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The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Some songs on John Wesley Harding are a bit too succinct, too circumscribed, a fault Dylan has rarely been guilty of. Not  the  case with  this rambling, semi-serious, semi-comic tall-tale. Yet, it is frustratingly vague, similar to the title track and As I Went Out One Morning. Even a close listen isn’t sufficient to really come to terms with what he’s trying to say.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Of course, this vagueness only encourages the intrepid Dylanologist; breaking out the Bob Dylan library reveals a plethora of ideas on the “meaning” behind this song. Some of them are rather ingenious.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Bob Dylan and Albert GrossmanBob Dylan and Albert Grossman

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 James Dunlap, in an essay published in 20 Years of Isis, argues that Albert Grossman, Dylan’s infamous manager during his early career, is represented by the Judas Priest character. According to Dunlap, Dylan is both the ridiculous Frankie Lee and the “little neighbor boy”. Specifically, Frankie Lee is Dylan pre-John Wesley Harding, given to foolishness, subject to the temptations of money (Priest’s “roll of tens”) and women (a brothel with a “woman’s face” in every window), who  has profound lack of Christian faith (“I don’t call it [heaven] “anything”). Judas/Grossman tempts this Dylan, which isn’t very hard to do, and leads him down to ruin. The little neighbor boy represents the older, “wiser” Dylan post-motorcycle accident, who now knows he didn’t belong in those evil places he used to dwell, the fake “paradise“. Dunlap notes that Grossman was Dylan’s “neighbor” around the time Harding was recorded, when Dylan was living in Woodstock, New York. Dunlap also notes that Dylan used a similar strategy before – the old Dylan dies so that a new one can be born – in his book Tarantula 1.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “Here lies bob/dylan…killed by a discarded Oedipus/so turned/around/to investigate a ghost/& discovered that/the ghost too/was more than one person”

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Dylan biographer Robert Shelton also thinks Dylan is Frankie Lee, and also notes that the Frank in the confusing liner notes might also be Dylan (that seems pretty clear to me). Dunlap thinks that “three kings” in the notes could represent record producers or business managers.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Fredrick Mellers, author of A Darker Shade of Pale, has a more general take. He believes Judas Priest represents the Established Church gone rotten; a priest who is a Judas, a Judas who is a priest. Church and state are the bordello. He contends that the little neighbor boy could be a reference to Matthew 18:3

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Biographer Anthony Scaduto has a similar take:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 “…Dylan is Frankie Lee … and in naming him Judas Priest Dylan symbolized not only the betrayer of Christ but also the institutionalized religions & ruling establishments. …Frankie needed money, Judas … pulled out a roll of tens … & Dylan is saying that he was placing himself above all people, exalting himself. Judas tells Frankie to take whatever he needs… Frankie resists the seduction at first… In giving [him] a choice, Dylan reflects the Biblical teaching… Judas leaves, pointing down the road … putting down the paradise of the Lord. [A] stranger … tells [Frankie Lee that] Priest is … stranded in … a house of prostitution. Frankie Lee loses control of his senses and runs into the house … falls into Judas’ arms & dies of thirst… Dylan should never have entered society’s whorehouse… [T]he result of that huge ego trip was the death of his soul.”

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Joe Cliburn did a nice job of documenting Scaduto and others take on the song (from which the above excerpt is taken). It’s saved on the Bob Dylan Who’s Who website.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Gibbens, author of The Nightingale’s Code, suggests that the little boy could be Priest doppelgänger. 2

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Interesting ideas all, they shed quite a bit of light on a rather confusing lyric. I tend to be somewhat skeptical that Dylan actually had Grossman in mind as the Priest, but Dunlap, Mellers, and others general takes on the song make a lot of sense.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Michael Gray, author of Song and Dance Man, notes that Dylan borrowed the phrase “midnight creep” from the blues. He notes many of the artists used this phrase in their songs, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Alice Moore, Lil Green, and most notably, Willy Dixon’s Back Door Man, made popular by Howlin’ Wolf, and much later by The Doors.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 3 Dylan rarely plays this song live. It was played a few times during his tours with the Grateful Dead in 1987-88.

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19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 It was also played a few times during the Never-Ending tour, in 2000.

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26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Lyrics

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Well, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
They were the best of friends
So when Frankie Lee needed money one day
Judas quickly pulled out a roll of tens
And placed them on a footstool
Just above the plotted plain
Sayin’, “Take your pick, Frankie Boy
My loss will be your gain”

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Well, Frankie Lee, he sat right down
And put his fingers to his chin
But with the cold eyes of Judas on him
His head began to spin
“Would ya please not stare at me like that,” he said
“It’s just my foolish pride
But sometimes a man must be alone
And this is no place to hide”

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Well, Judas, he just winked and said
“All right, I’ll leave you here
But you’d better hurry up and choose which of those bills you want
Before they all disappear”
“I’m gonna start my pickin’ right now
Just tell me where you’ll be”
Judas pointed down the road
And said, “Eternity!”

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 “Eternity?” said Frankie Lee
With a voice as cold as ice
“That’s right,” said Judas Priest, “Eternity
Though you might call it ‘Paradise’”
“I don’t call it anything”
Said Frankie Lee with a smile
“All right,” said Judas Priest
“I’ll see you after a while”

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Well, Frankie Lee, he sat back down
Feelin’ low and mean
When just then a passing stranger
Burst upon the scene
Saying, “Are you Frankie Lee, the gambler
Whose father is deceased?
Well, if you are, there’s a fellow callin’ you down the road
And they say his name is Priest”

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 “Oh, yes, he is my friend”
Said Frankie Lee in fright
“I do recall him very well
In fact, he just left my sight”
“Yes, that’s the one,” said the stranger
As quiet as a mouse
“Well, my message is, he’s down the road
Stranded in a house”

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Well, Frankie Lee, he panicked
He dropped ev’rything and ran
Until he came up to the spot
Where Judas Priest did stand
“What kind of house is this,” he said
“Where I have come to roam?”
“It’s not a house,” said Judas Priest
“It’s not a house . . . it’s a home”

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Well, Frankie Lee, he trembled
He soon lost all control
Over ev’rything which he had made
While the mission bells did toll
He just stood there staring
At that big house as bright as any sun
With four and twenty windows
And a woman’s face in ev’ry one

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Well, up the stairs ran Frankie Lee
With a soulful, bounding leap
And, foaming at the mouth
He began to make his midnight creep
For sixteen nights and days he raved
But on the seventeenth he burst
Into the arms of Judas Priest
Which is where he died of thirst

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 No one tried to say a thing
When they took him out in jest
Except, of course, the little neighbor boy
Who carried him to rest
And he just walked along, alone
With his guilt so well concealed
And muttered underneath his breath
“Nothing is revealed”

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Well, the moral of the story
The moral of this song
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong
So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’
Help him with his load
And don’t go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Notes:

  1. 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0
  2. 20 Years of Isis, p. 141
  3. The Nightingale’s Code, p. 264
Page 94
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Source: http://www.bobdylancommentaries.com/in-progress/the-ballad-of-frankie-lee-and-judas-priest/