Sign on the Window
Sign on the Window
093 – "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"

093 – "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"

"At the Magicians feet are two flowers: the lily and the rose."

Sign on the Window isn't the Bob Dylan podcast you need, but it's definitely the one that you want! Each week we select a Dylan song at random, live with the song for a week (or two) and then get together to discuss. This week the indomitable "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" off 1975's Blood on the Tracks.

Kelly and Daniel go DEEP on this episode of Sign of the Window. To capture the entire narrative, they go verse-by-verse with an intermission, followed by our playlist and recommendations (beginning at 1:25:00!!!!):

  • Verse 1 (17:00)

  • Verse 2 (19:20)

  • Verse 3 (20:45)

  • Verse 4 (22:15)

  • Verse 5 (25:40)

  • Verse 6 (28:00)

  • Verse 7 (31:40)

  • Intermission (36:00)

  • Verse 8 (38:30)

  • Verse 9 (42:00)

  • Verse 10 (45:00)

  • Verse 11 (49:30)

  • Verse 12, the deleted verse (51:30)

  • Verse 13 (57:00)

  • Verse 14 (1:05:00)

  • Verse 15 (1:07:00)

  • Verse 16 (1:11:40)

Next episode: They say you can't repeat the past... what do you mean they can't? Of course they can!


Welcome to a long episode of this podcast.

Dylan recorded 2 takes, alone, on September 16, 1974. On December 30, 1974, with some of his Minneapolis band (Gregg Inhofer on keyboards, Billy Peterson on bass, and Bill Berg on drums), Dylan instructed them:

This is a long song; just keep playing. When you think it ends, it doesn’t, so just keep on playing.

He's only played this song 1 time: May 25, 1976, on the last date of the Rolling Thunder II. Interesting for two reasons: 1) he had to write song cues on his shirt sleeves to keep the verses in order, and 2) there's no audience or soundboard recording we know of — a relative rarity by 1976.

The entire "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" takes are available on The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks.


Daniel and Kelly discuss all Blood on the Tracks takes and the two-minute rehearsal released with the latest Rolling Thunder Revue boxset The 1975 Recordings.


Talking about the song requires talking about ballads and this song's relation to others we've had.

From Anne Margaret Daniel in No Depression:

Dylan has always been a master of the ballad, that ancient form and the best way ever to tell and remember a story (Homer sang his, too, remember, and the ballad writers follow him). At first Dylan sang the ballads of others, and then began writing his own, about heroes and heroines like Emmet Till and Hattie Carroll. He moved into the realm of the imagination with thin men, the denizens of Desolation Row, and Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, and he’s clearly happy here with a Western epic all his own. It plays just like a movie, as does the soon-to-be-written “Black Diamond Bay.”

From here, we go verse-by-verse to explore the universe Dylan creates.

Verse 1 (17:00)

What's the curfew though?

Verse 2 (19:20)

The aura of MAGIC and DISGUISE are introduced — like under a spell, the room returns to how it was before he turned their heads.

Verse 3 (20:45)

Five card stud was made popular during the Civil War but declined. Either way, she has two queens but draws the Jack of Hearts. IT'S FORESHADOW. IT'S METAPHOR.

Verse 4 (22:15)

NEW CHALLENGER!! Big Jim... more like Big Asshole! While archetype is familiar with all of us, there is no diamond mines in the North American west. Regardless, dude is a prominent villain in the Seven Curses Expanded Universe!

Also diamonds are in opposite to hearts...

Verse 5 (25:40)

Rosemary is a queen of... it's unsaid.

As Gavin Selerie points out, there are strong, particular similarities between this song and the Auden poem/ ballad "Victor" (1937):

The Auden verses include, for example, "Anna was sitting at table / Waiting for her husband to come back. / It wasn’t the Jack of Diamonds / Nor the Joker she drew at first; / It wasn’t the King or the Queen of Hearts / But the Ace of Spades reversed. / Victor stood in the doorway, / He didn’t utter a word. / She said: 'What’s the matter, darling?' / He behaved as if he hadn’t heard."

Verse 6 (28:00)

Daniel loves this "I've seen his face somewhere" — probably cause he just finished Deadwood and this is definitely a Western trope.

Verse 7 (31:40)

The gambling before was one thing, but is Lily the narrator of "House of the Risin' Sun"??? We all know she got out of New Orleans after storming the House of the Ring Sun with the help of that stranger. Was the stranger the JACK OF HEARTS?!?! Was this just another tale she'd tell, but less of a warning than the other?

Intermission (36:00)

According to Robert Shelton,

If upright, the Empress symbolizes growth; if reversed, domestic upheaval, psychic alienation, and poverty.

On the song's folio contents page, you'll find "The Magician" card:

The Magician card has also been called the Minstrel, the Conjurer, or the Cobbler. It once represented the traveling showman, a medicine man who told fortunes, sold quack remedies, and spread heretical ideas. A tarot expert's description of the Magician reveals a startling dual portrait of Dylan: “Half mount-e-bank and half wise man … The Magician is forceful and self-confident, and stands alone.'

Upright card (keywords): Determined, Resourceful, Strong powerful man, Dexterity, Skilled

Reversed card (keywords): Deceit, Lack of energy, Communication blocks, Confusion, Ill intentions

At the Magicians feet are two flowers: the lily and the rose.

Verse 8 (38:30)

Back in the bar, we meet our last main character, straight out of central casting: The Hangin' Judge, back from the his Academy Award-nominated role in the blockbuster, "Seven Curses."

This verse was swapped with the next one from the New York sessions the Minneapolis cut is correct, her anger is emphasized with us knowing Lily "had Jim's ring."

Verse 9 (42:00)


For Daniel, this verse really amplifies the mysteriousness of the Jack of Hearts, sure, but also makes him mystical, soothsaying; a type of dreamboard/moodboard you can pin yourself to

Verse 10 (45:00)

Lily and the Jack of Hearts know one another? — perhaps from another mining camp? See Seven Curses Expanded Universe rom-com, "Kingsport Town" (Episode 80) as a prequel.

What's up with washing her face? What's up with the brand new coat of paint?

Verse 11 (49:30)

Jack of Hearts slips by in the "costume of a monk," cue Lily calling him a "saint" before. But was that the Jack of Hearts????!!!! Stay tuned!

Verse 12, the deleted verse (51:30)

This verse is WILD

  1. Lily is locked in the Jack of Heart's arm — did they leave together? Or are they snuggled up in the dressing room?

  2. If they didn't leave, was the monk costume and Dylan singing the Jack of the Hearts refrain about him being the best actor unrelated.

  3. It absolves Lily with Big Jim — it's not really a choice, not that it ever is in these circumstances of wild power differences — but she hates the guy!

  4. We go into the Jack of Hearts mind for a second as he deems her to be sincere. Why?

  5. And when we do, he mentions "beyond the door he felt jealousy and fear," implying he's in the room with Lily, they SNUGGLIN', just another day for ole Jack O Hearts!

Verse 13 (57:00)

Joan Baez gets the piano on the "cold revolver clicked"

This is another wildly ambiguous verse:

  1. Where Lily is depends on Verse 12 existing or not. Without that, which implies she's there, this verse doesn't mention her AT ALL.

  2. Jim burst in and? the revolver "clicked"

  3. Is it "cold" or "Colt"

    A "cold revolver" implies it has no bullets in it, they were removed

    "Colt revolver" implying he's pulling back on the hammer to get ready for shooting.

    I always heard — then didn't hear through my internal singalong — Colt, but it's NOT COLT.

  4. Big Jim wasn't surprised EITHER WAY —

    either because the bullet had been removed, obviously by Rosemary, which he knows has been a long time coming,

    if Rosemary didn't kill Jim with a penknife, the Colt revolver "clicking" could be from her, his surprise the same as if he had no bullets,

    or he was surprised by no one was there?


  5. Rosemary steadies herself —

    presumably because she knew the gun wasn't gonna go off because she took the bullets

    but if she has the gun, her steadiness is because she's turned the tables

  6. Rosemary leans

    She "leans" into the Jack of Hearts the way we "lean" into situations we're not comfortable with — which brings up another ambiguous point

    Jim is killed by a penknife but who is to say that Rosemary did it?

    What if Lily and Jack are in the room? The narrator says "no one knew the circumstances" so what if there's an extra scene with them confronting Jim and he escapes and she does what she has to do?

Verse 14 (1:05:00)

The Oceans Eleven C or D plot has brought us back to the present. This is definitely the most cinematic element — maybe not individual scene — of the song: this heist is taking place under the backdrop of MUUUURRRRRDER! You can almost see Rosemary stabbing Jim just as George Clooney pierces the wall.

Verse 15 (1:07:00)

Joan's version emphasizes the drama with the instruments blaring — LOVE IT

This was the only other verse that perplexed Dylan, mainly for how much stoicism to show from Rosemary. Heylin notes a few other contenders for the verse:

In the process, he transforms the perfectly acceptable And in the final moments, it was said she gave a wink / Toward the purple hills, or maybe to the Jack of Hearts into something less satisfactory: Nobody knew in those final moments what she did think. As a result, he forces the narrator to awkwardly introduce himself: But I’m sure it had something to do with the Jack of Hearts.

A penknife is a folding knife. Originally designed for thinning and pointing quills, which gave way to pencils, which these knives could sharpen, until pencil sharpeners usurped their job, and it turned to MUUUUUURDER!

Featured killer in "Babylon or The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (from Child's Collected Ballads) as "my wee pen knife." To "Love Henry" and "The Cruel Mother" who kills her child but the blood won't wash off.

Verse 16 (1:11:40)

Our final focus is on Lily. If she's in town:

  • Is she leaving town?

  • Is she getting her look ready for next season's performance (this one cut short "for repairs," i.e. Big Jim owned the town and they're bankrupt and blood stains yo), a beautiful story set in the Seven Curses Expanded Universe — one based on "Girl From the North Country" perhaps?

  • Or is she dismayed and changing into a disguise?

  • Did the Jack of Hearts really slip out? Was it her plan all along to steal from the man and, once again, the Jack of Hearts beat her to it?

OR, since we don't see her again, she may have run off WITH the Jack of Hearts. Maybe that was his last deed in town?

Daniel and Kelly riff about Lily, with the Jack of Hearts, looking down on this town forced to change after Big Jim's (much needed, but unprepared for) death and mentally moving forward with her life:

  1. I haven't called my dad in a while (since I ran away from Kingsport, Tennessee)

  2. I'm really sorry what happened to Rosemary and while not my fault I will always grieve over what role I played.

  3. I wonder if the law will overtake me in the years to come? Am I already a step behind and don't even realize it? Will I be undone by MY MAN — he is relatedly the best actor anywhere and can pull of a mean Monk? Or will I be undone by George Clooney? Or Matt Damon? Or Sanda Bullock? Or RIHANNA!

  4. But most of all, I'm thinkin' about the Jack of Hearts.


Absolutely it does. It's part of the lauded Seven Curses Expanded Universe.

Daniel explores wild interest theories about MPD, Elmer Gantry and Watergate.

Tim Riley of National Public Radio,

'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts' is an intricately evasive allegory about 'romantic facades' that hide 'criminal motives', and the way one character's business triggers a series of recriminations from people he doesn't even know.



Kelly has been watching Derry Girls, Big Little Lies, and the new season of Black Mirror. She's been listening to The Promise Ring, Wolf Parade, Japandroids and Tool (now on Spotify).

Daniel has been listening to Bon Iver i,i and Strung Out Songs of Armor and Devotion. The podcast Omnibus did a great episode on “Bob Dylan's Christian Period.” He also discusses Toni Morrison, who passed away prior to our recording.


There's 414 songs left. Kelly futilely guesses #141 — "It Hurts Me Too." No. It's #341 — "Summer Days" from 2001's "Love & Theft".

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Sign on the Window
Sign on the Window
Not the Bob Dylan podcast you need, but certainly the one you want. We explore Dylan one random song at a time.