IT’S GETTING LATE … ALICE KNOWS
BY JIMMY HENDRIX
We don’t know where the “here” is from which the speaker wants to escape, but we know he wants out.
The sense of drama is immediate.
We find out that the two people speaking are “the joker” and “the thief.”
These are archetypal characters that have existed in one form or another for thousands of years.
By identifying them in this way, it invokes a sense of timelessness.
Because these figures are broad archetypes, there is already a suggestion that this might be a parable of some sort, a story whose essence remains the same over many different times, places and characters.
The joker, or jester, can be seen in general to represent the artist: someone whose role is to amuse other members of the established order, but also to provoke them, to suggest alternate ways of looking at reality.
And, of course, the joker and the thief are both outsiders of a sort, united in their separation from more ordered segments of society.
Full of visual imagery.
This new scene is populated with princes, women, and barefoot servants, establishing a time and place in the past, although again using enduring, archetypal figures.
These figures guarding their castle seem to represent established society, and the existing power structure.
But what are they guarding against?
A wildcat growls from a distance, suggesting the savage, untamed power of nature lurking just beyond the well-ordered lights of the castle.
Then we see the two riders approaching.
Suddenly, in only four words, the first two verses are connected with the last.
With a sort of cinematic establishing shot, but used at the end of the story rather than the beginning, we see the thief and the joker approaching the castle.
We already know that they want to establish a different set of values, one based on the worth of human life.
Their approach towards the guarded castle suggests an impending confrontation.
And then the last line of the song strengthens this suggestion with imagery of a furious storm starting to build.
Note how this last verse has made physical the relationships suggested in the previous lines.
The thief, joker and wildcat are all placed outside the castle, which is occupied by princes and servants.
So we now have, in a very concrete sense, independent outsiders and a rigid power hierarchy.
Gradually reaching for a note that can only finally hit at the end of the song.
And then when he gets there, it is repeated, over and over, making a high keening sound, representing not only the howling wind referred to in the last line, but that coming conflict that the song so clearly prepares us for.
And the music ends on this note, as do the lyrics, without resolution, but clearly pointing forwards to some anticipated future act of liberation.
Lenny Kravitz & Eric Clapton – All Along The Watchtower, 1999
“All Along The Watchtower”
“There must be some kind of way out of here,”
Said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen – they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None will level on the line
Nobody of it is worth.”
“No reason to get excited,”
The thief – he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour’s getting late.”
All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too
Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl, hey.
White Rabbit … whether you take it literally or metaphorically, following the white rabbit means following an unlikely clue, an innocuous, unbelievable (but also, frankly a bit ridiculous) sign, to find oneself in the midst of more or less extraordinary, marvellous, amazing circumstances that challenge one’s fundamental beliefs, expand one’s horizons &/or perception of realities, transform one’s perspective, and change one’s life.
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit (Woodstock, aug 17 1969)
One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call
And call Alice, when she was just small
When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom, and your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know
When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head