This is the one song on Tempest that I can’t quite make sense of. It’s a classic murder ballad in the folk tradition — gangsta folk, as such songs have been described. I can see how such a song fits into the dark and violent landscape of the album, but Dylan has been content to simply regurgitate the form.
The king figure in the narrative is called “the boss”, and before he embarks on his murderous deed he cuts the wires to the house where his adulterous wife is dallying with her lover — but aside from anachronistic details like this there’s no real effort to make the tale contemporaneous.
Creating a new version of an old narrative ballad, with a few personal elaborations, is part of the folk tradition, of course. It’s a respectable endeavor — but Dylan usually elaborates more drastically, more imaginatively.
Perhaps one should admire his humility before the form, his ambition to take it just a short ways down the road. I don’t know. As I say, the song works perfectly well in the context of Tempest — it has a droning, insistent rhythm, over which Dylan delivers quirky readings of quirky lines. The overall effect is spooky and unsettling. I just can’t see that it adds much to the murder ballad tradition — but maybe I’m missing something that will reveal itself in time.
Back to the Tempest track list page.