This song, which comes in at just under nine minutes, is well known for its rather befuddling plot. While Bob Dylan fans, nor Songfacts, are yet to come to a fixed decision on its one true meaning, this is what we have managed to decipher: The song is occupied by multiple archaic characters, including the enigmatic bank robber, "Jack of Hearts." This charming rogue seduces two women, "Lily" and "Rosemary," both of whom are romantically linked to "Big Jim," the wealthiest, greediest man in town. Big Jim is ultimately murdered by Rosemary, who is subsequently hung for her crime. Meanwhile, Jack of Hearts escapes into the night having accomplished his robbery, leaving Lily alone to ponder the events that have taken place.
Dylan is yet to comment on the plot, so debate continues to rage about the true meaning behind the song. Some fans have suggested Jack of Hearts is an embodiment of our closet criminal desires. Others argue Lily, Rosemary and Jack of Hearts are three facets of one individual and that the song therefore represents the struggle we have with social identity. Some claim gambling metaphors are used to represent abstract ideas of coincidence and fate. Others think the song is criticizing justice systems. Then there are a select few fans who think it's just a simple song about a simple bank robbery!
The song's vivid plot inspired two screen plays - one that was commissioned by Dylan and written by John Kaye, and a second written by James Byron. Neither were made into a film.
Dylan called up folk singer, Joan Baez, about this track. Baez told The Huffington Post: "He read me the entire lyrics to 'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts' that he'd just finished from a phone booth in the Midwest." The phone call prompted Baez to write "Diamonds & Rust
," which is about the relationship she had with Dylan in the '60s. Baez said she later lied to Dylan that "Diamonds and Rust" was about her husband, David Harris.
Blood on the Tracks is Bob Dylan's 15th album and widely considered to be one of his greatest works. The album peaked at #1 on the US charts. At the time of its release, Dylan was separating from his then-wife, Sara Dylan. This personal turmoil is said to been the inspiration behind many of the album's songs. Dylan would later deny this, instead claiming the album took inspiration from Anton Chekhov's short stories. In 2003, Blood on the Tracks was ranked at #16 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Dylan accidentally used the wrong harmonica during recording, so it is a bit off-key.
The lone live performance Dylan ever did for this song was on May 25, 1976, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He wrote some of the lyrics on his sleeve in case he forgot them mid-performance.