Jokerman Lyrics - Bob Dylan

Review The Song (2)

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

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

So swiftly the sun sets in the sky
You rise up and say goodbye to no one
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
Both of their futures, so full of dread, you don't show one
Shedding off one more layer of skin
Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within.

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

You're a man of the mountain, you can walk on the clouds
Manipulator of crowds, you're a dream twister
You're going to Sodom and Gomorrah
But what do you care ? Ain't nobody there would want marry your sister
Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame
You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name.

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

Well, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy
The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers
In the smoke of the twilight on a milk-white steed
Michelangeo indeed could've carved out your features
Resting in the fields, far from the turbulent space
Half asleep near the stars with a small dog licking your face.

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

Well, the rifleman's stalking the sick and the lame
Preacherman seeks the same, who'll get there first is uncertain
Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks
Molotow cocktails and rocks behind every curtain
False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin
Only a matter of time 'til the night comes stepping in.

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

It's a shadowy world, skies are slippery gray
A woman just 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
Oh, Jokerman, you know what he wants
Oh, Jokerman, you don't show any response.

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

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mediation on the duality between good and evil | Reviewer: steve borrow | 10/17/09

It is a mediation on the duality between good and evil. Bob forcefuly implies these works of man on display vain and make fools or Jokermen) of those who fail to grasp the eternal truth that awaits us all at the end of this short material sojourn. See Ecclesiastes 1:2: "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?" From that perspective the complex symbolism becomes easier to grasp

Bob the Jokerman - this one's on us | Reviewer: Steve Borrow | 3/15/08

Jokerman is the outstanding track on the Infidels album, released in 1983, eight years after the celebrated Blood on the Tracks (1975). That great album was followed by Street Legal (1978), Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981), which all disappointed some devoted Dylan fans because of its Christian themes. Bob had evidently found a sympathetic influence in the poetry of French Belgian symbolists, Rimbaud and Verlaine, so named because of their use of complex concepts or “symbols” as poetic devices. This allowed them to convey a wide expanse of complex meaning. Bob Dylan had been developing independently in that direction for many years, as we see from his description of “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” during a 1962 interview with Studs Terkel. Each line of that song, he tells his interviewer, could be a song in itself. So, even that far back Bob’s transcendent vision could no longer be adequately conveyed by simple narrative, folk images. Blood on The Tracks expresses the maturing of that development.

Consequently, Jokerman cannot become comprehensible from a narrative reading. Each symbol, construed separately, might contribute something to an overall appreciation after all of the constituent ekements have been considered (if not necessarily understood). It’s like reading clouds or clustering stars into constellations. Every observer will see something different in the landscape.

It has been suggested that the song (I hesitate to call it a song) is an introspective response by the narrator to his status as a cultural “idol” in the context of his Christian conversion. Perhaps, but who would know? It is possible to discern some auto-biographical elements. The short video recording of Bob performing the song with his eyes shut most of the time, which is accessible on You-Tube, reinforces this interpretation, particularly the first two verses. Then it gets very abstract. It presents an intriguing parade of universal symbols (too many to list here)that leave one still guessing.

In one interview Bob conducted just fater the release of Infidels, Bob identified Afro-Caribbean paganism as an inspiration (Jumbis). Is the Jokerman an Obeah Man, perhaps? Other commentators have suggested that it is a complex treatise on Reaganism, with Ronald Reagan being Jokerman. He does appear at the end of the short video presentation.

Bob Dylan, when in the process of reducing these complex ideas to paper, may not have been entirely sure of what it all meant himself. He may have been overwhelmed by the stream of consciousness flowing through him at the time. Genius operates that way sometimes.

Whatever one takes from it, Jokerman is unquestionably an extraordinary piece of popular songwriting, a hypnotic tour de force that will reward repeated listening.

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------ Performed by Bob Dylan

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------ 11/22/2014

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