This song is about the comedian Lenny Bruce, who was famous for his raunchy material that landed him on trial for obscenity charges in the '60s. Dylan explores how Bruce was vilified for his words, when he never committed any real crimes. Bruce died of a drug overdose in 1966 at age 40, and became an icon after his death - a symbol for how a myopic society can destroy an artist before he can be appreciated. Lenny Bruce also gets a mention in the R.E.M. song It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) and appears on The Beatles Sgt. Pepper album cover.
Former Wall of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgway covered this song for his 2010 album Neon Mirage. Ridgway told us: "It's not so much that Lenny Bruce affected me, although I'm certainly aware of his life and his career and his recordings, and his place in culture. But the song itself is about a lot more than just Lenny Bruce. That's the great thing that Bob did with that song. There's always something deeper than just what's on the surface. There's always some sort of other facets, and once you get to that, you see a reflection into some other place. I look at it as a kind of celebratory tribute to anyone that's laid his body on the barbed wire for a cause or for a perspective or for an idea about what art is or freedom of speech or any of those things."