Jimmy Berman Rag. A Bob Dylan song?

By Tony Attwood

It is primarily because there are very few Dylan songs left to review that I’m including a few songs now that may or may not have had any real input in terms of songwriting from Bob Dylan.  And whose contribution to civilisation, or come to that to the overthrow of civilisation as we know it, is perhaps not that great.

This is particularly the case with the Allen Ginsberg pieces which don’t come with any clear indication as to what part Bob Dylan played in their creation, and which to me seem to be rather minor contributions to the artistic expression of Western civilisation – or anti-western civilisation come to that.

Jimmy Berman Rag is credited sometimes with Bob Dylan being on vocals and guitar, with a suggestion in some quarters that Bob was a part composer.  He may have been on guitar, but it don’t sound like Dylan to me, and it doesn’t read like Dylan lyrics either.

There has been a comment posted on Expecting Rain asking for more information on the piece but no one took up the request which makes me think that there is nothing more to be known.  After all if the readers of Expecting Rain don’t know…

The song was first released on Ginsberg’s 1974 album Disconnected and there is a serious consideration of the work on the popmatters website, in which the writer has found a way into the music that totally escapes me.  The central notion is that “it’s an alternately amusing and troubling collection of ideas” – and that’s what I just don’t see.

And in case you need them, here are the lyrics…

Who’s that Jimmy Berman? I heard you drop his name
What has he got to say? What papers is he sellin’?
I don’t know if he’s the guy I met or ain’t the same
Well, that Jimmy Berman was a boy that is worth tellin’

Jimmy Berman on the corner sold the New York Times
Jimmy Berman in New York he had a long, long climb
Started as a shoeshine boy, ended on Times Square
Jimmy Berman, what’s that rose you got settin’ in your hair?

Jimmy Berman what’s your sex, why you hang ‘round here all day?
Jimmy Berman what’s up next, oh what do you play?
Who you wanna sleep with night, Jimmy boy? Would you like come with me?
Jimmy Berman, O my love, O what misery

Jimmy Berman, do you feel the same as what I do?
Jimmy Berman, won’t you come home and make love with me too?
Jimmy Berman, I’ll take my clothes off, lay me down in bed
Jimmy Berman, drop your pants, I’ll give you some good head

Eighteen-year-old Jimmy, the boy is my delight
Eighteen-year-old Jimmy, I love him day and night
Now I know I’m getting kinda old to chase poor Jimmy’s tail
But I won’t tell you other, love, it’d be too long a tale

Jimmy Berman, please love me, I throw myself at your feet
Jimmy Berman, I’ll give you money, oh, won’t that be neat?
Jimmy Berman, just give me your heart and yeah! your soul
Jimmy Berman, please come home with me, I would be whole

Jimmy Berman on the street, waiting for his god
Jimmy Berman as I pass gives me a holy nod
Jimmy Berman he has watched and seen the strangers pass
Jimmy Berman he gave up, he wants no more, alas

Jimmy Berman does yoga, he smokes a little grass
Jimmy Berman’s back is straight, he knows what to bypass
Jimmy Berman don’t take junk, he don’t shoot speed in his eye
Jimmy Berman’s got a healthy mind and Jimmy Berman is ours

Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, I will say goodbye
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, love you till I die
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, wave to me as well
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, please abolish Hell

Such commentaries as I have been able to find suggest the song was improvised on the spot – and maybe that is so.  But are there people who having listened to this once will go back and play it again?   Or isn’t that the point?

Maybe I am just affected by writing these reviews – when writing them I listen to each song over and over and I have to say after several listens to this piece I really do believe I have had enough.  It’s not so much that I am going back to New York City because I’ve had enough or that I don’t want to play this song again, rather I feel like I don’t want to list any song again.  Ever.

But of course this is a blog – if you are getting something out of this song, or if you feel there is real evidence of a Bob Dylan input here, please do write in and say.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to 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 the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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.

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4 Responses to Jimmy Berman Rag. A Bob Dylan song?

  1. LarryFyffe says:

    Perhaps it’s the subject matter that clouds your judgement of this song, but it’s a fine example of burlesque, of Dada ‘anti-art’:

    A well- known bluegrass song:

    I sell the morning paper, sir
    My name is Jimmy Brown
    Everybody knows that
    I’m the newsboy of the town
    You’ll hear me yelling ‘Morning Star’
    As I run along the street
    I got no hat upon my head
    No shoes upon my feet

  2. LarryFyffe says:

    ‘Doc’ AP Carter -June Carter marries Johnnie Cash-wrote the above song and it’s been done by Mac Wiseman, Bill Monroe, Flatts and Scruggs – many others, even Pat Boone.

  3. LarryFyffe says:

    Bob Dylan:
    “I gave her my heart, she wanted my soul
    But don’t think twice, it’s alright”

    Ginsberg, imitating Dylan’s voice:

    “Jimmy Berman, just give me your heart and yeah!
    your soul”

  4. Aaron G says:

    I actually kinda like this song. Not the greatest thing ever but what is and I still like it!

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