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Dylan’s ‘Jokerman’ a metaphor for Election 2016 and more

Bob Dylan
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Bob Dylan for President!

Just kidding. He wouldn’t accept. Not, right off.

But he may write a song about it. In fact, he did. It’s called “Jokerman,”  a 6 minute ballad and the lead song on Dylan’s 1984 album, “Infidels”

{mosads}To me, “Jokerman” is exactly about the 2016 presidential election. It’s about awards and those who would seek them, and be awarded them. Those who covet them. It’s about leaders and would-be leaders. It’s about what is, and the conflict within and without. It’s about hope, fools, oppression and dangerous men. And women.

It’s about life’s great joke on us all.

I was a broadcast producer on the “Jokerman” video. I worked for the famous advertising man, art director, iconic mass media communicator and author, George Lois. In 1984, I was at the right place at the right time and lucky enough to be involved in this adventure.

Dylan and Lois were long time friends when CBS Records was encouraging Dylan to make more music videos for the newly created MTV. Lois’s ad agency had the MTV account (“I Want My MTV!”). Dylan went to Lois to make the video. He knew Lois had an ad agency and that he made television commercials, he knew Lois could produce music videos as well.

Dylan and Lois first met back in 1975 at a benefit concert in Madison Square Garden to protest and to call for the release of professional boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who was imprisoned on a 1966 murder charge and conviction, a crime that was ultimately not proven to be committed by Carter. Carter’s incarceration was cited as being based on “racism not reason.”  Lois was on his defense committee and an organizer of the benefit concert.

In 1985, Carter was released on a petition of habeas corpus, but not before spending nearly 20 years in prison.

Dylan wrote the famous song “Hurricane” in direct response to this American episode of justice and injustice, and racial prejudice ..and vindication.

Whether Dylan comes out of the woods to acknowledge his Nobel Prize for Literature, or even accepts it, is of no consequence. The Nobel committee, bless them, is about 30 years too late — but thank you and appreciated very much. We all already know the genius of this prolific artist song writer, musician and poet.

And, great American original.

As we all watched the final presidential debate between Hillary and Trump (funny how it’s natural to call her Hillary and him Trump), the experience of this whole election process for the past six months is ringing in our ears and pressing heavy on our national conscience.

The sheer entertainment value aside, which is really more like watching a train wreck, I can’t help from aligning all this, and the whole global situation and deplorable state of world affairs, with the lyrics of Dylan’s “Jokerman”

At one of the first meetings at the agency, we asked Dylan what the song meant, to get a better perspective on what creative approach to take with the music video. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he either indicated he didn’t know, or he wouldn’t say. So, of course we all had our own ideas.

What stood out was that the piece was a timeless commentary, and in true Dylan form, it was profound, prolific and painful. Painfully true.  

George Lois, of course, had the best idea and this is what you see in the video. Works of art through the ages … paintings, sculptures, statues … old photographs, contemporary iconic photographs, video clips and animated graphics … all edited to the tempo of the music with the lyrics superimposed over the visuals. For the chorus part, we filmed Dylan live and very close up, lip syncing the words.

The video aired on MTV to rave reviews. It was the cover story in Rolling Stone. VHS copies were sent to high school art and music departments around the country with a list of the artwork included.

“Jokerman” is not your standard purple smoke and mirrors music video. It’s actually educational.

Just listen to the lyrics and watch the video and you can see what I mean by applying this to our timeless and continually severe world situation. Our current election and state of the country, the individuals who would be king. How the past is repeated like we never learn by our mistakes. The issues we and our leaders will be facing more now than ever before: nuclear war, global warming, race, oppression, injustice. It’s all kind of raw and depressing but painfully true, in a very entertaining and reasonable way.

You won’t be able to get the music out of your head. It’s wonderful. Memorable. Mnemonic.


You can make your own specific interpretations but I’m sure you will agree the piece is relative to everything you know and feel in our contemporary world.

It even relates metaphorically, to some degree, to the concept and reality of the Nobel Prize if you listen closely. And the Oscar, the Olympic Gold Medal, Miss America, Clio Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the E-Commerce Awards, Effie and REGGIE, and all the other many hundreds of awards, honors and accolades we bestow on one another. No offense or disrespect to any of them.         

And knowing what little I do know about Bob Dylan he will acknowledge, accept, and show some form of respect, even if in protest for whatever reason, because I have observed him to be a gentleman … polite, well mannered and courteous.

So, with honor and distinction, the Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan. Good for him!

And no doubt, we’ll get our ‘Jokerman’ for president. It will be either one or the other, female candidate notwithstanding.

I hope Dylan writes specifically about this election and America. If not, this classic Dylan music tells the story. Listen to and watch “Jokerman” and decide for yourself.

John Kushma is a communication consultant and lives in Logan, Utah.   

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 2016 presidential election Bob Dylan Democratic Party Donald Trump Hillary Clinton I'm With Her Jokerman Make America Great Again Nobel Prize for Literature Republican Party United States
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