Bob Dylan: Jokerman

A while back I made a post: A Poet Is… What Bob Dylan Has to Say and there was some interesting debate about Dylan being a poet. Well a good friend of mine recently turned me on to Bob performing a killer version of Jokerman back in 1984 on the Letterman show, which for mine has to be one of the greatest example of song lyrics working as poetry. If you need any convincing, read this:

It’s a shadowy world, skies are slippery gray
A woman just gave birth to a prince today and dressed him in scarlet
He’ll put the priest in his pocket, put the blade to the heat
Take the motherless children off the street
And place them at the feet of a harlot

(read the full lyrics here)

And I also recently came across this poem published in The New Yorker, which is taken from a book titled Hollywood Foto Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript, which collects previously unpublished poetry by Dylan and photographs by Barry Feinstein.


                                                after crashin the sportscar
                                                into the chandelier
                                                i ran out t the phone booth
                                                made a call t my wife. she wasnt home.
                                                i panicked. i called up my best friend
                                                but the line was busy
                                                then i went t a party but couldnt find a chair
                                                somebody wiped their feet on me
                                                so i decided t leave
                                                i felt awful. my mouth was puckered.
                                                arms were stickin thru my neck
                                                my stomach was stuffed an bloated
                                               dogs licked my face
                                               people stared at me an said
                                               “what’s wrong with you?”
                                               passin two successful friends of mine
                                               i stopped t talk.
                                               they knew i was feelin bad
                                               an gave me some pills
                                               i went home an began writin
                                              a suicide note
                                              it was then that i saw
                                              that crowd comin down
                                              the street
                                              i really have nothing
                                              marlon brando

Is Dylan a poet? Let the debate roll on, but I know what side of the fence I am sitting.



Filed under poetry & publishing, who listens to the radio?

13 responses to “Bob Dylan: Jokerman

  1. Mark William Jackson

    ‘A Poet is…’ was a great post though I don’t think agreement was reached. Dylan’s lyrics read well on the page, as illustrated by the Jokerman lyrics above, I think this is the best indication of poetry in songwriting. Cohen, Nick Cave, Paul Weller all translate well, the Spice Girls not so much ‘I’ll tell ya what I want, what I really, really want, I wanna, really wanna ziggy zig ahh’.?

  2. There is no doubt he is a great poet. Books have been written on the subject ‘Like a complete unknown: the poetry of Bob Dylan’s songs 1961-1969’ John Hinchey. You don’t have to have published a book of poetry to be a poet (I wasn’t going to dignify that comment with a comment – but there you go). He is my inspiration.

  3. jules

    bob dylan is a myth!

  4. I am on your side of the fence too. Only the most pretentious and elitist knobbery would think Dylan was not a poet. Just because the poems can have music put to them, be accompanied by music, doesn’t mean they are not poems. If I sing a T.S. Eliot poem accompanied by a piano, is it suddenly not a poem?

  5. bruce

    ‘infidels’, while not one of his more highly regarded albums, nevertheless catches dylan in the midst of a great passion.

    nuthin like passion fer puttin a li’l lead in yer pencil…

    • gnunn

      Totally agree Bruce! Infidels has long been one of my favourite Dylan albums. Never understood why it was overlooked. Passion is the lead in the pencil! Have a great Christmas/New Year,

  6. I agree with JB.

    Also, cf the Christmas album…

  7. ok, can resist no longer.
    love that song, really like the album (‘don’t fall apart on me tonight’, i and i’, ‘license to kill’ and ‘sweetheart like you’ — all from that album — these are GREAT GREAT songs! and the video to0! ‘jokerman’ is great too…(letterman show is so beautifully different to original — as is dylan’s habit — and damn fine, too.)
    is dylan a ‘poet’? i don’t CARE. categories schMATTergries! a poem is anything that can dance by itself… 🙂 as the man himself wrote back in ’65, “i am called a songwriter. a poem is a naked person…some people say that i am a poet”

    p.s JULES is a myth! :-0

  8. I’ve always found “is ______ a poet” arguments a bit absurd. Just as anybody who splashes paint on a canvas is a painter, anybody who writes in something other than prose is a poet (and, arguably, some who write prose are, as well). The question is whether he’s a good poet. In my view the answer is yes, though I don’t think that has anything to do with how his words work “on the page.” If I were to write “I used to think Gerard Manley Hopkins” was a good poet, but then heard how ridiculous his poems sound when they’re sung to a Bo Diddley beat,” I would of course be told that that’s irrelevant, since they weren’t written to be sung to a Bo Diddley beat. By the same token, Dylan’s lyrics weren’t written to be read “on the page,” the were written to be sung to musical accompaniment.

    That three song Letterman appearance is, I think, one of Dylan’s best live performances, particularly the astounding Sonny Boy Williamson song “Don’t Start Me To Talkin'” that opens it…

  9. Site Admin

    Wondeful post Graham. Have spend considerable time studying the joker, jester, clown themes in Dylan’s work – truly a labour of love – and have posted here if interested….

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