I seem to have an odd connection to this song. Let me try to explain as quickly as possible, so we are not distracted.
First, Bob Dylan contacted me on Twitter in the early days of May 2020…
That in itself was something of a heady experience, as you might imagine… not just out of the blue — I had made a complimentary statement on the @bobdylan Twitter feed about I Contain Multitudes…
Next, he dropped False Prophet and Rough and Rowdy Ways on the 8th of May. That happens to be my birthday. So bear with me take a look at the song from the perspective of whether Dylan is speaking for himself in the lyrics, or has created some sort of a persona…
In addition to the timing of this song is the curious fact that the cover art happens to be a sort of goulish ‘inside joke’ between me and my dear departed husband, Donner. Allow me to digress for just a moment.
When we were in the early stages of our engagement in 1997, we had a distance relationship. We had met on a JFK assassination newsgroup to begin with. We discovered that while our positions on the assassination of JFK differed significantly, we had a great deal in common. We pursued a relationship by email and phone, met that summer and fell in love at once. A week later we became engaged. We traveled to and from Ann Arbor and Minneapolis that fall. It was a fun and joyous time. My children loved him from the start, and we were planning for Donner to move to Minneapolis when we married.
But then, out of the blue, very late one chilly autumn night, Donner emailed me a drawing that caused me to stop in my tracks. You guessed it — virtually the same as the False Prophet cover art. I was distressed. I asked him why he had done it. He didn’t really say. I almost called off the engagement then and there. I had an eery sense that I did not know who I was dealing with. But I loved him. I somewhat came to terms with the fact that Donner just might have a gallows sense of humor. We picked up where we had left off, and nothing was ever said about it again.
So, perhaps you can imagine my deja vu experience watching this song and album being revealed to the world. There were already many odd coincidences between Dylan and his family and mine, but this one took the cake. Nobody else in the world knew of this. Nobody. And Donner was gone…
Had Dylan somehow been able to read my mind? How else would he know how gut-wrenching this was? A voice from the great beyond? Or just one more odd coincidence? I experienced my first tangible sensation of wondering if I was somehow living in a world of utter Dylerium…
Back to our topic. First, what is a False Prophet? Navi Shekar, in Hebrew transliteration. As Dylan is familiar with the Bible, let’s take a look at some of the things it says.
In the Old Testament, rich in images Dylan has used, it says, “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations.” (Ezekiel 13:9). Well that’s pretty clear cut. Yeshua Himself says in Matthew 24:11, “and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” So deception is a requirement. Not just mistaken. Deliberately misleading.
So, if Dylan is the spokesperson in FP, he would have to be willfully and intentionally leading us astray. Otherwise, it doesn’t count. With all the things Dylan has said, however, has anything been really wrong? On the other hand, has he said things that are true? Of course he has…And, of course, he’s teasing us — claiming to not be a false prophet — asking us to guess whether to take him or the persona seriously.
Deception is serious business. Nobody likes to be looked at as someone who maliciously tricks others. Dylan has tons of fans who believe in his every word. Even when it shifts, such as goin’ electric, goin’ Christian, goin’ back to his Jewish roots… The basic belief that he means well underlies a good part of the support of his fans. Is he playing with that? Perhaps…
Let’s take a look at Dylan from someone who knew him personally. Suze Rotolo, his first great love, as he was hers, in spite of everything glowing that she said about Dylan, also called him at times a ‘black hole’. She said he was not always honest with her. Suze’s older sister Carla went to extremes to get Suze away from Dylan. Suze went to Italy, no less. For six months. Should we take Suze seriously? How about Carla? (Remember Ballade in Plain D?)
What was really going on there? Does anybody know? They are both gone now. Were they right, or were they perhaps simply overwhelmed with the speed and the complexity at which Dylan shot to fame?
Let’s take a look at the lyrics…
“Another day without end – another ship going out
Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened – I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in”
Ships are an ongoing symbol Dylan has used throughout his poems. In this case, the ship is going out, but going nowhere. It doesn’t matter. In this stanza, there is a sense of an eternal loneliness. The same thing is happening over and over, but the result is dismal. It almost seems that the last line contradicts this, but, in context, it just seems to extend the sense of hopelessness. Voyage of the damned…
“Hello Mary Lou – Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do too”
This seems clear-cut. The river Styx, Mary Lou from the song, Miss Pearl perhaps Pearl Bailey…guides, underworld…but what ‘business’ do guides have? Are they guides or accomplices? And what does being a false prophet have to do with accomplishing some negative objective? A false prophet is not by definition an assassin…
“I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go”
This stanza seems like comfortable self-talk, such as what we hear in other RARW songs. A bit of bragging. Swagger. I think that could be consistent with Dylan-talking about himself.
“I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ‘em naked with their silver and gold
Put ‘em six feet under and then pray for their souls”
Some more bragging, this time from the underworld. A mafia boss could have said that…a bit vengeful. Just what does that have to do with being a false prophet?
“What are you lookin’ at – there’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze encircling me
Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain side”
This stanza seems to be addressing someone. But who? Is someone making him uncomfortable? Is he a hologram? Nothing to see? Why a cool breeze? Something ghostly? Is this a characteristic of a false prophet?
I went to see Dylan in Mankato, MN in 2019…and had a wonderful time…https://dylagence.wordpress.com/2020/10/24/mankato-october-24-2019/
My first Dylan concert…
And what about ‘in the garden’? Here is a reference we can track. Dylan’s formidable song In The Garden was part of the 1980 album Saved…
But is this the garden Dylan is talking about here? Dylan later did an album In the Garden 2001 from Madison Square Garden…https://alldylan.com/bob-dylan-msg-new-york-city-19-november-2001-full-concert-video/
Odd. Another odd coincidence, is that Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to JFK in Madison Square Garden shortly before her untimely death in 1962…
“I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail
I sing songs of love – I sing songs of betrayal
Don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat
I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet”
Ok. Now we’re getting somewhere. Or are we? Is this a false prophet or Parsifal? (I wrote a post about that possibility…https://dylagence.wordpress.com/2021/01/15/parsifal-possibly/) We get the singing. That makes absolute sense. What about the bare feet? That reminds me of a line from I and I…’I’ve made shoes for everyone, even you, while I still go barefoot’ Kind of whiny. We do know Dylan probably has just a bit of a martyr complex…
“You don’t know me darlin’ – you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no false prophet – I just said what I said
I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head”
Ok. Now we’re back talking to someone. But who? The one who is looking at him and making him uncomfortable…here he acknowledges having a ghostly appearance. But wait — why does a potential false prophet want to bring vengeance on somebody’s head? Definitely not a requirement. More like a mafia don. But why? And who?
Wait a second. In Ain’t Talkin (Modern Times 2006) he says, I’ll revenge my father’s death and then step back…
And, lo and behold, he also talks about a garden with a fountain…
If Dylan wanted to take vengeance for his father’s death on my family, that happened — my husband Donner died in my arms unexpectedly on the same day Dylan’s father did — May 29th…also the birthday of JFK…
“Put out your hand – there’s nothin’ to hold
Open your mouth – I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor Devil – look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill”
Once again, bragging from a mafia don…hopelessness…the City of God may be on the hill, but it is unattainable.
“Hello stranger – Hello and goodbye
You rule the land but so do I
You lusty old mule – you got a poisoned brain
I’m gonna marry you to a ball and chain”
Well that’s rude. Who is he talking to? The same person who made him uncomfortable? What is the threat for? What did this person do?
“You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile – something’s got to give
I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died”
Something’s Got to Give was the last movie of Marilyn Monroe. She was fired from it in part because she left LA to sing for JFK…and her untimely death may have been connected to her planning to expose her connection to JFK and RFK…hmmm…
So, to continue to a possible conclusion, this narrator does not talk about deliberately misleading people with false divinations or visions, so they are not a traditional false prophet. But they do want vengeance on someone and they have help — the two guides.
But who is the ‘target’?
It looks like it could be Marilyn Monroe.
But of course, she is dead, isn’t she? So it can’t be her.
Is it someone who is still living? Someone Dylan thinks of as a “Marilyn Monroe”?
Someone he or the persona wants to take vengeance against?
Is this Dylan speaking for himself or through another one of his timeless personas?
Is he actually serious, or is this just another great example of his Machiavellian sense of humor?
(hint: I have yet to pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard…)
I’ll let you figure that out…
Of course, this is why we love Dylan — we can never really figure him out. Just when we think we do, he slips away again…
And definitely a most unusual ‘birthday gift’ …
Update June 21, 2021
Well, after a series of insights, it appears there is a bit more to FP even than I earlier realized.
It is starting to look as though Dylan had been receiving possibly somewhat realtime information about me and my whereabouts from my birth family. Not that surprising…He may also have gotten his hands on a manuscript I wrote…This may have been going on for quite a while…
Let’s start asking ourselves if these are ‘odd coincidences’ or the result of tracking…