Jokerman is the opening track of his 1983 album Infidels. It’s my favourite track from the album but License to Kill and Neighbourhood Bully sure give it run for their money. You just have to be reminded this record could have also included the outtake Foot of Pride and Blind Willie McTell. On the latter classic Dylan claims he can’t even remember why he chose to leave it off of Infidels, shrugging it off as “most likely a demo.”
Jokerman sees Dylan returning to some of his best lyrical imagery since Changing of the Guards on Street Legal. He also summons the passion and fervor synonymous with his earlier work and delivers an inspiring vocal performance. The song has appeared on several Dylan “Best of” compilations. I really like his groovy live version of Jokerman on Dave Letterman.
Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing
Freedom just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?
Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman
In a 1984 interview for Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan discussed his inspiration behind the song: “Me and another guy have a boat down there [in the Caribbean]. ‘Jokerman’ kinda came to me in the islands. It’s very mystical. The shapes there, and shadows, seem to be so ancient. The song was sorta inspired by these spirits they call jumbis” (A type of mythological spirit or demon in the folklore of some Caribbean countries).
As a single, Jokerman failed to chart, but was critically well-received and continues to have a positive legacy especially within Dylan fan-circles. The Telegraph named it Dylan’s fourth best song. The song also features Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor on guitar.
I chuckled when I read what one person wrote below about Jokerman and I couldn’t resonate more:
‘This is my favourite song by Bob, amongst all my other favourites’.
1. Jokerman (song) – Wikipedia