Goodbye Jimmy Reed

I’ve read this lyrics of this song a number of times, and I’m no closer to understanding it than when I started. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the song or a problem with my reading comprehension.

The first stanza is pretty confusing. A “Proddy” is most likely a reference to a slang term used by Irish Catholics for Protestant’s. It’s a putdown. Not sure in what type of church Jews, Catholics, and Muslims – but not Protestants – would pray. I’m even less clear on what the popular blues artist Jimmy Reed has to do with all that.

Is Jimmy Reed the one that’s “telling it on the Mountain”, in his “straight-forward” tone? Reed’s style was, as rock-&roller Cub Koda said, accessible. Maybe Dylan is again telling us that he believes in the songs, they are his lexicon, as he has on other songs on the album. And why is “Mountain” capitalized?

Jimmy Reed was a popular musician in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He was a big influence on the Rolling Stones. Elvis Presley and many others covered his songs. He drank himself to death, sometimes having to be propped up against something so he didn’t fall over during his concerts.

Is the line “Never took my shoes off and threw them in the crowd” a humorous refer to this Justin Bieber incident?

Parts of the song are clear self-referential.

You won’t amount to much the people all said
‘Cause I didn’t play guitar behind my head
Never pandered never acted proud

Jimi Hendrix and other showman type rock & rollers were famous for playing their guitars behind their backs, heads, with their teeth. (See this link, around the 3:15 mark.) Dylan of course never held truck with those types of gimmicks.

The stanza below:

They threw everything at me, everything in the book
Had nothing to fight with but a butcher’s hook
They have no pity - they don’t lend a hand
And I can’t sing a song that I don’t understand
Goodbye Jimmy Reed - goodbye and good luck
Can’t play the record ‘cause my needle got stuck

Make me thing of the famous Playboy interview from 1966 with Nat Hentoff. It’s mostly a lot of gibberish. But the quote below I always took as an explanation of why Dylan didn’t want to play his old folk, protest songs anymore. He didn’t “understand” them anymore.

 Everything is changed now from before. Last spring. I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained, and the way things were going, it was a very draggy situation – I mean, when you do “Everybody Loves You for Your Black Eye,” and meanwhile the back of your head is caving in. Anyway, I was playing a lot of songs I didn’t want to play. I was singing words I didn’t really want to sing. I don’t mean words like “God” and “mother” and “President” and “suicide” and “meat cleaver.” I mean simple little words like “if” and “hope” and “you.” But “Like a Rolling Stone” changed it all: I didn’t care anymore after that about writing books or poems or whatever. I mean it was some thing that I myself could dig. It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you. It’s also very deadly entertainment wise. Contrary to what some scary people think, I don’t play with a band now for any kind of propaganda-type or commercial-type reasons. It’s just that my songs are pictures and the band makes the sound of the pictures.

The phrase “I’ll put a jewel in your crown” is a clever reference to the crown on painted Jimmy Reed’s guitar.

Some bawdy humor again.

Transparent woman in a transparent dress
It suits you well - I must confess

The final line in the song – “down in Virginia” – is a reference to a Jimmy Reed song. A very catchy song. Which it seems to meDylan used as the basis for Goodbye Jimmy Reed. Thanks for the hint Bob!


Lyrics

I live on a street named after a Saint
Women in the churches wear powder and paint
Where the Jews and the Catholics and the Muslims all pray
I can tell a Proddy from a mile away
Goodbye Jimmy Reed – Jimmy Reed indeed
Give me that old time religion, it’s just what I need

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
Go tell it on the Mountain, go tell the real story
Tell it in that straight forward puritanical tone
In the mystic hours when a person’s alone
Goodbye Jimmy Reed – Godspeed
Thump on the bible – proclaim the creed

You won’t amount to much the people all said
‘Cause I didn’t play guitar behind my head
Never pandered never acted proud
Never took off my shoes and threw them into the crowd
Goodbye Jimmy Reed – goodbye and goodnight
I’ll put a jewel in your crown – I’ll put out the light

They threw everything at me, everything in the book
Had nothing to fight with but a butcher’s hook
They have no pity – they don’t lend a hand
And I can’t sing a song that I don’t understand
Goodbye Jimmy Reed – goodbye and good luck
Can’t play the record ‘cause my needle got stuck

Transparent woman in a transparent dress
It suits you well – I must confess
I’ll break open your grapes I’ll suck out the juice
I need you like my head needs a noose
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, goodbye and so long
I thought I could resist her but I was so wrong

G-d be with you, brother dear
If you don’t mind me asking, what brings you here?
Oh, nothing much, I’m just looking for the man
I came to see where he’s lying in this lost land
Goodbye Jimmy Reed and with everything within ya
Can’t you hear me calling from down in Virginia

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