Key West (Philosopher Pirate)

Album: Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020)
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  • McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
    Doctor said, "McKinley, death is on the wall
    Say it to me, if you got something to confess"
    I heard all about it, he was goin' down slow
    I heard it all, the wireless radio
    From down in the boondocks, way down in Key West
    I'm searching for love, for inspiration
    On that pirate radio station
    Coming out of Luxembourg and Budapest
    Radio signal, clear as can be
    I'm so deep in love that I can hardly see
    Down on the flatlands, way down in Key West

    Key West is the place to be
    If you're looking for immortality
    Stay on the road, follow the highway sign
    Key West is fine and fair
    If you lost your mind, you will find it there
    Key West is on the horizon line

    I was born on the wrong side of the railroad track
    Like Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac
    Like Louis and Jimmy and Buddy and all the rest
    Well, it might not be the thing to do
    But I'm sticking with you, through and through
    Down in the flatlands, way down in Key West
    I got both my feet planted square on the ground
    Got my right hand high with the thumb down
    Such is life, such is happiness
    Hibiscus flowers, they grow everywhere here
    If you wear one, put it behind your ear
    Down in the bottom, way down in Key West

    Key West is the place to go
    Down by the Gulf of Mexico
    Beyond the sea, beyond the shifting sand
    Key West is the gateway key
    To innocence and purity
    Key West, Key West is the enchanted land

    I've never lived in the land of Oz
    Or wasted my time with an unworthy cause
    It's hot down here, and you can't be overdressed
    China blossoms of a toxic plant
    They can make you dizzy, I'd like to help you but I can't
    Down in the flatlands, way down in Key West
    Well, the fish tail ponds and the orchid trees
    They can give you that bleeding heart disease
    People tell me I ought to try a little tenderness
    On Newton Street, Bayview Park
    Walking in the shadows after dark
    Down under, way down in Key West
    I played Gumbo Limbo spirituals
    I know all the Hindu rituals
    People tell me that I'm truly blessed
    Bougainvillea blooming in the summer, in the spring
    Winter here is an unknown thing
    Down in the flat lands, way down in Key West

    Key West is under the sun, under the radar, under the gun
    You stay to the left, and then you lean to the right
    Feel the sunlight on your skin, and the healing virtues of the wind
    Key West, Key West is the land of light

    Wherever I travel, wherever I roam
    I'm not that far before I come back home
    I do what I think is right, what I think is best
    History Street off of Mallory Square
    Truman had his White House there
    East bound, West bound, way down in Key West
    Twelve years old, they put me in a suit
    Forced me to marry a prostitute
    There were gold fringes on her wedding dress
    That's my story, but not where it ends
    She's still cute, and we're still friends
    Down on the bottom, way down in Key West
    I play both sides against the middle
    Trying to pick up that pirate radio signal
    I heard the news, I heard your last request
    Fly around, my pretty little Miss
    I don't love nobody, give me a kiss
    Down on the bottom, way down in Key West

    Key West is the place to be
    If you're looking for immortality
    Key West is paradise divine
    Key West is fine and fair
    If you lost your mind, you'll find it there
    Key West is on the horizon line Writer/s: Bob Dylan
    Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 23

  • British Bob Fan from TarletonRadio Luxembourg was massive in the UK in the 60s, before we had national pop radio stations. The signal was weak and it was a struggle to tune in. Many uk teens first hearing of Bob Dylan songs would have been via this station.
  • Listen Here from FtlKey West has an antenna farm listening post that has evolved over the last seventy years intercepting radio communications in support of the national security mission. Skipping along now...Every year Cubans depart their island looking to the horizon of freedom offered by Key West. The lyrics definitely have a juxtaposition and philosophy theme reminiscent of Earnest Hemingway and colonization performed by communist states vis-a-vi free states.
  • Oderth from TexasIt's a lovely song! I think we have to "release ourselves" from actual geography and switch to more abstract territory. For me "Key West" is the changes in USA under Trump USA. And maybe unlike Joe Strummer because he ahas more real estate or money tied Bob just can't say it in plain like in the 60's.
  • Rtr1975 from Somewhere Off The Coast Of MozambiqueHey, all you genial anti-semites projecting onto Dylan that he's calling Judaism "a prostitute." We're bar-mitzvahed at 13, not 12. If Bob wanted to use that number, he jolly well would have. Please try to keep your racist ignorance to yourselves.
  • Pfjenz from San FranciscoThe lines about President Mckinley's assasination are a paraphrase of a 1920s song by Charley Poole called White House Blues. The original goes:

    McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
    Doc said, "McKinley I can't find the cause
    You're bound to die, you're bound to die"

    Mckinley was shot at the Worlds Fair in Buffalo. The doctor was unable to find the bullet before they put Mckinley on the train back to DC and he died from the festering wound.
  • AnonymousI don't think that Radio Luxembourg, for example, is such a mystery...growing up in South Africa in the 60s in South Africa, that's where we got to listen to decent music.
  • Number Juan Son from Heartland The McKinley reference points to an old song called “White House Blues”. This ties in with Truman keeping “his White House” there. Why is Dylan drawing special attention to a White House? The answer can take you lifetimes to figure out- I sincerely hope you do one day.
  • Jack Smith from Key West FloridaThe Pirate radio station Dylan sings about is mine.
    I own Pirate Radio Key West. Radio Luxembourg or anything out of Budapest never has and never will reach Key West or our island chain referred to as Flirida Keys. I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to get inside Dylan’s head. It’s quite simple. He’s singing about our island paradise - Key West, home to Pirate Radio Key West
  • Rudy from HollandRadio Luxemburg was a radio station that broadcasted popular music in de 50's and 60's in a time that this music was nowhere on the radio. We would now call it PopMusic. It used medium wave and is in nothing compared to radiosound now, but we could listen new music!!
  • Dave Z from SocalAs others have said, the part about marrying a prostitute sounds like a bar mitzva. In the Old Testament God repeatedly refers to Judaism as a prostitute, as the Jewish people would wander from from God and worship false gods. "That's my story, but not where it ends," refers to his embrace of Christianity. Then, the lines "She's still cute and we're still friends" addresses the common elements and close relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Even as a Christian Dylan still sees beauty in the Jewish faith, and feels a personal connection to both. Brilliant lines.
  • Uklauren from Delray FlRadio Luxembourg was a pirate radio station in the 60s based in the North Sea and broadcasting to Britain. I wonder if it could be reached in the Keys?
  • Gracie Dylan from Uk"To the best of our knowledge, Dylan has never been forced to marry a prostitute." the prostitute is religion, I thought this was one of the more transparent metaphors Bob uses on this whole album. The references to Radio Luxembourg are an obvious reference to the Pirate Radio stations that broke the strict licensing of the British Government before and through the 60s.
  • Marco from HollandGuess you wasn't a young Dutch guy who would listen to Radio Luxemburg under the blankets on his little transsitor radio. It was one of THE stations to listen to back then. Mid 60s. Cheers, Marco
  • AnonymousMcKinley reference is unlikely to be the 25th President as he was shot some years before anyone could hear about it on a radio as they weren't in use in 1901 when McKinley was assassinated. Also, '12 years old they put me ina suit, forced me to marry a prostitute' is an oblique reference to his barmitzvah
  • Nicholas J BullockMcKinley is probably Larry McKinley. Louis could be Louis Jordan as well. Buddy could be Buddy Bolden and Jimmy is probably Jimmy Dorsey all from New Orleans.
  • Barry Mccollom from Plano, TxJust a few insights I have picked up while reading about "Key West(Philosopher Pirate)". The first verse is pulling lines from a 1926 era song "White House Blues" recorded by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers. It is referring to the McKinley Assassination and the subsequent Theodore Roosevelt Administration. Dylan's latter day work is full of references to various source materials from old songs. For me researching these little gems has been a source of pleasure and an education as well. Dylan has an encyclopedic knowledge that he imparts obliquely, allusively and elusively. The verse about being wed to a prostitute has been explained as referring to the Prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer who was an unfaithful woman. The age of 12 is close to bar mitzvah. Is Dylan referring to his family of origin religion? Perhaps. The other line that I didn't quite get was "Key West is on the horizon line." An explanation that I like is that this island refuge and paradise is always out in front of the wanderer forever receding in front like a wavering mirage in the distance. The lazy accordion and the length of the song lend to the hypnotic effect of the imagery of the heat and potent flowers. Another "Shelter From the Storm"..."if you've lost your mind you will find it there."
  • Jm from Szeged, Hungaryabout 'married a prostitute at 12', wasn't this about his bar mitzvah, being made part of the Jewish religion? Note 'forced to marry' and 'we're still friends'. Ain't it cute...?.. --- And McKinley was Muddy Waters' name - although I see no further Muddy connections here.
  • Pj from SfThe verse about McKinley is a slight re-write of lines from "White House Blues" a folk song by Charlie Poole and others about McKinley's assassination in 1901, another song like Murder Most Foul about an American President assassinated. "Jimmy" also could refer to Jimmy Rogers who wrote the song from which Dylan's album is titled, "My Rough and Rowdy Ways".
  • John W from ScotlandThe song starts with the doctor asking McKinley if he has anything to confess. McKinley was US president who was assassinated and it seems to me to reference Murder most Foul. McKinley portrayed himself as the people’s president like Kennedy. However he was also responsible for the Spanish American war and conquered and colonised Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Phillippines for the US and he later became closely associated with big business interests.
    Key West is the nearest point in the US to Cuba and it had a significant Cuban population. It has a naval base and was important during the Spanish American War. It was also important during Kennedy’s Cuban missile crisis. Following the assassination the FBI and later the CIA were set up to protect the president, which offers another link to Murder most foul. So McKinley is a ‘man of contradictions’.

    I think this song is about a poisoned paradise where the rich and famous have gone to wear hibiscus flowers in their hair and over-dress in the heat. And ‘nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row’
  • Sam from Thailandsuffice to say thanks for the comments about European radio stations which got me thinking. This song now makes more sense, to me, than it did an hour ago.

    'i got both my my feet planted square on the ground
    got my right hand high with the thumb down
    Such is life, such is happiness.'

    brutal, and the bit about the prostitute?

    hes still got it basically, and he got it off of the radio
  • Sam from Thailandhard to write about this without being way off but thanks to the comment about Pirate Radio Key West, I like to imagine hes come here on holiday, heard the phrase, and gone with it.

    strange lyric early on that hes looking for love but almost inmediately hes blind with it, whats happened? music, like most of the ones he name drops, and since his epiphany he has a purpose in life, even if it means he must be alone.

    from the sixties to the 80s for many the key to the enchanted land was luxembourg and budapest radio as the comments below show! that really helped with my understanding. the philosopher pirate speaker at the end of his life reminded by every signal of music and death and he plays both off against the middle, hoping to pick up that pirate radio signal.
    the healing virtues of the 'wind'
    for many the radio and pirate radio was a magical thing
  • Tim Reynolds from Cardiff, WalesBd is right. Radio Luxembourg broadcast all through my childhood and was one of the first commercial broadcasters in Europe. Spent many Sunday nights listening to the "Top Twenty Show" on my transistor radio under my pillow so my parents couldn't hear.
  • Bd from PolandThere was famous pirate radio station coming out of Luxemborg from 60-80. It was often listend in Soviet Union, especially in Budapest (there was special relay), Prague or Warsaw. You can read in Wikipedia: 'radio Luxemborg was an important forerunner of pirate radio'. Sorry for my English.
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