Scarlet Town Analysis – Part 2

I going to do a little trainspotting In this post. Dylan has a delightful habit of tossing into his lyrics sly references to all sorts of things: songs, books, poetry, literature, and of course, the Bible. It’s a lot of fun trying to identify them.


I’ve already discussed the traditional folk song, Barbara Allen.

This line – Set ‘em up Joe, play Walking The Floor – contains several possible references.

Set’em up Joe was a hit for Vern Gosdin, a popular 80s-era country singer.

Gosdin actually had a connection with the early 60s folk-rock scene. He played in the Hillmen with Chris Hillman, who would go on fame with The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Gosdin was in the room when Dylan stopped by to listen to The Byrds rehearse Mr. Tambourine Man. He dropped out of music in the late seventies before reinventing himself as a country artist and achieving major success.

It’s also could be a reference to the song One for my Baby, made famous by Frank Sinatra. Given Dylan’s recent obsession with Sinatra, it’s certainly a possibility. Here’s the verse.

It’s quarter to three
There’s no one in the place
Except you and me
So, set ’em up, Joe
I got a little story you oughta know We’re drinkin’, my friend
To the end of a brief episode
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road

Walking the Floor is a reference to the song by country legend Ernest Tubb.


There are several possible references to the Bible, a book that is seemingly never far from Dylan’s mind these days.

touched the garment – Matthew 9:18-26

18 While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.

19 And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples.

20 And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:

21 For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.

22 But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

human forms glorified

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Colossians 3:4

making amends/smile of heaven

21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Matthew 5:23-24

all things are beautiful

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

 9What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? 

10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

 11He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

 12I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 

13And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

 14I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 3:11


Every American immediately associates the word scarlet with Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. Maybe Dylan had this book in mind when he wrote the song, maybe not. But the ambiguous morality of the place described in the song seems pretty similar to the town that Hester lived.

Further Reading

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