Song Of The Day 5/14/2015: Built To Spill – “Jokerman”

Quarterly Covers Report: Infidels was my first Bob Dylan album. It’s not many people’s first Dylan album, but raising myself in music I wasn’t a chronological purist. All I knew at the time was that it was getting good reviews and, from the haughty standpoint of a soon-to-be-emancipated Jehovah’s Witness kid, it was safe to buy Dylan albums again ’cause he was over that whole born-again Christian phase. (No offense intended – JW’s believe that all religions that aren’t their own are controlled by Satan and doomed to destruction. As soon as I figured out that’s what 90% of all other religions believed too, I politely excused myself.) Apparently there were some controversies over some of the lyrics on Infidels, especially “Neighborhood Bully,” which caused some confusion as to whether Dylan was in support of Palestinians or Israelis. I professed total ignorance; today, with some embarrassment, I still profess partial ignorance.

Anyway. “Jokerman” was the lead track on Infidels, and it wasn’t nearly as contentious a song. People theorized it was about Ronald Reagan, Jesus Christ, or maybe even Dylan himself. I tend to believe Dylan more often wrote such songs with archetypes in mind, instead of specific people. It could have been about several world or social leaders, like “Masters of War.” Except in “Jokerman” Dylan’s less vindictive, primarily because his targets, while still assuredly in power, are more or less settling into retirement where we can assume they’ll consume themselves from the inside out. Less work on our part, eh? Built To Spill did a cover of “Jokerman” – more focused in its wrath than we’re used to hearing from them, but it still fits into their overall program.

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