Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: Jack-A-Roe

Bob Dylan: Jack-A-Roe


This song is really a story within a story, although you don't find that out until the last verse. Of course the lie in the story is the young woman passing herself off as a male sailor. But the way I see it, the whole story is was fabricated to win the heart of the woman the narrator addresses in the final verse. Yes, I'm assuming the narrator is a guy, because it sounds like the kind of thing a guy would do. (Or perhaps I've been watching too much How I Met Your Mother.) So multiple lies are afoot in this song.

One of only a handful of songs written by Mark Twain (using his given name, Samuel Clemens), "Jack-a-Roe" has gone on to become a folk standard. Indeed, it's often mistakenly attributed to the ubiquitous "trad."

Like many people who didn't grow up on folk music, I was introduced to the song via the Grateful Dead. (Specifically, the version on 1981's live acoustic Reckoning.) In the mid-80's, Bob Dylan toured with the Dead as his backing band. A few years later, Bob recorded his own version of the song for his first solo covers album, 1993's Good As I Been to You. It's his version I've included here.

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