Bob Dylan And Damon Runyon: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts And Other Songs (Part II)


by Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan likes to mix up the medicine, to really, really mix up the music medicine.

There’s the Symbolist poem:

In short, is a Flower, Rosemary
Or Lily, dead or alive, worth
The excrement of one sea-bird
(Arthur Rimbaud: On The Suject Of Flowers)

The name Rosemary in Dylan’s song “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts” is a variation of Rose-Marie, who’s a character in the operetta of the same name, much of which takes place in British Columbia, Canada.

Damon Runyon be a real life American newspaperman and writer, a heavy drinker, gambler, and smoker, who uses the slang of gangsters, especially nicknames, from the Prohibition Era in humourous stories.

Runyon runs off with a girl from Mexico after having reformed somewhat in
order to court his first wife. Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan takes on a Damon-like persona in the following song:

Now whenever I get up
And can’t find what I need
I just make it down to Rose-Marie’s
And get somethin’ quick to eat
(Bob Dylan: Goin’ To Acapulco)

In the above song, Dylan, at the same time, covertly alludes to Big Jim, a real life wealthy businessman, who’s fond of diamonds, and of eating lots of food. It’s Big Jim Brady who hangs around with actress/singer Lillian Russell in New York City. Big Jim is an obvious reference in “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts”.

A fictional miner in the aforementioned operetta is named Jim; he reforms to court the fictional French Canadian Rose-Marie.

The Big Jim of “Rose Marie” has a partner whose nickname is Hard-Boiled Herman, boyfriend of Lady Jane, owner of a hotel (in Dylan’s “Highlands”, the restaurant waitress is asked about hard-boiled eggs):

Now, when all of the bandits that you turn the
other cheek to
All lay down their bandannas and complain
And you want somebody you don’t have to
to speak to
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane
(Bob Dylan: Queen Jane Approximately)

Which brings it all back home to Acapulco:

I know I’ve seen that face before, Big Jim was
thinkin’ to himself
Maybe down in Mexico or a picture on
somebody’s shelf
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

The only person missing from the scene so far is the Jack Of Hearts and that’s because he’s hiding out on St. Pierre, a French island 16 miles off the coast of the Canadian Province of Newfounland. Rum-running makes the island infamous in the days of Prohibition.

In the humourous short story “Lily Of St. Pierre” by Damon Runyon, the rum- running gambler, known as Jack of Hearts is cared for by young girl named Lily when he gets sick. Small-time gangster Louie The Lug runs off with her to Montreal, mistreats her, and she dies. In New York, at Good Time Charlie’s, the Jack Of Hearts shoots Louie; Fingers later informs Jack that Louie dies from the wound. Jack gets to take Louie’s singing position at Charlie’s speakeasy:

The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’
in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin’
wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin’ in the doorway lookin’ like
the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Similar Runyonesque characters, along with ‘Mack The Knife’ from “The Threepenny Opera” are mentioned in the following song:

Well, Mack The Finger said to Louie the King
‘I got forty red, white, and blue shoe strings
And and a thousand telephones that don’t ring’
(Bob Dylan: Highway ’61)

In Runyon’s tale, the Jack of Hearts sings a song:

There’s a long, long trail a-winding
Into the land of my dreams
When the nightingale is singing
And the white moon beams
(King and Elliott: There’s A Long, Long Trail A-Winding)

Then there’s:

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.
(Bob Dylan: Jokerman)

The musical “Guys And Dolls” is based on Damon Runyon’s stories.

So is this song:

Everybody’s goin’ away
Said they’re movin’ to LA
There’s not a soul I know around
Everybody’s leavin’ town
Some caught a freight, some caught a plane
Find the sunshine, leave the rain
They said this town’s a waste of time
I guess they’re right, it’s wastin’ mine
(Danny O’Keefe: Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues)

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.

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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