Bob Dylan the best songs: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts




bob dylan - the jack of hearts

The festival was over, the boys were all plannin’ for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’ in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin’ wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin’ in the doorway lookin’ like the Jack of Hearts
~Bob Dylan (Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts)

The uses of a ballad have changed to such a degree. When they were singing years ago, it would be as entertainment . . . A fellow could sit down and sing a song for a half hour, and everybody could listen, and you could form opinions. You’d be waiting to see how it ended, what happened to this person or that person. It would be like going to a movie … Now we have movies, so why does someone want to sit around for a half hour listening to a ballad? Unless the story was of such a nature that you couldn’t find it in a movie.
-Bob Dylan (to John Cohen, June 1968)

This epic ballad appears to have been wholly inspired by Dylan’s experience of making the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid in a genre which suited both ballad and b-movies: The Western.
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)


…and the New York-version:

@#84 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

Blood+on+the+Tracks+Dylan

Wikipedia

Released January 17, 1975
Recorded December 30, 1974 at Sound 80 inMinneapolis, Minnesota
Genre Folk rock
Length 8:51
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Bob Dylan

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts“, is a song by Bob Dylan released on the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, known for its complex plot and long running time. There have been two screenplays written based on the song: one by John Kaye and commissioned by Dylan, and another written by James Byron. Neither screenplay ever became a film.

Hearing the lyrics read to her by Dylan just after they had been written is thought to be the inspiration for the 1975 Joan Baez song, “Diamonds & Rust”— which is based on their own relationship ten years earlier.

Main Characters:

The song has a long list of characters. The inspiration behind several characters in the plot has been long disputed among fans.

  • The main character in the song is “The Jack of Hearts”, who has recently come into town as a leader of a gang of bank robbers. (“The boys finally made it through the wall and cleaned out the bank safe… but they couldn’t go no further without the Jack of Hearts.”)
  • Major women in the song are Lily and Rosemary. The two hold a special relationship, and both are referred to in royal terms (“like a queen without a crown” and “Lily was a princess”).
  • Big Jim is the wealthiest person in town: “he owned the town’s only diamond mine”. He also had relationships with Rosemary and Lily (“Rosemary was… tired of playin’ the role of Big Jim’s wife” and “It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring”)

Known studio recordings:

  • A&R Studios, NYC, September 16, 1974
    Bob Dylan (guitar, vocal)
    Charles Brown III (guitar)
    Barry Kornfeld (guitar)
    Eric Weissberg (guitar)
    Thomas McFaul (keyboards)
    Tony Brown (bass)
    Richard Crooks (drums)

    Produced by Bob Dylan
  • Sound 80, Minneapolis MN, December 30, 1974 (released on “Blood On The Tracks“)
    Bob Dylan (vocal, guitar & harmonica)
    Kevin Odegard (guitar)
    Peter Ostroushko (mandolin)
    Billy Peterson (bass)
    Gregg Inhofer (keyboards)
    Bill Berg (drums)

    Produced by Bob Dylan

Enter the Minnesota miracle. The take of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” that does appear on Blood on the Tracks is a completely different animal [compared to the New York version], lilting, energetic, so much fun it’s irresistible; I find myself thinking about skipping over it because of its length, and then as soon as I hear a few lines I’m drawn in again, following the story, watching the movie, delighting in the subtle ways the music and words and singing interconnect, all the elements of the story and the performance constantly recombining to form new images, new insights, new pleasures for me the listener. The masterstroke seems to have been the speeding up of the tempo, and the replacement of strummed guitar with electric bass and (understated) organ and drums. Dylan’s voice responds to these instruments totally differently from the way it responded to the sound of the guitar. A dynamic is created. The song ends, and I want to hear it again. A great performance.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2: The Middle Years 1974-1986)


Recording sessions:

Live:

  • Dylan has played the song live only once on May 25, 1976 in Salt Lake City.
    This performance is not in circulation.

Album:

Lyrics

The festival was over, the boys were all plannin’ for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’ in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin’ wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin’ in the doorway lookin’ like the Jack of Hearts

He moved across the mirrored room, “Set it up for everyone,” he said
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doin’ before he turned their heads
Then he walked up to a stranger and he asked him with a grin
“Could you kindly tell me, friend, what time the show begins?”
Then he moved into the corner, face down like the Jack of Hearts

Backstage the girls were playin’ five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens, she was hopin’ for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were fillin’ up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowin’, you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy and so fine
With his bodyguards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his bodyguards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town
She slipped in through the side door lookin’ like a queen without a crown
She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear
“Sorry, darlin’, that I’m late,” but he didn’t seem to hear
He was starin’ into space over at the Jack of Hearts

“I know I’ve seen that face before,” Big Jim was thinkin’ to himself
“Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody’s shelf”
But then the crowd began to stamp their feet and the houselights did dim
And in the darkness of the room there was only Jim and him
Starin’ at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Hearts

Lily was a princess, she was fair-skinned and precious as a child
She did whatever she had to do, she had that certain flash every time she smiled
She’d come away from a broken home, had lots of strange affairs
With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere
But she’d never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts

The hangin’ judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drillin’ in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king
No, nothin’ ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts

Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention, tired of playin’ the role of Big Jim’s wife
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide
Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died
She was gazin’ to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts

Lily washed her face, took her dress off and buried it away
“Has your luck run out?” she laughed at him, “Well, I guess you must
have known it would someday
Be careful not to touch the wall, there’s a brand-new coat of paint
I’m glad to see you’re still alive, you’re lookin’ like a saint”
Down the hallway footsteps were comin’ for the Jack of Hearts

The backstage manager was pacing all around by his chair
“There’s something funny going on,” he said, “I can just feel it in the air”
He went to get the hangin’ judge, but the hangin’ judge was drunk
As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts

Lily’s arms were locked around the man that she dearly loved to touch
She forgot all about the man she couldn’t stand who hounded her so much
“I’ve missed you so,” she said to him, and he felt she was sincere
But just beyond the door he felt jealousy and fear
Just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts

No one knew the circumstance but they say that it happened pretty quick
The door to the dressing room burst open and a cold revolver clicked
And Big Jim was standin’ there, ya couldn’t say surprised
Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes
She was with Big Jim but she was leanin’ to the Jack of Hearts

Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall
And cleaned out the bank safe, it’s said that they got off with quite a haul
In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more member who had business back in town
But they couldn’t go no further without the Jack of Hearts

The next day was hangin’ day, the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn’t even blink
The hangin’ judge was sober, he hadn’t had a drink
The only person on the scene missin’ was the Jack of Hearts

The cabaret was empty now, a sign said, “Closed for repair”
Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her father, who she very rarely saw
Thinkin’ ’bout Rosemary and thinkin’ about the law
But most of all she was thinkin’ ’bout the Jack of Hearts

Check out:

Sources

-Egil




3 thoughts on “Bob Dylan the best songs: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”

  1. Maybe my undiscerning ears are to blame, but these versions sound identical. Just a guitar and harmonica, really. both about 10 minutes in length, with same words dropped out and verses swapped. But it’s early and I just got up, so maybe I’d hear this all much differently in two or three hours.

  2. Great song indeed and really improved in second time Dylan recorded it… Always makes me wonder why he needed a second writer for comparable songs on Desire, though there most results are riveting also.

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