Lily Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts (as I understand it): an alternative vision.

By Ann Alenjandro

The story had to take place in Colorado or Wyoming, the only states that had diamond mines at the time except for Arkansas, and this is not an Arkansas song.

Rosemary, Big Jim and the Jack of Hearts had no love lost between them because of Lily, who was Big Jim’s mistress, but the Jack of Hearts was her true love. She had come from a broken home and traveled many places where she had lots of strange affairs, but only the outlaw Jack of Hearts had taken her heart before leaving her.

Now she had fancy dresses and plenty of baubles from her sugar daddy, Big Jim, whom she did not love but by whom she was loved, perhaps possessed more than loved. Big Jim wasn’t going to have the object of his affection have her own long lost object of love.

Big Jim had seen the picture of the Jack of Heats somewhere – a picture on Lily’s shelf? A picture on Rosemary’s shelf? Rosemary came in late determined to get revenge on Big Jim who cheated on her with his mistress the showgirl Lily. This haze of memory from Big Jim’s seeing the real Jack of Hearts made him realize that the Jack was Lily’s true love.

Rosemary contemplating her reflection in the knife is determined to put an end to the misery of the life she knows. And she does not care about her fate—only that it not be chained to the powerful man who is her husband but does not love her. The back stage manager sensed some of the many funny things that were going on—the drilling and the two murders being planned.  The fact that the leading actor was hooded, in the costume of a monk, only adds to the sense of an impending death.

When he made his usual entrance, both  big Jim and Jack were staring at Lily who had just drawn the card of her outlaw & vanished lover, the Jack of Hearts who was back,  to avenge both Lily and Big Jim for betraying a love the Jack had already abandoned & betrayed.

Jack probably didn’t care whether he left town with Lily or Jim’s fortune; either one would be a proper revenge on Big Jim, and Jack did not participate in his gang’s robbery. He wanted to set eyes on Lily. The frenetic pace of the music shows that a lost love quadrangle is playing out & not going to end well.. What better way for Jack of Hearts to have his revenge on Big Jim than to break into the bank and clean out both Big Jim’s money and his diamonds, and if Lily decided to come along and meet the thieves later, Big Jim would be ruined financially, as well as by losing Lily’s love, which, recalling the photograph, he realized he had never had quite placed—on Lily’s shelf, or less likely  on Rosemary’s.

This enraged Big Jim-how dare either of his “objects”  love another man? Lily, left long ago by The Jack whom she loved, felt bitter toward the lover who had just come back into her life, “Don’t Touch the Wall, there’s a brand-new coat of paint; I’m glad to see you still alive, you looking like a Saint” by implication means Lily knew Jack was NOT.

Big Jim came into Lily’s room and was prepared to kill the Jack; his Colt revolver was chambered and cocked (“clicked”) and ready to fire on Jack. Following her cheating husband into his mistress’s room, Rosemary really has a choice about how to end the despair of her loveless life in a role (another actor in the piece, really) she did not want to play any longer in a life she did not want to live any longer.

In one last dramatic act, Rosemary could rob Jim of his fortune, his mistress, and his desire to murder a rival. Rosemary, the only true innocent in the set piece, sacrifices her own life by taking Big Jim’s, and perhaps freeing Lily too, to be with her true love. By the next morning, the Jack of Hearts had escaped with his gang & Big Jim’s money and diamonds. Lily had already buried her fancy dress away as easily as she had buried the memory of Big Jim, and taken all of the dye out of her hair; whatever happened, she was never going to be a role for an audience, a possession of a man again. She could either leave town, leave the state, begin a new life freed, or she could meet up with the Jack of Hearts which does not seem likely, since he had failed her too.

Rosemary was content on the gallows because life identity-less and  loveless was not worth living, she had destroyed the man who had destroyed her and perhaps in a feeling of “So much the better” stoicism / indifference to her own being as well, she had given Lily her freedom even as the gallows were freeing her from a life so hurt, yet at least she could feel she done “one good deed” before she died.

Lily, back to her natural self, was free to go live whatever life she chose. At some point in her life, perhaps Rosemary  too had loved the Jack of Hearts. Lily’s hand, after all, contained two queens and the Jack of Hearts, who was perhaps the true love of both women.

Lily’s last thoughts were “most of all” on the Jack of Hearts: both women had lost a man they didn’t love and don’t the Bad Boys like the Jack of Hearts ( a nave, a ne’er do well) ALWAYS betray and make their getaway?

Rosemary sentenced herself to death by preventing the Jack of Heart’s death. The redemptive resignation to Rosemary’s death by hanging was that she had taken revenge on the husband who did not love her, and “freed” herself and two others, two (or three, if she had once loved the Jack also)  other un-innocent people who had hurt her deeply, betrayed her, and caused her to make an end of the life of which she despaired—three cards, three love triangles “buried away” just like Lily’s dress and the life she would never live again.

Other articles you might enjoy in relation to this song…

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

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3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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 

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

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  1. A very interesting interpretation above….but the only thing we can be sure of is that Dylan, aka The Jack Of Hearts, killed Big Jim with a ‘penknife’ in the back because he penned the song.

  2. The cold revolver clicked….Rosemary may have removed the bullets from Big Jim’s gun. Lily may have disguised herself as Rosemary, who’s willing to take the blame for the killing, and Lily, the symbol of Death, stabbed Big Jim. It’s not all that clear.

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