identify the ear-slicer as Peter (26:52).
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches and preaches to anyone who wishes to hear, both within the city (probably Jerusalem) and out. Mostly he uses parables, stories that serve as allegories for man’s relations with God.
Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn't be seen by men, saying, "Master, tell me why a man must be born again."
This story is from the Gospel of John. "There was a man of the Pharisees [a religious school or sect among the Jews, whose beliefs were in the main antagonistic to Jesus’], named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, 'Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.' Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus saith unto him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God'" (3:1-5). Nicodemus' response, if any, is unrecorded. Since he went to the trouble of visiting Jesus in secret to ask his questions, however, we can be reasonably assured that he had an open mind.
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
There are many instances of Jesus' healing touch throughout the Gospels.
When He said, "Pick up your bed and walk, why must you criticize? Same thing My Father do, I can do likewise."
A streetwise rephrasing of Jesus' words at a healing as depicted in Matthew 9:2-9. "And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth [because Jesus was assuming the power of God in forgiving sins]. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?" Jesus then turns to the sick man, and with those very words, heals him. So the admonition, "Why must you criticize?" is a paraphrase of His words, not to a sick man, but to the scribes who criticized him. (In the Gospels, the word "scribe" connotes not just someone who writes for a living, but a religious scholar of no little authority.) Jesus then shows, with his acts of forgiving and healing (not to mention His knowledge of the scribes’ thoughts), that He has God's power on earth.
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
Perhaps this refers to the people's demand that Jesus be crucified. (See, for example, Matthew 27:20). The fact that this line bookends the following line about the multitude wanting to make Jesus a king, however, makes me wonder.
The multitude wanted to make Him king, put a crown upon His head. Why did He slip away to a quiet place instead?
The refers to an event that occurred after what is known as "the miracle of the loaves and fishes." It is told of only in the Gospel of John. When a great crowd of people came to hear Jesus preach, the disciples wanted to feed them, but had only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus passed the food around, and somehow there was enough for all to eat. After this miracle, the crowd became amazed at Jesus' power. Where the other Gospels then have Jesus take to the sea immediately, John tells a different story. "Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, 'This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.' When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone" (6:14-15).
So why did he do this? Certainly this has to be another rhetorical question, for the answer is clear. Jesus wanted no part of being a king, but knew that He would have to face his fate upon the cross ("drink the cup his Father gave him," in the metaphorical words of John, above).
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead and was not to be found in His tomb, despite the guard that was placed on it (see, for example, Matthew 27 and 28).
He said, "All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth."
From Matthew 28:18. "And Jesus came and spake unto them [his disciples], saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." He says this to erase any doubt in His disciples, to remind them that He would be with them always, and to exhort them to go out and preach in the world.
[Thanks once again to the indefatigable Dan M., who pointed out nearly all of the Scriptural citations in this song (though as usual, I alone am responsible for the interpretation and writing, so blame me).]
Is Your Love In Vain?
The title phrase is probably derived from the song "Love In Vain," recorded in 1937 by blues legend Robert Johnson. A tale of love that was not to be.
I married Isis on the fifth day of May, but I could not hold on to her very long.
The lyrics indicate that the subject of this song is Dylan's then-wife, Sara Lowndes, whom he married in 1965. "I could not hold on to her" would seem to refer to their divorce in 1977. During the Rolling Thunder tour, Dylan would sometimes introduce this song by saying, "This is a true story," or "This is a song about a marriage." Clearly, however, if it is a tale of his own marriage, it is one told in enigmatic allegory.
Isis, in Egyptian mythology, is a sometimes cow-headed goddess of fertility and motherhood, two qualities which the song evokes fairly clearly. She is also a sorceress who learned magic from Thoth, go of wisdom. The most celebrated story about Isis concerns her husband Osiris, whom she brought back from the dead after he had been chopped into pieces and scattered all over Egypt by his power-hungry brother Set(h).
The fifth day of May, Cinco de Mayo, is a Mexican national holiday. It is not the day of independence, as commonly believed, but rather the rememberance of a military victory. In 1862, a cash-strapped Mexico declared a temporary moritorium on repayment of its national debt to the European powers. France, under Napoleon Bonaparte, used this as a pretext to invade the country. A French army attacked with the intention of putting an Austrian archduke, Maximillian, on the throne of Mexico (as a puppet of Napoleon, of course). However, against all expectations, on May 5, 1862, General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French Army in the Battle of Puebla. France would go on to win its aim and did put Maximillian on "the cactus throne" for three years, until American pressure forced them to withdraw. Nevertheless, that battle was commemorated due to Mexico's unexpected victory over superior odds. [Thanks to Kevin G.]
The titular subject of the song is Joey Gallo, an American-born racketeer and gunman who served time for extortion. It is also alleged that he and his brother Larry murdered Albert Anastasia, a gangster, on behalf of a crime boss (though neither one was convicted of that crime).
The song romanticizes Gallo and his lifestyle. This, to be sure, is a time-honored tradition for the folksong dating back centuries, to the first ballads chronicling the brave exploits of masked highwaymen in England. But most would probably agree that a convicted felon, known mobster and suspected killer is an odd choice for Dylan to make as an exercise in hagiography as late as 1976 — was Dylan a friend of Gallo's? The song also plays with chronology; the events recalled are not in strict order as they happened.
Born in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the year of who knows when.
Joey Gallo was born April 6, 1929, in (as the song notes) Brooklyn, which is a borough of New York City. In those days as well as today, Brooklyn had a reputation for being a city of tough, street smart residents.
Red Hook is the name of a neighborhood in southwestern Brooklyn. It was named (for the red clay soil and the shape of the land) by the Dutch who settled there in the 17th century. Today it is a somewhat economically depressed area with a sizeable Italian representation, but it's ethnically mixed.
Larry was the oldest, Joey was next to last. They called Joe "Crazy," the baby they called "Kid Blast."
Joey was the son of Albert Gallo (an illegal immigrant) and Mary Nunziata. He had four siblings, Carmella, Larry, Joey, Albert and Jacqueline (they're named later in the song, along with his mother). As the song says, Joey's was indeed called "Crazy," but it was not the affectionate family nickname that the context implies. Instead, it connoted Gallo's wild and violent impulses. It wasn't just a name, either. When he was 21 and arrested for burlary, Gallo was examined by psychiatrists and it was concluded that he was, in fact, insane. (He was also known as "Joey the Blond" because of his fair hair, an anomaly in Italians.)
Albert, also a gangster, was indeed called "Kid Blast." I am presuming that this in reference to his prediliction for blasting away with a gun.
Some say they lived off gambling and runnin' numbers too. It always seemed they got caught between the mob and the men in blue.
It's not my intention to pass judgement on Dylan's songs — after all, words can have deeper meanings than the mundane things (or even people) that they refer to — and I am not about to excoriate any songwriter for "historical inaccuracy." But it should be noted that there is no question that Gallo made a living, not just gambling and "runnin' numbers," but kidnapping, burglary, extortion and assault.
As for being "caught between the mob and the men in blue," this is true to the extent that the gang that Larry Gallo and Carmine Persico formed in 1960 immediately flared up a gang war with extablished mobs that went on for years. So, connected as he was with Larry, probably Joey did have a hard time keeping out of harm's way.
Joey, Joey, king of the streets, child of clay.
"Child of clay" probably refers to the fact that Gallo was born in Red Hook, which as noted above was named for the red clay soil that the Dutch settlers found in what is now New York.
It could also be a metaphor for a fragile or simple person, since the song is very eager to portray Gallo as a misunderstood lost soul.
When they tried to strangle Larry, Joey almost hit the roof.
The man who tried to kill Larry Gallo on August 20, 1961, was Hugh "Apples" McIntosh, a half-Italian, half-Irish enforcer who worked for Carmine Persico. Yes, this same man once was an ally of Larry's. A mobster turning on his own ally? Imagine that.
Joey and his brothers suffered terrible defeats till they ventured out behind the lines and took five prisoners. They stashed them away in a basement, called them amateurs.
Sometime in the winter of 1961, gangsters loyal to the Gallo faction kidnapped either four or five of men loyal to Joseph Profaci, one of the original Italian-American crime bosses. Eventually, the men were released. I have no idea if the story Dylan proceeds to relate about the proposal to blow them up is factual or not, or whether Joey had a hand in their release. If one is going to look at the song from a factual persepctive, however, the main point to remember is that the Gallos at the very least wanted the war on Profaci, if they didn't start it.
They got him on conspiracy, they were never sure who with. "What time is it?" said the judge to Joey when they met. "Five to ten," said Joey. The judge says, "That's exactly what you get."
Gallo was convicted of extortion in January, 1962. He was released in March of 1971. Many crime historians believe that the gang war would have gone on longer and been much bloodier had "Crazy" Gallo been on the streets.
He did ten years in Attica, reading Nietzsche and Wilhelm Reich.
Attica is a correctional facility in Wyoming County, near the town of Attica, in the state of New York. It was the scene of a famous 1971 prison riot (though that has no bearing on the song — just thought I'd mention it).
Friedrich Neitzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher whose ideas (or at least the popular perception of them) can best be summed up in the phrase, "the will to power." Neitzsche's philosophy is complex, but in general he advocated an affirmation of life, the denial of nihilism, and the breaking down of societal and idealistic norms. He is famous for two specific things: the claim "God is dead" (said by a character in a philosophical novel), meaning the sway of Christian dogmatics had finally been overturned; and the concept of the Ubermensch or Superman, who is a person who has broken down norms to affirm his own will to power. Neitzsche himself, it seems, was no Superman, as he spent the last ten years of his life as a raving lunatic.
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was an Austrian psychologist who is today the subject of wild and vehement debate. As a freethinking socialist, he was expelled from the Marxist party and the International Psychological Association (in 1934). He attacked fascists as sexually-repressed in his writings, and so had to flee Austria when the Nazis came to power. In the US, he was investigated as a subversive for his socialist leanings. Then he came under fire by the FDA for his most controversial theory, that of "orgone." This theory — that "orgone energy," a blue substance that can be put in a box and controls the weather, the color of the sky, gravity, the formation of galaxies, sexual energy, propels UFOs and can cure disease including cancer — is regarded by valid scientific thought as crackpot nonsense. The FDA took umbrage with his untested cancer theory, and when Reich refused to defend himself, he was jailed; he died in prison, and his books were burned.
One day they blew him down in a clam bar in New York...
Gallo was gunned down at Umberto's Clam House, a favored haunt of his. It was April 7, 1972, a day after his 43rd birthday.
Then he staggered out into the streets of Little Italy.
Little Italy is the name of a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan, New York City. Located between Canal Street and Houston Street, it's known for its large and proud population of Italian immigrants (though it has shrunk considerably since Gallo's time).
John Wesley Harding
This song is an example of the "hero outlaw" type, common in folk music: the supposedly "bad" man who lives outside the law, but only because the law is corrupt, and is a friend to the peasant, working man, or migrant worker (depending on the song's chronological and geographical setting). These songs do not attempt to portray figures in an authentic light, but use figures of legends to illustrate points about social justice. In other words, I'm sure that Dylan would not desire or claim any basis to historical fact; that's not the place or purpose of the song.
Be that as it may, it's worth mentioning that there was a historical figure named John Wesley Hardin (note the lack of final "g"). Born May 25, 1853, in Bonham, Texas, Hardin came from a decent background. His father was a preacher, lawyer and schoolteacher. Over the years, though, young Hardin got into more and more trouble, from fistfights, to assault, to possible justifiable homicide, to outright murder. Hardin became a violent and feared murderer who in 1878 was finally convicted for one of his crimes, the killing of Brown County Sherrif Charles Webb. In prison, Hardin studied the law and theology. After serving 17 years at hard labor, he was pardoned by the governor. Amazingly, Hardin went on to pass the bar exam, and set out his shingle as a lawyer in Gonzales. When that practice folded, he set up another office in El Paso and became a successful lawyer there. Wow, America really is the land of second chances, isn't it? Except Hardin was shot dead by a sherrif in 1895, after Hardin threatened him and his family. Make of that what you will.
You were born with a snake in both of your fists...
There is a Snake Goddess statuette of the late-Minoan (up to 1600 BC) period, holding two snakes, one in each hand, over her head. She is a Great Mother figure, sometimes associated with the later Greek goddess Artemis, also called "mistress of the hunt." The reference is almost certainly to this goddess, for the statuette appears in the "Jokerman" video. The snakes were probably regarded as bringers of good luck and household protectors.
Another possible reference is the Greek myth (as in Robert Graves' The Greek Myths, chapter 119) that Hera the mother-goddess, who hated the infant Heracles (god of strength amd Zeus' bastard son), sent to his crib two snakes to devour him, but even as a baby he had the strength to reach out and crush them. Note, however, the dissimilarity between the story and the lyric.
You're going to Sodom and Gomorrah, but what do you care? Ain't nobody there would want to marry your sister.
Sodom and Gomorrah, the Biblical cities that God destroyed (references in Genesis, Jeremiah, and elsewhere), were supposedly bastions of homosexuality, as evidenced by Gen 19:1-11, where the townspeople clamor to "know" the two angels who have come to Sodom in disguise. Since the people from Sodom were all (homosexual) sodomites, one assumes they would not be interested in a female, "your sister".
Well, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers.
Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, is named for the tribe of the Levites, who received a special blessing for devoting their lives to the Lord. It is a book of God's laws and regulations. Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, comes from the Greek for "second law." It purports to be the words of Moses to the Israelites as they prepare to take possession of Canaan. It contains Moses' speeches on the history of the Israelites since the Exodus and the importance of continuing to follow the laws, including the Ten Commandments.
"The law of the jungle" is a phrase from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. I don't know if he originated the phrase (it's also mentioned in Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan books), but his use of the phrase seems to apply here. Kipling wrote: "Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky / And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die. / As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back -- / For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack."
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Tom Thumb is a character from English folklore dating back to at least the seventeenth century (the oral tradition may be older, and it is possible that the story is French in origin). The bare bones of the story, which was originally not intended for children, are as follows. A poor couple (a plowman, or a forester, and his wife) do not have children, and the woman declares that she would give anything to have a child, even if it were no bigger than her husband's thumb. At this point, a magical entity, either a fairy, or in some versions, the wizard Merlin of King Arthur's court) fulfills the woman's wish, and she gives birth to a child, Tom, who is indeed no bigger than a thumb. The story has many variations from that point on, but in all of them Tom has many adventures: wooing women, sporting a pin for a sword, fighting with animals, riding animals (often a mouse), in some stories even killing giants (!). In most of the tales Tom dies from wounds received fighting a cat or a spider. In the children's versions, of course, much of this is bowdlerized. [Thanks to Macca.]
As Dylan was a great reader of the symbolists and modern French poets, the title may be a reference to the poem "Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)" ("My Bohemian Fantasy") by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91). The text in part reads, "My only pair of trousers has a large hole. Tom Thumb, dreamer, I pick rhymes along my course..."
When you're lost in the rain in Juarez...
Juarez is a city in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. It is located directly across from El Paso, Texas, on the south side of the Rio Grande. It was founded in the 17th century and named for a 19th-century president of Mexico.
...and it's Easter time too...
Easter is a Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus three days after his death on Good Friday, marking the end of Lent, a holy period marked by fasting. Easter is what as known as a "moveable feast," meaning that its precise date in any given year is dependent on the lunar calendar. The means for calculating the date of Easter are therefore complex, but basically Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Easter therefore occurs in spring, around March or April (at least in the Catholic and Protestant traditions; in the Orthodox Church, Easter can be celebrated in May).
Don't put on any airs when you're down on Rue Morgue Avenue.
In the song, Rue Morgue Avenue appears to be a street in the city of Juarez, one that is presumably in a poor neighborhood and frequented by prostitutes. I don't know if there is actually a street by this name in Juarez.
The name "Rue Morgue" is inexorably linked to a story by the American writer of the macabre Edgar Allen Poe, "The Murders In the Rue Morgue." In this 1841 story, widely considered one of the first detective stories, a brilliant man solves a series of brutal murders in a Paris neighborhood called The Rue Morgue. I don't see much connection between this story and the reference in the song, however.
Now if you see Saint Annie, please tell her thanks a lot.
There are many Saint Annes from history, but no "Saint Annie;" this clearly refers to a women, possibly a prostitute, whom the narrator is remembering with mixed feelings.
I'm going back to New York City; I do believe I've had enough.
The narrator is quitting Mexico and heading for New York City, New York, the largest city in the United States.
Lay Lady Lay
Lay across my big brass bed.
This line is taken from "Rough Alley Blues," a 1931 blues duet recorded by Dylan favorite Blind Willie McTell (as a duet with Mary Willis). Willis sings the line: "I'll take you to my room and lay [you?] across my big brass bed".
As the song says, Lenny Bruce was a comedian, infamous for his troubles with the law over obscenity. He became a symbol for free speech as he fought for his rights (and, in my opinion, became unfunny in the process).
...never made it to Synanon.
Dylan is referring to Synanon, a discussion group for alcoholics and drug addicts founded by Alcoholics Anonymous member Chuck Dederich in 1958.
Let Me Die In My Footsteps
I will not go down under the ground 'cause somebody tells me that death's comin' 'round.
This song, written in 1963, expresses concerns over the culture of fear that was a by-product of the so-called Cold War. The Cold War was a period of great tension between the U.S. and its allies and the Soviet Union and its own allies and assorted satellite countries. This period lasted from the end of World War II to about 1991, when the U.S.S.R. disbanded. In 1963, the possibility of a devastating nuclear war between the two superpowers permeated American culture. In the 1950s, countries both east and west began to build large numbers of fallout shelters, underground bunkers that were meant to protect citizens in the event of a nuclear attack.
It is that the idea of the fallout shelter that Dylan is most likely referring to as going "down under the ground." The song seems to be advocating, in addition to a general anti-war stance, a philosophy that may be best summed up as, "it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees." In subscribing to a culture of fear and war, we become purveyors of that culture rather than just its victims. (Something to think about in these Ashcroftian times, eh?)
There's been rumors of war and wars that have been.
In Matthew 24:6, Jesus says, "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." The Gospel of Mark, 13:7, cites Jesus saying essentially the same line.
The meaning of life has been lost in the wind.
Perhaps a subtle reference to Bob's hugely popular anthem of social justice, "Blowin' In the Wind"?
Like a Rolling Stone
This song's title comes from the Muddy Waters song "Rolling Stone."
You used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821) was a French military commander who conquered much of Europe and made himself Emperor of France. From 1796 to 1810, his armies conquered Italy, Egypt, Spain, Austria, Prussia and Portugal. With all Europe united against him and his wars against Russia and England faltering, his final defeat came at Waterloo in 1815. He died in exile.
As to why one should be amused by the language the French Emperor used, this is a reference to the fact that as a boy Napoleon was mocked because of his Corsican pronunciation, that being his first language. This is illustrated in the 1927 silent film written and directed by Abel Gance, Napoléon: in one scene his fellow schoolboys laugh at the way he says his name in his native Corsican way. It is said that Napoleon, who could not suffer ridicule or slights, declared at an early age that he would have his "revenge on the French people." Considering the great loss of lives during the Napoleonic Wars, and the loss of national prestige following them, this comment seems rather prescient, despite the fact that France considers Napoleon a hero. [Merci beaucoup à D. Janacek Hendy.]
Lonesome Day Blues
He's not sentimental, it don't bother him at all how many of his pals have been killed.
This line is apparently lifted from the book Confessions Of a Yakuza, an oral history of Japanese gangsters by Dr. Junichi Saga, published in Japan in the late 1980s. In the English edition, translated by John Bester, is the line "There was nothing sentimental about him — it didn't bother him at all that some of his pals had been killed."
I'm gonna spare the defeated, boys, I'm going to speak to the crowd. I'm going to teach peace to the conquered, I'm gonna tame the proud.
This is from the great Roman epic The Aeneid, written by Virgil around 19 BC. In Book VI of the poem, the hero Aeneas is being given by his father Anchises a vision of Rome's glorious future. Anchises concludes with a famous epigraph on the duty of a Roman. The original Latin lines read "...pacique imponere morem, parcere subiectis et deballore superbos." Roughly translated, this means "to forcibly pacify / to impose on the conquered the law of peace, to spare the humbled / conquered, and tame the proud with war."
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
This story and the names mentioned in this song are real. The incident occured as told on February 8, 1963, in Baltimore. William Zantzinger attacked a lot of people that night, including the police who picked him up. He was drunk.
Man Gave Names To All the Animals
The title and basic idea of the song originates from the account of Adam's days in the Garden of Eden from Genesis 2:19-20. "And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field..."
He saw an animal as smooth as glass slithering his way through the grass. He saw him disappear by a tree near a lake...
The animal in question is obviously the snake, or serpent. In Genesis, it is the serpent, being "more subtil" than any other beast, which tempts Adam and Eve into tasting the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge Of Good and Evil. For tempting His creations so, God curses the serpent; this is why it slithers, and people hate it.
Man Of Peace
The band is playing "Dixie"...
"Dixieland," or "Dixie," is a song written by Daniel D. Emmett of Ohio sometime before 1860. It is a nonpolitical song. It does praise the South ("I wish I were in the land of cotton"), but the verses tell a simple tale of unrequited love. Other, more patriotic, words have been added to the tune over the years by Southerners with a mission.
Dylan later performed and released the song on the 2003 soundtrack to his movie Masked And Anonymous.
Could be the Führer, could be the local priest.
"Führer," which means leader or guide in German, is most widely known now as the title that Adolf Hitler used. Hitler, head of state of the Nazi Third Reich of Germany before and up to the end of World War II, masterminded the German war machine and oversaw the Final Solution, which intended to kill all the Jews of Europe.
And he's following a star, the same one them three men followed from the East.
This refers to the account in the gospel of Matthew of the birth of Jesus. Matthew 2:1-2 say "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." There's no indication that there are only three wise men, but they do give three gifts to the infant Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Masters Of War
Like Judas of old, you lie and deceive.
Judas was, of course, one of Christ's disciples in the New Testament. Feeling rebuffed and confused about Christ's message, he betrayed Christ to the Romans with a kiss in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.
Maybe someday you'll find out everybody's somebody's fool.
"Everybody's Somebody's Fool" is a song written by Howie Greenfield & Jack Keller, popularized by the singer Connie Francis. It became her first number one hit in 1960. The chorus goes, "Yes, everybody's somebody's fool / Everybody's somebody's plaything / And there are no exceptions to the rule."
Through hostile cities and unfriendly towns...
This may be taken from a line in T.S. Eliot's 1927 poem "The Journey Of the Magi." Told from the point of view of the Magi coming to see the newborn Christ child, it lists the troubles they encountered on the journey: "And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly / And the villages dirty and charging high prices: / A hard time we had of it." [Thanks again to John M.]
...Thirty pieces of silver, no money down.
Thirty pieces of silver is the price that Judas Iscariot, Jesus' treacherous disciple, was paid by the chief priests for arranging His arrest. (Matthew 26:1-16). Afterwards, Judas was mortified at what he had done, gave the silver back and hanged himself.
Maybe someday you'll remember what you felt when there was blood on the moon in the cotton belt.
There are a doubtlessly more than a couple of songs titled "Blood On the Moon," but the one Dylan would have heard of is the old (not sure how old — Twenties? Thirties?) blues number by the somewhat obscure jazz-blues trumpeter and vocalist Hot Lips Page.
The phrase is also the title of a 1948 Western starring late, great tough guy Robert Mitchum. Given Dylan's recorded admiration for Westerns, it's possible that he got the phrase from the movie; and see the other Mitchum connection below.
In astronomy, the phrase "blood on the moon" is a euphemism for a corona, the whitish or pinkish ring around the moon that may indicate a change in the weather.
Maybe someday you'll hear a voice from on high, sayin' "For whose sake did you live, for whose sake did you die?"
Possibly a reference to Jesus' admonition to his disciples, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:24-25). In other words, we must risk our whole lives, and even death, for Jesus' sake in order to save our souls from the eternal death.
You said you were going to Frisco, stay a couple of months. I always liked San Francisco; I was there for a party once.
San Francisco, California (affectionately abbreviated Frisco) is a city located on the bay of the same name, a bit north of the middle point of California. It was founded as a city in 1822 and given its present name in 1847. Its immediate population is 776,000, but the metropolitan area boasts a population of seven million. It is named after the 13th century saint Francis of Assisi.
In the national consciousness, the city is probably best known for its large homosexual population and its tolerance for alternative lifestyles of all stripes. It is also known for its celebrated transit systems, museums, and community spirit.
The line "I always liked San Francisco; I was there for a party once" is adapted from a 1947 film called Out Of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. In the movie, Douglas hires Mitchum, a detective, to find Greer, his girlfriend, but when Mitchum tracks her down, he stays with her. They live secretly in San Francisco. Years later, Douglas finds Mitchum, now a lowly gas station attendant, and hints that he now knows of their secret, and is prepared tro use the information to force Mitchum into doing what he wants. Douglas asks him: "You know San Francisco, don't you?" Mitchum replies cagily, "Yeah, I was there once at a party." [Thanks much, once again, to the valuable John M.]
Maybe someday you'll see that it's true, there was no greater love than what I had for you.
The phrase "no greater love" calls to mind a proverb from Jesus' teachings to His disciples. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
For whom does the bell toll for, love? It tolls for you and me.
This phrase is originally found in a work of "Devotions" by 17th-century British poet John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... [A]ny man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." The "bell" referred to here is a funeral bell; Donne is saying that death or indeed any misfortune should concern us all.
For Whom the Bell Tolls is the title of a 1940 novel by American writer Ernest Hemingway. This work is set in 1937 and concerns the Spanish Civil War, which Hemingway had observed as a journalist. The title is taken, of course, from Donne.
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
The judge, he holds a grudge. He's gonna call on you. But he's badly built and he walks on stilts, watch out he don't fall on you.
Oddly enough, a play called "The Balcony" (Le Balcon) by French playwright Jean Genet (1910-86) features a character of a Judge, who in fact stands on stilts throughout the performance. The play is about the power of pure essence and its triumph over so-called reality. Or something. Anyway, given Dylan's early interest in Rimbaud and the other French writers, I don't find it much of a stretch to think that this could be his inspiration for this line. Indeed, in his autobiography Chronicles, Volume One, Dylan mentions seeing this play.
...she looked like she stepped out of the "Dolce Vita".
La Dolce Vita (Italian for "The Sweet Life"), is a 1960 movie directed by Frederico Fellini, starring Anita Ekberg.
There stood Rita lookin' just like Tony Perkins. She said "Would you like to take a shower?"...I said "Oh no no, I've been through this movie before"...
A reference to the movie Psycho, starring Tony Perkins, who kills a woman in the shower of his hotel. The title of the song and the plot (such as it is) follow this analogy.
The East African country of Mozambique was ruled by a despotic Portugese government until 1975. The rule of Antonio Salazar, prime minister of Portugal until 1968, was particularly tyrannical. The song was probably written 1974-5 or earlier, so the premise of the song — a fun, romantic holiday in the tropical paradise of Mozambique — is ironic and mocking.