Bob Dylan And The Mule Symbol

By Larry Fyffe  

Surreal symbolism is no stranger to singer Bob Dylan:

Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Mules are misused as a metaphor for a stupid person; a male mule, though most often sterile, doesn’t know that, and carries on humping regardless; thusly, the ‘jack’ is employed as a metaphor for a devilish guy who’s always on the ‘make’ with little regard for moral considerations when doing so – gals who feel trapped in a relationship being good targets:

Now if you come home, and your food ain't cooked
And she give you a dirty look
Man that's all
Another mule is kicking at your stall

(Fats Domino: Another Mule ~ Bartholomew)

Bob Dylan uses variations on the theme above in some of the songs that he writes – seems that the jack, the narrator below, though he feels somewhat trapped, accepts domestication in exchange for sex, or so the lyrics can be interpreted:

However, who Rosie be isn’t all that clear:

Well, the devil's in the alley, mule's in the stall
Say anything you want to, I've heard it all
I was thinking about the things that Rosie said
I was dreaming I was sleeping in Rosie's bed

(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

There’s this rather vulgar version of a song in which Rose accommodates the mule because the ‘john’ gets her to where she wants to go:

I'm going down to Rose Marie
She never does me wrong
She puts it to me plain as day
And gives it to me for a song
It's a wicked life, but what the hell ....
Rosie Marie, she likes to go to big places
And just sit there waiting for me to come

(Bob Dylan: Going To Acapulco)

On the other hand, the motherly female figure below is depicted as being quite spiritual – unlike the hedonistic ‘jack of hearts’; perhaps from her, he might learn to be more caring of the needs of others:

Rid yourself of mortal sin
And tell the truth one time
And find truth within
Saw you hanging with that group
Their minds made up of boiled soup

(Helena Springs: Tell The Truth One Time ~ Dylan/Springs)

In the following lyrics, the human female is presented as a Mary Madonna type:

Now you stand with your thief, you're on his parole
With your holy medallion in your fingertips now that fold
And your saintlike face, and your ghostlike soul
Oh, who among them could ever think he could destroy you?

(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Meanwhile, King Solomon of modern times drives around in a gold-plated chariot; the Rose of Sharon he leaves behind with memories of his mulish behaviour:

Time regards a pretty face like time regards a fool
You drive off in in your Cadillac
And leave me with the mule
In order to keep up with you, I must go back to school

(Helena Springs: More Than Flesh And Blood Can Take ~ Dylan/Spings)

In the following song, the narrator knows where it’s at, and considers himself no fool:

Well I'm driving in the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls all say, "You're a worn out star'
My pockets are loaded, and I'm spending every dime
How can you say you love someone else
When you know it's me all the time

(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

In a re-telling by the following postmodernist allegory of the Book of Genesis, Eve prefers the mysterious man dressed up in the dusty black skin of a snake rather than the oh-so-boring, mule-headed Adam, naked though he may be:

Somebody is out there beating a dead horse
She never said nothing, there was nothing she wrote
She gone with the man in the long black coat

(Bob Dylan: The Man In The Long Black Coat)

Moving right along, the serpent in the Garden of Eden is said by some interpreters of the Bible to be Adam’s first ‘wife’.  In disguise, she’s getting revenge for Adam wanting her as a servant rather than accepting her as a sexual equal in that she’s co-created along side the male human by a hermaphroditic God:

So God created Man in his own image
In the image of God created He him
Male and female created He them

(Genesis 1:27)

That female’s name is ‘Night’, ‘Lilith’, or ‘Lily”, while the ‘Eve’ of biblical canon is considered to be the second wife of Adam – she’s made from his rib. Poet John Keats likens the dark gnostic lady (mentioned previously in another article) to the snake-headed ‘Lamia’ of ancient mythology.

Johnny’s been down in Bob Dylan’s basement boiling up the soup.

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 590 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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, links back to our reviews

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4 Responses to Bob Dylan And The Mule Symbol

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    *that dirty

    **in your stall

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    In the first version above Fats sings “Yes, I’ve heard it all”.

    Dylan in “Mississippi”: ‘I’ve heard it all’.

    In Open The Door, Homer” – it’s “I’ve heard it all said before”.

    Soups on!

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    Well, long way from home
    Can’t sleep at all
    You know another mule
    Is kicking in your stall
    (Howling Wolf: Evil Going On ~ W. Dixon)

  4. Larry fyffe says:

    * Correction: In the first version above Dave sings “Yes, I heard it all”

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