The Traveling Wilburys – Tweeter and the Monkey Man

One of my favorite Dylan songs of the 1980s. Tweeter and the Monkey Man has a cool story and he sprinkles references to Bruce Springsteen songs all through it. The songwriting credit went to all of the Wilburys and George Harrison remembered Bob and Tom writing it and George didn’t understand a lot of it because of the American references. Jeff Lynne and George contributed to the chorus.

It’s a story of two drug dealers, Tweeter and the Monkey Man and an undercover cop chasing them…and to add more drama the undercover cop who had a sister named Jan…and she loved the Monkey Man. it also contains an excellent lyric… In Jersey anything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught.”

Tom Petty talked about the  Bruce Springsteen references, “It was not meant to mock him at all.   It started with Bob Dylan saying, ‘I want to write a song about a guy named Tweeter. And it needs somebody else.’ I said, ‘The Monkey Man.’ And he says, ‘Perfect, ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man.” And he said, ‘Okay, I want to write the story and I want to set it in New Jersey.’ “I was like, ‘OK, New Jersey.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, we could use references to Bruce Springsteen titles.’ He clearly meant it as praise.”

Tweeter and the Monkey Man

Tweeter and the Monkey Man were hard up for cash
They stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash
To an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan
For reasons unexplained she loved the Monkey Man

Tweeter was a boy scout before she went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way nobody gives a damn
They knew that they found freedom just across the Jersey Line
So they hopped into a stolen car took Highway 99

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing
Never saw them when they fell

The undercover cop never liked the Monkey Man
Even back in childhood he wanted to see him in the can
Jan got married at fourteen to a racketeer named Bill
She made secret calls to the Monkey Man from a mansion on the hill

It was out on thunder road – Tweeter at the wheel
They crashed into paradise – they could hear them tires squeal
The undercover cop pulled up and said “Everyone of you’s a liar
If you don’t surrender now it’s gonna go down to the wire”

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing
Never saw them when they fell

An ambulance rolled up, a state trooper close behind
Tweeter took his gun away and messed up his mind
The undercover cop was left tied up to a tree
Near the souvenir stand by the old abandoned factory

Next day the undercover cop was-a hot in pursuit
He was taking the whole thing personal
He didn’t care about the loot
Jan had told him many times it was you to me who taught
In Jersey anything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing
Never saw them when they fell

Someplace by Rahway prison they ran out of gas
The undercover cop had cornered them said “Boy, you didn’t think that this could last”
Jan jumped out of bed said “There’s someplace I gotta go”
She took a gun out of the drawer and said “It’s best if you don’t know”

The undercover cop was found face down in a field
The monkey man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield
Jan said to the Monkey Man “I’m not fooled by Tweeter’s curl
I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl”

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing
Never saw them when they fell

Now the town of Jersey City is quieting down again
I’m sitting in a gambling club called the Lion’s Den
The TV set was blown up, every bit of it is gone
Ever since the nightly news show that the Monkey Man was on

I guess I’ll go to Florida and get myself some sun
There ain’t no more opportunity here, everything’s been done
Sometime I think of Tweeter, sometimes I think of Jan
Sometimes I don’t think about nothing but the Monkey Man

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they’re standing
Never saw them when they fell

[repeat chorus]