royal lily

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

"Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts", a song by Bob Dylan, was not performed live before the official version was released on the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. There have been two screenplays written based on the song: one by John Kaye and commissioned by Dylan, and another written by James Byron. Neither screenplay ever became a film.

Main characters

Known for its complex plot, the song has a long list of characters. The role of several characters in the plot has been long disputed among fans.

  • The main character in the song is "The Jack of Hearts" who has recently come into town as a leader of a gang of bank robbers ("The boys finally made it through the wall and cleaned out the bank safe... but they couldn't go no further without the Jack of Hearts")
  • Major women in the song are Lily and Rosemary. The two hold a special relationship, and both are referred to in royal terms ("like a queen without a crown" and "Lily was a princess"). One interpretation of the song uses this link to indicate they are mother and daughter.
  • Big Jim is the wealthiest person in town and "owned the town's only diamond mine". He also had relationships with Rosemary and Lily ("Rosemary was... tired of playin' the role of Big Jim's wife" and "It was known all around that Lily had Jim's ring").

Clues and Interpretations

There is an extra verse on the Bob Dylan website that is not in the album version (right after the "backstage manager" verse):

Lily's arms were locked around the man that she dearly loved to touch,
She forgot all about the man she couldn't stand who hounded her so much.
"I've missed you so," she said to him, and he felt she was sincere,
But just beyond the door he felt jealousy and fear.
Just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts.


There are a vast variety of interpretations of the story line, and at this time it is unknown which is the most accurate since Dylan has yet to comment on the plot.

  • According to Tim Riley of National Public Radio, "'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts' is an intricately evasive allegory about romantic façades that hide criminal motives, and the way one character's business triggers a series of recriminations from people he doesn't even know."
  • Others may say that the song is about criminal facades that hide romantic motives, ("In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground. For one more member who had business back in town. For they couldn't go no further without the Jack of Hearts.") and is more along the lines of some of Dylan's other work such as "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Isis". Like those songs the two main characters, Lily and the Jack of Hearts, come in and out of each other's lives ("...I'm glad to see you're still alive you're looking like a saint.") and a past relationship is implied between the two. (..."'I know I've seen that face somewhere' Big Jim was thinking to himself, 'Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody's shelf.'")


  • The song makes numerous references to card games: "Lily had two queens", "like a queen without a crown" (a wild card), "owned the town's only diamond mine" (cheated using the suit of diamonds), "nothing would ever come between Lily and the King", and of course the "Jack of Hearts".
  • The song ends with Lily thinking about some of the other characters, thereby tying together the different characters' stories:

"She was thinking about her father, who she very rarely saw,
Thinking about Rosemary, and thinking about the law,
But most of all she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts."
The same kind of ending would be used years later in the song "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" which was written by The Traveling Wilburys (a musical group that included Dylan):
"Sometimes I think of Tweeter, sometimes I think of Jan,
Sometimes I don't think about nothing but the Monkey Man."

  • Coincidence: The plot is contingent upon a series of events that are shaped by each other, thus combining the ideas of coincidence and fate, symbolized by the card game.
  • Identity/Duplicity: The setting is a cabaret, and the theme of multiple identities ("there was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts") underlies the symbolic card game in which bluffing and acting are common motifs. Against this background are the main characters, who struggle between their personal and social identities ("tired of playing the role of Big Jim's wife").
  • Justice: Like other Dylan works, this song could be said to parody conventional justice ("he went to get the Hanging Judge but the Hanging Judge was drunk"). Later the Hanging Judge is sober during the execution of the law at Rosemary's hanging, but was ironically unable to prevent the preceding events, despite the manager's concerns and the incessant drilling in the wall. The mastermind of the crime (the Jack of Hearts) has gotten away and is nowhere to be seen, as Rosemary is hanged for an act (killing Big Jim) that is, at worst, morally ambiguous and possibly even justifiable.


  • Joan Baez included a performance of "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" on her 1976 live album From Every Stage.
  • The group Mary Lee's Corvette also covered this song on their tribute album Blood on the Tracks.
  • American Singer/Songwriter, Tom Russell sang a cover of the song with Eliza Gilkyson and Joe Ely for his 2004 album, Indians Cowboys Horses and Dogs.


External links

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