Monday, May 23, 2011

The Traveling Wilburys - Tweeter and the Monkey Man

The story of the Traveling Wilburys has been told by many [including me], so I won’t bore you with their history. The whole album was done for a laugh, and by far the funniest song on the album was Bob Dylan’s Tweeter and the Monkey Man. Until I heard this song I never knew Bob Dylan had a sense of humor. I always saw him as a “serious” guy. After Tweeter and the Monkey Man my perceptions of Bob Dylan changed forever. I first thought this was Dylan taking the piss out of Bruce Springsteen. The song even takes place in New Jersey, with a couple of places called out by name [Rahway Prison, Jersey City]. The song is filled with words that often crop up in Springsteen lyrics: Vietnam, nobody gives a damn, freedom, Jersey, highways, young marriages, car crash, surrender, gun, prison and to run out of gas. With all the Springsteen song titles present [Stolen Car", "Mansion On The Hill", "State Trooper", "Factory", "Mansion on the Hill", "The River" and a Tom Waits song covered by Springsteen “Jersey Girl”] how could it not be? But I’ve since learned it was just a playful homage since Dylan actually likes Bruce. Oh well…


The story tells the story of two drug dealers, -- Tweeter and the Monkey Man -- their nemesis, "The Undercover Cop", and the nemesis's sister, Jan. It is hinted that Tweeter is a male-to-female transsexual, in the lines: "Tweeter was a boy scout / before she went to Vietnam..." Throughout the song, Bob tells the story of the the fall of Tweeter and the Monkey Man [Tweeter and the Monkey Man were hard for cash/they stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash to an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan/for reasons unexplained she loved the Monkey Man...]. Jan kills her brother, because she loves the Monkey Man [even though she was married to a racketeer named Bill], and the story climaxes with a shootout on a bridge: "She took a gun out of the drawer / and said 'It's best if you don't know' / the undercover cop was found face down in a field... /" and "The monkey man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield / Jan said to the Monkey Man, 'I'm not fooled by Tweeter's curl' / I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl'...". The verse that always got me laughing was “Now the town of Jersey City is quieting down again, I’m sittin’ in a gambling club called the Lion’s Den/the TV set was blown up, every bit of it was gone/ever since the nightly news show that the Monkey Man was on...” The line in Jersey anything's legal as long as you don't get caught brings The Sopranos to mind. Just sayin'... :-)


George Harrison’s twelve-string slide was the hook that got me interested in Tweeter, but with lyrics as humorous as these, how could you not like it? And not only that you can actually understand what Dylan is singing. That was a rarity at that time, or so I thought until he came out with Oh Mercy in 1989. So if you haven’t heard it before, take a listen. If you have heard it, listen again and enjoy!


This is my last blog before I head out to parts west tonight. Tomorrow Bob Dylan turns 70. With that said, Happy Birthday, Bob!


Tweeter and the Monkey Man

5 comments:

Keith in Ottawa said...

Hey Tony, it may not be your thing, but sometime check out the "Tweeter" cover done by a Canadian hardcore band called The Headstones. Saw them live many times, they would just KILL it live.

El Viejo Loco said...

Hey Keith - sounds like a plan. I`ll be on the lookout for them. Thanks for the tip and thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

He doesn't sing "before she went to Vietnam", he sings "cause he went to Vietnam".

No matter what, great song from a fantastic album.

Anonymous said...

he does say before she went to Vietnam. no biggie. except yeah its a statement he decided to hint at twice.

Victor Franchetti said...

It is "before she went to Vietnam", great song, one of my favorites and a spectacular group, too bad they only did it once..

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