Tweeter and the Monkey Man by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty





Charlie T. and Lucky Wilbury
Charlie T. and Lucky Wilbury

Tweeter and the Monkey Man by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty
– a great story song

The Traveling Wilburys was a “supergroup” consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. The song is supposedly co-written by all 5 members – all of the album’s songs are credited to The Traveling Wilburys. However, it is believed that Bob Dylan was the primary writer of this song, which is one of the very few Traveling Wilburys tracks that has Dylan singing lead vocals on while the rest of the band singing backup. Roy Orbison is not singing at all on this track. Here is Goerge Harrison’s take on who wrote the song:

‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ was  by Tom Petty and Bob. Well, Jeff and I were there too, but we were just sitting there around in the kitchen, and he was for some reason talking about all this stuff that didn’t make much sense to me, you know, it was that Americana kinda stuff and we got a tape cassette and put it on and then transcribed everything they were saying.- George Harrison (The Travelling Wilburys, the true story)

Tweeter and The Monkey Man – The Travelling Wilburys:

I love Bruce like a brother. He’s a powerful performer, unlike anybody. I care about him deeply.
– Bob Dylan

Tweeter and The Monkey Man is sometimes regarded as a playful homage to the songs of Bruce Springsteen, who was often hailed as “the next Dylan” early in his career. The lyrics include the titles of many Springsteen songs, and the song borrows many of Springsteen’s themes.(the kid who went to Vietnam,  Jersey line) The setting of the song itself is New Jersey, Springsteen’s home state and the setting for many of Springsteen’s own songs. New Jersey locations such as Rahway Prison and Jersey City are mentioned by name.

Springsteen song title references include:
“Stolen Car”,  “Night”, “Mansion On The Hill”, “Thunder Road”, “State Trooper”,”Paradise”, “Factory”, “The River”, “Lion’s Den”, and the song made popular by Springsteen but written by Tom Waits, “Jersey Girl” .

One story goes like this: Bob Dylan was recording the first album with the Wilburys in the spring of 1988 in L.A. when he went with Tom Petty to see Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love Express Tour stop at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. At the time PART MAN, PART MONKEY was a regular part of Bruce’s set – “Part man, part monkey […] that’s me”, as the song goes. Dylan takes this back to his hotel room and pens TWEETER AND THE MONKEY MAN (Tweeter would be Clarence Clemons for obvious reasons and The Monkey Man would be Bruce Springsteen). The song was not intended to make fun of Bruce; it was just part of the playful nature of the Traveling Wilburys songs they were recording.
– Springsteenlyrics.com

Tweeter and The Monkey Man – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers:

I like that song a lot. We’ve done “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line” before. One of us said, “Are we going to do a Wilburys song?” We said, “Let’s not do one of those. How about something else?” And Tom said, “How about ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man?” I remembered the title, but it took until he played the chorus for me to remember how it went. But then it all came back to me, and we played it a few times. The band loved it.

It’s got 10 verses. It’s like a book. But it’s cool. I love the way Dylan writes, just on and on. The story is like a movie.
– Mike Campbell (The Heartbreakers to Rolling Stone Magazine)




Lyrics:

Tweeter and the Monkey Man were hard up for cash
They stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash
To an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan
For reasons unexplained she loved the Monkey Man

Tweeter was a boy scout before she went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way nobody gives a damn
They knew that they found freedom just across the Jersey Line
So they hopped into a stolen car, took Highway 99

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell

The undercover cop never liked the Monkey Man
Even back in childhood he wanted to see him in the can
Jan got married at fourteen to a racketeer named Bill
She made secret calls to the Monkey Man from a mansion on the hill

It was out on Thunder Road, Tweeter at the wheel
They crashed into paradise, they could hear them tires squeal
The undercover cop pulled up and said “Everyone of you’s a liar
If you don’t surrender now, it’s gonna go down to the wire”

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell

An ambulance rolled up, a state trooper close behind
Tweeter took his gun away and messed up his mind
The undercover cop was left tied up to a tree
Near the souvenir stand by the old abandoned factory

Next day the undercover cop was hot in pursuit
He was taking the whole thing personal, he didn’t care about the loot
Jan had told him many times it was you to me who taught
In Jersey anything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell

Someplace by Rahway Prison they ran out of gas
The undercover cop had cornered them said “Boy, you didn’t think that this could last”
Jan jumped out of the bed, said “There’s someplace I gotta go”
She took a gun out of the drawer and said “It’s best if you don’t know”

The undercover cop was found face down in a field
The monkey man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield
Jan said to the Monkey Man, “I’m not fooled by Tweeter’s curl
I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl”

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell

Now the town of Jersey City is quieting down again
I’m sitting in a gambling club called the Lion’s Den
The TV set been blown up, every bit of it is gone
Ever since the nightly news show that the Monkey Man was on

I guess I’ll go to Florida and get myself some sun
There ain’t no more opportunity here, everything’s been done
Sometime I think of Tweeter, sometime I think of Jan
Sometime I don’t think about nothing but the Monkey Man

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell

– Hallgeir

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