Bob Dylan And Arthur Conan Doyle

By Larry Fyffe

Observed by a well-respected Victorian poet is that Darwin’s monkey man puts Christian faith to the test:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Though Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed
(Lord Tennyson: In Memoriam)
And where there are wild monkey men, there must be wild monkey women:
Don't put on any airs
When you're down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outta you
(Bob Dylan: Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues)
Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” features detective Dupin who solves the gruesome murder of a mother and daughter, the latter’s body stuffed up the chimney; witnesses hear the murderer say something, but they do not recognize the language – the killer turns out to be an orangutan.

Singer/ songwriter Bob Dylan makes reference to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective in the following lyrics:

Well, I quit my job so I could work all alone
And I changed my name to Sherlock Holmes
Followed some clues from my detective bag
And discovered there was red stripes on the American flag

( Bob Dylan: Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues)

In ‘The Adventures Of The Creeping Man’, Sherlock Holmes solves the case of the bizarre behavior of an aging professor who’s engaged to a young woman – like his peeking into his daughter’s bedroom window. Holmes notices that the hands of the professor indicates that he’s been climbing a creeper at night; turns out he’s been taking monkey extract to enhance his virility.
In  the song below, the  persona of the singer/songwriter denies he’s anything like Conan Doyle’s professor:
Little red wagon
Little red bike
I ain't no monkey
But I know what I like
I like the way you love me strong and slow
(Bob Dylan: Buckets Of Rain)
In a version of the following song, monkey women are out and about:
The sun is shinin', ain't but one train on this track
I'm steppin' out of the dark wood
I'm jumpin' on the monkey's back
(Bob Dylan: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking)
Below, Bob Sherlock attempts to solve the stange case of the Monkey Man, and his transgendered buddy, Tweeter:
The undercover cop was found face-down in a field
The Monkey Man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield
Jan says to the Monkey Man, "I'm not fooled by Tweeter's curl
I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl"
(Bob Dylan: Tweeter And The Monkey Man)
Jan, who loves the Monkey Man, is out to shoot someone, but there’s a missing link – the case remains unsolved; the Monkey Man gets away:
And the walls came down
All the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell
(Bob Dylan: Tweeter And The Monkey Man)
The story’s not over yet ~ God-fearing authorities are determined to bring down the ‘monkey man’:
They got  Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge said to the High Sheriff
"I want him dead or alive"
Either way, I don't care
(Bob Dylan: High Water)
And Sigmund Freud’s on the loose as well:
Well I set my monkey on a log
And ordered him to do the dog
He wagged his tail, and shook his head
And he went and did the cat instead
He's a weird monkey, very funky
(Bob Dylan: I Shall Be Free, No. 10)
In such an Archibald MacLeish-circus atmosphere, it’s just hard to keep a good man down:
King Kong, little elves
On the rooftops they dance
Valentino-type tangos
While the make-up man's hands
Shut the eyes of the dead
Not to embarrass anyone
But farewell, Angelina
The sky is embarrassed
And I must be gone

(Joan Baez: Farewell Angelina ~ Bob Dylan)

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  1. “Monkey man” is a blues phrase. It comes up in any number of blues songs, such as Ida Cox’s “Chicago Monkey Man Blues.” That’s the same song as Count Basie’s “Goin’ to Chicago” (where it’s a “monkey woman”), which Dylan himself recorded at the Nashville Skyline sessions. You never know with Dylan–he did put Charles Darwin and George Henry Lewes into a song–but I’d be surprised if he ever read “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” or thought much about monkey glands.

  2. The caricature of the monkey-like man is used in ‘the blues’ and sories by Doyle and Poe; Dylan mentions Sherlock by name in one song and Poe’s Rue Morgue Avenue in another – so I don’t think it’s an overstretch to suggest he’d be aware of the Sherlock story by one means or another, such as TV or the movies.

  3. Dylan mentions Sherlock by name in one song, Poe’s Rue Morgue Avenue in another, so who can say for sure, one way or the other??

  4. The lyrics give ‘Lewis’, not ‘Lewes’, but the latter does fit in better along side Darwin…both put the question to orthodox religious cosmology.

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