The Line Forms On The Right: Bobby’s Back In Town. Dylan & the Threepenny Opera


The Line Forms From the  Right:
Bobby’s Back In Town

By Larry Fyffe

A number of Bob Dylan’s story-telling  songs are wonderful reworkings of the Kurt Weill  and Bertolt Brecht’s  1928 burlesque musical, with its sexual puns abounding, called ‘The Threepenny Opera’ (Die Dreigroschenoper).

In that play, the daughter of a corrupt ‘businessman’, who makes his money off beggars (Filch being on of them). marries a womanizing gang leader by the name of Macheath, a satirical reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. She, with the aid of a corrupt police chief, warns the gang leader of her father’s intention to  have him arrested.

Jenny Diver, a prostitute, a former lover of ‘Mack The Knife’, provides information that he still visits the brothel. The police chief’s daughter, also involved with Macheath, argues with the gangster’s wife, and ‘Macky’ takes the opportunity to escape.

Summarized in the song, ‘Mack The Knife:

“Now, Jenny Diver, ho, ho,
Yeah, Sukey Tawdry
O oh, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town”
(Mack The Knife)

The prostitute, in the musical play, sings “Pirate Jenny”:

“You people can watch while I’m scrubbing these floors…
No, you couldn’t ever guess to who you’re talkin’
Then one night, there’s a scream in the night
And you’ll wonder who could that have been
And you see me grinin’ while I’m scrubbing”

Bob Dylan, master thief that he is, burlesquing the burlesquer, turns Brecht’s prostitute into Cinderella:

“And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up On Desolation Row”

And beggar Filch into a jock-strapped Victorian Freudian:

“Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up”
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

As well, there’s Lily, Big Jim’s wife; Rosemary, his girlfriend, and the charming robber, The Jack Of Hearts:

“Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention, of playing the role of Big Jim’s wife
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide
Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died”
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

And then there’s The Monkey Man,  who sells drugs; Tweeter, his deadly ‘girl’ friend; and Jan, the gun-carrying sister of the undercover cop; she too, of course, loves the Monkey Man:

“The undercover cop was found face down in the field
The Monkey Man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield
Jan said to the Monkey Man, ‘I’m not fooled by Tweeter’s curls
I knew him before he ever became a Jersey girl’.”
(Bob Dylan: Tweeter And The Monkey Man)

Bob Dylan, retells the stories of the down-trodden characters taken from ‘The Threepenny Opera’, but he re-arranges their faces, and gives them all a new name.

What is on the site

1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

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.

One comment

  1. * As well, there’s Big Jim’s wife, Rosemary; his girl friend, and the charming robber, The Jack Of Hearts:

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