Bob Ulysses Disguised As Mack The Knife


By Larry Fyffe

In the ancient tale of adventure, the Greeks warriors who were victorious over the Trojans take credit for what the gods have done. As a consequence, Ulysses faces the wrath of the Sea God as the island king sails back home to his faithful wife and son; he alone of all the crew survives after he escapes from monsters, bewitches a witch, and gets shelter from a nymph who overwhelms him with kindness.

In a number of his lyrics, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan presents himself as the reincarnation of the Greek wanderer:

It ain’t the leavin’
That a-grievin’ me
But my true love who’s bound
to stay behind
(Dylan: Fare Thee Well)

In his travels, the modern Ulysses (this time as aka, Tiny Montgomery) deals with, among other things, creatures with three legs:

Three-legged man
And a hot-lipped hoe
Tell’em all
Montgomery says, ‘hello’
(Dylan: Tiny Montgomery)

And with creatures having three eyes:

With his businesslike anger
and his bloodhounds that kneel
If he needs a third eye, he just grows one
(Dylan: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)

And with one-eyed creatures, as well:

Now you see this one-eyed midget
shouting the word ‘Now’
And you say ‘For what reason?’
And he says ‘How’
(Dylan: Ballad Of A Thin Man)

From certain death, the Ulysses of yore is saved more than once – by the chief god – by lesser ones (some who are overly protective) – and by his own wits. So too is Bob Ulysses:

And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows
a futile horn
‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter
from the storm’
(Dylan: Shelter From The Storm)

Ulysses, back in the favour of Zeus manages to keep going, and gets by seductive Sirens who do not have his best interests in mind:

Well, I sailed through the storm
Strapped to the mast
Oh, but our time has come
And I’m seeing the real you at last
(Dylan: Seeing The Real You At Last)

Meanwhile, Ulysses’ own true love, now sought after by her guests, waits back home, not believing rumours that her wanderer is dead:

The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss
And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this
But who among them really wants just to kiss you
(Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Upon reaching home, Ulysses identifies himself to an old nurse by showing her a scar:

Shadows are falling and I’ve been home all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
(Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

Modern Ulysses Bob, like the Ulysses of Greek lore, disguises himself in order to check out the-unwanted-guests situation:

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 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
(Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

The reincarnated Ulysses (this time, aka, Jack Of Hearts; aka, Mack The Knife), suffers not ungracious fools gladly; they are no match for his sharp-penned wit – as Penelope’s suitors were not for Ulysses’ strong bow:

And the dust of rumours covers me
But if the arrow is straight
And the point is slick
It can pierce through the dust
No matter how thick
(Dylan: Restless Farewell)

Diamond Jim, with a penknife in the back, found that out.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home 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.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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

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