Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

Calling all Dylan fans! (And by that, I mean Kevin and Eileen.) Last night I was crooning along to Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts* when the Snook confessed that he didn’t particulary like the song “because the plot confused him.” Funnily enough, I remember feeling the same way back when Eileen introduced it to me in college a dozen years ago. I don’t feel that way anymore; it’s like I’ve filled in all the missing details in my head. So I told him my interpretation, which basically sounds like a made-for-TV Western. I know that Dylan’s never officially outlined the plot. What do you guys think it’s about?

* I was actually listening to the Joan Baez version. I prefer it. Eek!

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  1. I’ve often thought about this too. But does anybody ever really know what the hell Dylan is writing about?

  2. Oooh, great question! I’ve always thought of it as an old Western as well. Big Jim is the rich a-hole in town. Rosemary is his long-suffering wife. Lily is his young, pretty lover. The Jack of Hearts is a handsome scoundrel (think George Clooney in Ocean’s 11) who comes to town with his gang to rob the saloon, and who is apparently a former flame of Lily’s. The next part is a bit hazy in my mind (maybe Jim catches Lily with the Jack of Hearts and tries to shoot him, but Rosemary kills Jim first?), but Rosemary definitely stabs and kills Jim and gets hanged for murder the next day.

  3. That’s pretty much exactly how I read it, RT. Maybe I got my version off you? 🙂

  4. Yeah, that sounds right. Jack’s an old flame of Lily’s (Big Jim remembers him as “a picture up on somebody’s shelf,” a.k.a. Lily’s shelf.) Jim, “ya couldn’t say surprised,” comes in on Jack and Lily sharing a moment, but before he can shoot him, Rosemary — “looking to do just one good deed before she died” — stabs him in the back. Next day, once the hanging judge sobers up, Rosemary goes to the gallows and Lily thinks of Jack, who — scoundrel that he is — has skipped town with the haul his boys pulled while he was a-gallivantin’ at the cabaret.

  5. I never liked that Lily didn’t run off with Jack. I always wanted her to.

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