Tarantula: 20: Your Harmless Fate and 21: Thelonius

20: Your Harmless Fate 

by Larry Fyffe

Some of the pilgrims on their way discuss art and philosophy:

One says to the other that James Whistler creates “art for art’s sake”, and it doesn’t matter one iota that a portrait he paints is of his mother; the arrangement is what counts, not the expression of any sentimentality or morality.

The other, a follower of Carl Jung, tells the tale below that illustrates that you have to gather what you can from coincidence:

(T)he little old man is planning revenge
just as the same old time train
shakes his whistler's mother painting off the wall
& it gooses him too
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Lilith-reversed Debbie Reynolds of “How the West was Lost” divorces her two-timing husband Eddie Fisher; her second husband Harry Karl is a wealthy shoe salesman, and a gambler to boot.

Harry, he gets himself into the portrait:

Harie Carl & the Cruel Mother teasing at your
harmless fate
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Meanwhile back at a ranch in Angola, the Portuguese military attacks rebels – Africans therein who want to rid themselves of their European masters.

Not to worry, says a traveller to his gal: existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre in his book “Nausea” agrees with Friedrich Nietzsche that God is dead; but that just gives individuals more freedom to think for themselves.

To make his point, the Sartrized guy decides to exercise his new-found freedom.

And it’s not to protest the colonial war:

Angola being bombed this morning
i right now am happy with nausea ....
i am leaving my kid on your doorstep
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

There are three motley, and saucy, groups in the parade:

1) The Existentialists, led by Albert Camus’ author of “The Myth Of Sisyphus”.

Monk says he has made an important decision for him:

(H)e's with the angels now
& he says "all's useless - useless"
(Bob Dylan: Tranantula)

2) The Instinctualists, led by H.D. Lawrence, author of “The Rocking-Horse Winner”:

& instinct, poet of the antique zenith
putting on his hoofs
& whinnying "all's not useless
all is very signifying"
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

3) The Pied Pipers, led by Bob Dylan; he takes the middle path:

& the insane pied piper
stealing the Queen's Pawn
& the conquering war cry
"neither - neither"
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)


Without your love
I'd be nowhere at all
Oh, what would I do
If not for you
(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)


21: Thelonius

Besides ‘Miss Lucy’ from the ” Sweet Bird Of Youth”, there’s ‘Lucy Brown’, and ‘Pirate Jenny’ from the “Threepenny Opera”. Its theme ~ capitalist “morality” promotes self-interest even among the poor; the wealthy exploit everyone; the poor, a few.

Suky Tawdry, Jenny Diver
Lotte Lenya,  sweet Lucy Brown
Yes, the line forms on the right, dear
Now that Macheath's back in town
(Louis Armstrong: Mack The Knife ~ Weill/Brecht/Blitzstein)

A theme repeated in the song lyrics below:

Steal a little, and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot, and they make you king
(Bob Dylan: Sweetheart Like You)

In the “Threepenny Opera”, Jenny Diver, akin to the story of Judas and the donkey-riding Jesus, betrays her lover and pimp Macheath for a promised reward.

Goes a tale told to the pilgrims on their way to New York City:

"(I) still aint gonna tell you nothing about jenny"
he calls me an idiot & I say "here take my donkey
if it'll make you feel any better"
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Jenny apparently gets around:

Jenny's a-wet, poor body
Jenny's seldom dry
She dirtied her petticoat
Coming through the rye
(Robert Burns: Coming Through The Rye)

In the make-believe world of the ‘Threepenny Opera’, Macheath escapes death from hanging.

Likewise, the Christi-like figure in the song lyrics below:

Just then a bolt of lightning
Struck the courthouse out of shape
And while everybody knelt to pray
The drifter did escape
(Bob Dylan: The  Drifter's Escape)

In the opera, the Bible’s interpreted so as to coincide with one’s own self-interest.

Reminds of the following lines:

Only you, who believe what suits you
Could speak so badly of thelonius baker
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Thelonius Monk’s a piano-playing jazz musician that Dylan likes listening to, and  meets in New York City.

Though few songs by Dylan can properly be described as jazz:

To each his own
It's all unknown
If dogs run free
(Bob Dylan: If Dog's Run Free)


  1. Lotte Lenya, from the Three Penny Opera, her album jacket shown on the cover of Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ album, sings “Pirate Jenny”, the lyrics about the desire for revenge by a poor maid against her exploiters.

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