Bob Dylan goes on a “Picnic” at Bear Mountain (with Lily)


by Larry Fyffe

The dramatic romantic comedy movie “Picnic”, starring William Holden and Kim Novac, influences a number of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics.

A coincidence perhaps, but “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues” could be one. The satirical song is based on a New York newspaper item, but it sums up the plot of the movie quite nicely. The film centres on a Labor Day picnic – mixed with paper-bagged alcohol – that takes place in a small town in Kansas; in the movie, the ‘massacre’ is mostly psychological, not physical:

Six thousand people tryin’ to kill each other
Dogs a-barkin’, cats a-meowing
Woman screamin’, fists a-flyin’, babies cryin’
Cops a-comin’, me a-runnin’
(Bob Dylan: Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues)

Holden is a drifter, a Jack Of Hearts archetype (Holden also stars in “Rachael And The Stranger”). He hops a freight train, gets off at the Kansas town in the hopes of getting a job from an old college buddy who’s a ‘Diamond Jim’ type, made it big in the grain business:

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owed the town’s
only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy and so fine
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

He’s courting Madge, the beautiful Novac, the picnic’s chosen Queen, and a real man-killer Lily ~ whether she likes it or not. Madge has a younger
plain-looking sister named Millie who has memorized the Sonnets of Shakespeare:

Maggie and Milly, and Molly and May
Went down to the beach to play one day
(e e Cummings: Maggie and Milly And Molly And May)

Madge and Millie’s mother, whose husband left her, wants the older daughter to marry Holden’s pal because he’s wealthy, but she falls for the shiftless drifter because she’s a dreamer. Madge and he kiss and her ear-ring accidently scratches the drifter’s face:

Lily was fair-skinned, and precious as a child ….
But she had never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts)

In the movie, the leather boots of Holden’s drunkard father serve as a symbol for the independent man who follows his own path regardless of the consequences; Holden takes the boots off of his dead father’s feet, and puts them on:

And yes, there’s something you can send back to me
Spanish boots of Spanish leather
(Bob Dylan: Boots Of Spanish Leather)

The middle-aged ‘old maid’ school teacher in “Picnic” is named Rosemary. She drinks some alcohol at the Labor Day picnic, pushes herself on muscle-bound Holden; he rips not her bodice, she rips his shirt instead. She turns on Holden when he rejects her, accuses him of trying to take advantage of Madge’s younger sister:

Someone’s got it in for me
They’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is, I wish they’d cut it out quick
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

“Cut it out quick” – a clever double-edged pun if there ever was one.

Holden’s pal turns on him too – accuses him of stealing his car. Madge and the drifter have gotten it on, she doesn’t love the grain elevator man:

Down the hallway, footsteps were coming for the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Cops are called, and the drifter escapes, but he manages to tell Madge that she’s changed his life before he hops a freight heading for Tulsa, Oklahoma:

You understand
That my heart can’t go beating without you
Well, your loveliness has wounded me
I’m reeling from the blow
(Bob Dylan: Can’t Wait)

Millie says to her sister – “Go with him, Madge, for once in your life do something bright.” Madge stabs the grain man in the back (so to speak), and grabs a bus for Tulsa:

Not that different from Rosemary, Madge, the Lily, be:

Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died
She was gazin’ to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

They don’t make movies or songs like that anymore.

Bob Dylan at the Movies

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