Bob Dylan: His Gotham Ingress Revisited

by Larry Ffyfe
In his short stories and poems, Edgar Allan Poe burlesques the idea of life after death:
Thank heaven! the crisis
The danger is past
And the lingering illness
Is over at last
And the fever called 'living'
Is conquered at last

(Edgar Allan Poe: For Annie)

The Holy Bible gives credence to the possible existence of evil spirits called ‘ghouls’ as well as of goodly angels:
And when the sabbath was past
Marry Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James 
And Salome had bought sweet spices ....
And entering into the sepulchre
They saw a young man sitting on the right side
And clothed in a long white garment
And they were affrighted

(Mark 16:1,5)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan carries on Poe’s burlesque of the afterlife in a number of song lyrics. Our grave lady of the spades is the consort of poet TS Eliot’s ‘eternal footman’; in the lyrics that follow, she takes good care of the Orpheus-like narrator, and looks after the chambers that house the dead – he’s a poet-musician who is not afraid to look at his mummified Eurydice.

Indeed, Dylan and his Queen paste up seductive ads to lure recruits to the dark tombs:
I return to the Queen of Spades
And talk with my chambermaid
She knows that I'm not afraid to look at her
She is good to me
And there's nothing she doesn't see
She knows where I'd like to be
But it doesn't matter

I want you, I want you
Yes, I want you, so bad
Honey, I want you

(Bob Dylan: I Want You)

Mistress D is quite the enchantress – she likes to get around:

One night I was dancin' with a lady in black
Wearin' black silk gloves, and a black silk hat
She looked at me strange with black velvet eyes
She looked at me strange, all cunning and wise
I saw the flesh just fall off her bones
The eyes in her skull was burnin' like coals

(Rolling Stones: Dancing With Mr. D)  

Mr. D, the man in the long black coat, he’s got those all those nights in Hades with his chambermaid to look forward to:
Well, I eat when I'm hungry 
Drink when I'm dry
Live my life on the square
Even if the flesh falls off my face
It won't matter as long as you are there

(Bob Dylan: Dreamin’ Of You)

All is not such a field of clover in the land of the living, however:
In “The Threepenny Opera”, our lady of the skull and cross-bones, Jenny Diver, fantasizes that she gets revenge on those who treat her badly while she’s working as a chambermaid in a hotel:
And the ship, a Black Freighter
With a skull on its masthead will be comin' in
Then you gentlemen can say, "Hey, girl, finish the floors
Get upstairs, make the beds, earn your keep here"
You toss me your tips, and look out at the ships
But I'm countin' your heads while I make up the beds
'Cause there's nobody gonna sleep here

(Judy Collins: Pirate Jenny ~ Weill/Brecht)

The song above inspires Bob Dylan. In the song below, he envisions a slow black train comin’ up around the bend to rescue him – rather than a pirate ship:
There's a woman on my lap, and she's drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin's eyes
I'm looking up into sapphire-tinted skies
I'm well dressed, waiting for the last train
Standing on the gallows with my neck in a noose
Any minute not, I'm expecting all hell to break loose

(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

Indeed, it’s a circus freak show of thieves, killers – sinners of all kinds – out there:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one

(Nursery rhyme: Lizzie Borden)

There’s Our Lady Of Death, a scythe-carrying, black-coated madonna who rides around on a pale motorcycle:
The motorcycle black Madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver-studded phantom cause
The grey-flannel dwarf to scream
As he weeps to wicked birds of prey
Who pick up on his bread crumb sins

(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)

According to the following lyrics, the Eternal Footman’s job is secure, but others best keep eyes wide open – life can be boring but it’s full of risks:
See the cross-eyed pirates sitting
Perched on the sun
Shooting tin cans
With a sawed-off shotgun
And the neighbours they clap
And they cheer with each blast
Farewell Angelina
The sky's changing colour
And I must leave fast

(Bob Dylan: Farewell Angelina)

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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.


  1. A marriage of ADD and Burroughs.

    The Stones definitely took a turn at the crossroads. Bob hesitated and chose the better course even though he toyed with Ed Bradley in his 60 Minutes interview. But that was Bob playing the press like he plays the kazoo!
    I believe he sees his role as a spiritual guide as artist (or visa versa)

  2. BTW i should mention that I had a copy of the Bob bootleg titled ‘His Gotham Ingress.’

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