The Tarantula Files: Cowboy Angel and Who Wrote Tarantula?

by Larry Fyffe

Cowboy Angel

The Tarantula chapter entitled ‘Cowboy Angel Blues’ alludes not only to Gene Autry, the owner of the California Angels baseball team, and singer of ‘Home On The Range’, but also to the Tennessee Williams play ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ in which Stanley Kowalski rapes Blanche, the sister of his wife Stella.

In “Tarantula”, Sigmund Freud, with a big-mouth-Martha-Raye-like grin, gives some sage advice to Mr. Clap:

& if anything drastic comes up 
- here - take these pills
- by the way, you should call your mother 'Stella'
just to show her that you mean business
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

That play by Williams also alluded to in the following song:

And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

In the one below too:

Well, they're going to the country, they're gonna retire
They're taking a streetcar named desire
(Bob Dylan: Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum)

However, let us not digress ~ back to the source poem of ‘Home On The Range’.

Beaver Creek is in Kansas; the the Solomon River in that State refers way back to the biblical times – to King Solomon of Israel:

Oh, give me the gale of the Solomon vale
Where the streams with buoyancy flow
On the banks of the Beaver where seldom if ever
Any poisonous herbage doth grow
(Brewster Higley: My Western Home)

The sad-eyed lady described by Dylan as having a kiss like a “geranium”, the flower brought to America by the Dutch; thought by some to be poisonous to humans.

The giant Tarantula, hairy-legged and horrible, on the other hand, tramples over the cities and countryside of America, wreaking havoc everywhere it goes:

& voids held up to Scawny Horizon by lee marvin ....
& malcolm X forgotten like a caught fish
& wonder - ah wonder just what
- just what that means
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Lee Marvin portrays gun-slinging killer Tim Strawn (as well as Tim’s drunken brother – who reforms) in the humorous movie ‘Cat Ballou’, starring Jane Fonda. Another character therein be Jackson Two Bears.

Malcolm X, an actual person, advocates the separation of blacks from the ‘evil’ white race; gets assassinated after he moderates his views.


Who Wrote Tarantula?

Who writes ‘Tarantula’?


Matty Groves, who secretly at midnight
tries to chop down the church steeple
with Edward, who cuts hedges
for his wages
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

The above lines written by Bob Dylan allude to the folk ballad below:

Rise up, rise up, my gay young bride
Draw on your pretty clothes
Now tell me do you like me best
Or your Matty Groves
Or the dying Matty Groves
She picked up Matty's dying head
She kissed him from cheek to chin
It is Matty Groves I'd rather have
Than Arlen and all his kin
(Joan Baez: Matty Groves ~ traditional)

Mentioned in ‘Tarantula’ too is the following ballad:

'Twas in the merry month of May
The green buds they were swelling
Poor William on his deathbed lay
For the love of Barbara Allen
(Bob Dylan: Ode To Barbara Allen ~ traditional)

In the print of his little book, Dylan deliberately tongue-fumbles over ‘woody guthrie’, ‘woody guppie’, ‘coody puppie’, and ‘boody guppie’, though we’re still not sure that the writer fools around with words like “curlew”and “curfew”; “forest” and “fore-est”; “Strawn” and “Scrawny”.

However, Dylan songs sure mix actual happenings, and possible ones, with the world of entertainment, past and present.

With factory-made teenage heart-throbs of recent times, a number of them from families with Italian backgrounds – i.e., Franklin Avalon, Fabian Foote.

Noted on the CBC ‘Quest’ show, for instance:

Turned on my record player
It was Fabian singing
"Tell your ma, tell your pa
Our love's a-gonna grow
Ooh-wah, ooh-wah"
(Bob Dylan: Talking World War III Blues)

In “Tarantula” too:

T)he little old winemaker immediately took off his head
& his belt
& who do you think it turned out to be
but fabian
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

On the tv show, sitting at the CBC Quest table, Michael Zenon’s observed writing down a bunch of stuff in his notebook while Dylan sings –

giving rise to a suspicion:

Could it be that the Canadian actor from “The Forest Rangers” tv show actually provides most of the words for the upcoming book that young Dylan titles “Tarantula”?

Perhaps …..

Well, maybe not!

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