The ‘Rich and Complex’ Labyrinthine Possibilities of Bob Dylan’s ‘Jokerman’: What the Dylan Literati Didn’t Know

and Tangled Up in Jews Don’t Want You to
One Nigel Hinton tooting his omniscient critical horn (and supping sour milk from it) in ‘Into the Future, Knocked Out and Loaded’ in the highbrow former Dylan fanzine The Telegraph in the late Eighties:
So, since 1979, I have found Dylan’s work to be largely lacking in that quality that put him in another class from everyone else. Even when his songs in this period had been clever (and many of them have been clever and beautiful) they have always been explicit. The meaning is all there on the surface and there has not been that elusive, ambiguous quality with which he used to manage to invest even simple words so that they would suddenly open up to a new meaning. Even rich and complex songs such as ‘Jokerman’ are rich and complex only on the surface – they do not have resonances that suddenly bloom to reveal something previously unthought of by the listener. There has been no mystery in his art and, simultaneously, he has been less musically and vocally inventive.

But with the truth shofar off, what good will it do? Michael Gray in a surge of genius cut-and-paste stream-of-(un)consciousness inspiration at the end of his ‘Jokerman’ chapter in Song & Dance Man III (2000):
‘Jokerman’ is always welcome, always alive and benign, always rich and complex, always habitable, always ready to open up its labyrinthine possibilities.

Gray copied the ‘rich and complex’ terminology from Hinton, perhaps subliminally, but whereas Gray, in a rare flush of critical magnanimity, hinted that the song might just work on levels outside his own critical omniscience, Hinton ruled that out. Hinton is critical Everyman speaking for the entirety of Dylan perception and criticism across space and time; he contains Whitmanesque multitudes. (He’s ‘just one man’. Why? Because Je est un autre – containing multitudes [of hayseeds].) Nothing outside his own experience and critical opinion is valid: his word is absolute. But with the truth shofar off, what good would it do? Compare John Gibbens on ‘Jokerman’ in The Nightingale’s Code: A poetic study of Bob Dylan (2001) p 48:
There is a really balletic suppleness and definition to Dylan’s vocal performance, which describes an almost untraceable curve that touches on wonder and defiance and fury and joy.

As for the Tangled Up in Jews website, Larry Yudelson and co. opted not to make clear to the Dylan fan what was really going on in Infidels. Indeed, Rosh Hashanah, zombie and the Ram’s Horn Music are the thing(s) Tangled Up in Jews didn’t do. Call it the Jokerman conspiracy

Paul Kirkman, ‘Messianic’ Dylanologist 2012

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