Tweeter and the Monkey Man
|"Tweeter and the Monkey Man"|
|Song by Traveling Wilburys from the album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1|
|Released||October 18, 1988|
|Genre||Heartland rock, Folk rock|
|Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 track listing|
The songwriting credits goes officially to all members of the band, but the song is published by Bob Dylan's Special Rider Music label, indicating that the main writer is Dylan, who is also the lead singer on the record. This is partially contradicted by George Harrison's account of the song in "The True History of the Traveling Wilburys" documentary:
"'Tweeter and the Monkey Man' was really [written by] Tom Petty and Bob [Dylan]. Well, Jeff [Lynne] and I were there too, but we were just sitting there around in the kitchen, and he was for some reason talking about all this stuff that didn't make much sense to me, you know, it was that Americana kinda stuff and we got a tape cassette and put it on and then transcribed everything they were saying."
"Tweeter and The Monkey Man" is sometimes regarded as a playful homage to the songs of Bruce Springsteen, who was often hailed as "the next Dylan" early in his career. The lyrics include the titles of many Springsteen songs, and the song borrows many of Springsteen's themes. The setting of the song itself is New Jersey, Springsteen's home state and the setting for many of Springsteen's own songs. New Jersey locations such as Rahway Prison and Jersey City are mentioned by name. Springsteen song title references include: "Stolen Car", "Mansion On The Hill", "Thunder Road", "State Trooper", "Factory", "The River", "Lion's Den", and the song made popular by Springsteen but written by Tom Waits, "Jersey Girl". Additionally, "Lion's Den" and "Paradise" are each mentioned and prominently enunciated in the song, each being the title of a Springsteen song released after the Traveling Wilburys album.
Only Petty, Harrison, Dylan and Lynne took part in recording the song. This is the only Wilburys song on Vol. 1 not to feature Roy Orbison on lead or backing vocals.
Composition and lyrical content
Dylan sings lead on the song's verses (with the rest of the group joining, excepting Orbison, singing backup on the chorus sections). At five verses in 5 minutes 27 seconds, "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" is the longest Traveling Wilburys song put to record. The chorus was originally part of a verse, but was chosen later for the refrain.
The song tells the story of two drug dealers – Tweeter and the Monkeyman – their nemesis, "The Undercover Cop", and the cop's sister, Jan, a longtime love interest of the Monkeyman. Some of the lyrics imply that Tweeter may have changed from being a male to a female, for example: "Tweeter was a boy scout / before she went to Vietnam...". Later in the song, Jan is quoted as saying of Tweeter, "I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl."
Throughout the ballad, the fall of Tweeter and the Monkeyman is examined.
Canadian rock band Headstones recorded a cover of the song for their debut album Picture of Health, and the song became a radio hit in Canada. The lyrics were changed somewhat, including eliminating the implication of Tweeter changing genders.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed a cover of the song several times in 2013, including the Beacon Theatre on May 20, the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 14, and the Firefly festival (Dover, DE) on June 22. The performance from the Beacon appears on the group's digital album Live 2013.
P. Paul Fenech (The Meteors) covered this song on his solo album International Super Bastard in 2010.
- Comment by Morten Felgenhauer on George Starostin's Music Reviews site – Discussing the song and Springsteen connections.
- "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" page at SpringsteenLyrics.com – Lyrics and info + details about the Bruce Springsteen/Bob Dylan story behind the song
- "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" page at The Dylan Lyric Commentaries
- Explanation and analysis of the song at everything2.com.