Bob Dylan: The Circus Is In Town

By Larry Fyffe

‘The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze’ is a short story by William Saroyan, based on a song by the same name, in which a struggling and starving writer performs the amazing feat of surviving on cigarettes and coffee, until he’s mercifully released from his life of sorrow by death into the eternity of nothingness after falling on his bed – only in his dreams does he find any happiness:

He'd fly through the air with the greatest of eas
The daring young man on the flying trapeze

(Bruce Springsteen: The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze ~


Below, a song that features circus performers – they be signs that the end of the world as we know is approaching:

Fifteen jugglers
Fifteen jugglers
Five believers
Five believers
All dressed like men
Tell your mama not to worry
Because this is just my friend

(Bob Dylan: Obviously Five Believers)

It doesn’t sound like these  ‘believers’ represent those who will be awarded the Five Crowns for their faith in the biblical Lord of Heaven.

The crown of life:

Blessed is the man that endure the temptation
For when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life
Which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him

(James 1:12)

The crown of glory:

And when the chief Shepherd shall appear
Ye shall receive a crown of glory
That fadeth not away

(I Peter 5:4)

The crown of rejoicing:

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?
Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ
at His coming?

(I Thessalonians 2:19)

The crown of incorruption:

And every man that strive the for the mastery is temperate
in all things
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown
But we an incorruptible

(I Corinthians 9:25)

The crown of righteousness:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness
Which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day
And not to me only 
But unto all them also that love His appearing

(II Timothy 4:8)

There may be those who can become five-star believers; however, they’re obviously not the five men hanging around with the fifteen jugglers.

A number of times, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan employs the motif of the circus in his examination of the dire conditions of human existence:

Once upon, you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you .....
You never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down, and did tricks for you

(Bob Dylan: Like A Rolling Stone)

 The circus is dark, and many people want to run away from it:

Here comes the blind commissioner, they've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad, they're restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight from Desolation Row

(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

In this modern Babylon, there’s no rejoicing –  only sinful morality, and corrupt laws:

The judge, he holds a grudge
He's gonna call on you
But he's badly built
And he walks on stilts
Watch out he don't fall on you

(Bob Dylan: Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine)

For the participants bound in the Existentialist circus ring of mighty Babylon,  where enough’s enough, resistance is futile :

Walk upside down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say, "Okay, I've had enough
What else can you show me?

(Bob Dylan: It’s Alright Ma)

It’s an Archibald MacLeish circus out there:

Quite unexpectedly as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe
And Ralph the Lions was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz time swinging Jocko by his thumb 
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off

(Archibald MacLeish: The End Of The World)

What else is here?

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.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  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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