Bob The Ripper: Is Your Name Mary?

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan often uses Biblical stories as a template for his own narrative songs, with women characters patterned after the three Mary’s of the New Testament:

“Hot chillie peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape”
(Romance In Durango)

In the Bible, Mary Magdalene is a ‘worldly’ woman who travels with Jesus, and the Apostles:

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene
Out of whom he had cast seven devils”
(Mark 16:9)

Not so much so, another Mary from the Bible:

“In Scarlet Town in the month of May
Sweet William Holme on his death bed lay
Mistress Mary by the side of the bed
Kissin’ his face and heapin’ prayers on his head”
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

In the Bible, Mary of Bethany is a sympathetic friend to Jesus:

“It was Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick”
(St. John  11:2)

And then there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, along with Joseph, in a modern- day version of ‘John Wesley Harding’:

“Sister Jacqueline and Camila and mother Mary all did weep
I heard his best friend Frankie say, “He ain’t dead, he’s just asleep’
Then I saw his old man’s limousine head back to the grave
I guess he had to say one last word to the son he couldn’t save”
(Bob Dylan: Joey)

Mary is devoted to her son as much as she can be:

“….Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb
….And Mary said, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ ”
(Luke 1: 42, 46)

But neither she nor sweet Mary Magdalene is able to be around all the time:

“Well, your railroad gate
You know I just can’t jump it
Sometimes it gets so hard, you see
I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all the promises you left for me
But where are you tonight, Sweet Marie”
(Absolutely Sweet Marie)

Fortunately, there’s always Mary Jane Bethany’s joint to call upon when need be:

“There were three sailors, brave and true
With cargo they did carry
They sailed away on the ocean blue
For the love of Spanish Mary”
(Spanish Mary)

Or, if so inclined, a dressed-up facsimile of Mary Magdalene with ‘her’ amphetamines and pearls:

“Queen Mary she’s my friend
Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again
……But when we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world”
(Just Like A Woman)

Finally, there is always the possibility of a long-term male-female commitment:

“And when he saw her loyalty
and Mary so true-hearted
He said, ‘My darling, married we’ll be
and nothin’ but death will part us”
(Mary And The Soldier)

Yes, death will do that:

“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”
(Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Bob Dylan certainly has all kinds of historical female characters to choose from, but apparently the songwriter prefers their first name to be a derivation thereof or simply ‘Mary’.

What is on the site

1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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