Songs I Don’t Understand: All Along the Watchtower

I’ve never totally understood why a joker living in a watchtower in an apocalyptic fantasy world should be so put out by this:

Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

Certainly, I can see why the joker might be upset that his wine stocks were depleted by businessmen, especially since, what with the wildcats and the howling winds and everything, it’s not all that easy for him to pop out to the liquor store—although I suppose there’s an outside chance that the two approaching riders are traveling wine merchants.

It’s the plowmen that bother me. Aren’t they supposed to be digging his earth? If they don’t plow, they can’t raise crops. If they don’t raise crops, they can’t pay rent on the joker’s fields. If the joker doesn’t get the rent money, how is he supposed to buy any more wine?

The only way the joker’s complaint makes sense is if the plowmen have failed to practice sustainable agriculture, thus reducing the long-term value of the joker’s land. Maybe they’re not rotating the crops. More likely, they’ve allowed the topsoil to erode. That would explain why it’s significant when the wind begins to howl. It’s blowing away all the topsoil, turning Watchtowerland into a giant apocalyptic fantasy dust bowl. Soon a Model T full of Okies will ride out from the watchtower, searching for new lives in the orchards of Mordor.

“Wherever there’s a fight so some guys can toss jewelry in a big hole, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s an orc beating up a hobbit, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way dwarves yell when they’re mad and I’ll be in the way elves laugh when the dwarves are mad and the elves think it’s all funny because they’re goddamn elves. And when the hobbits are smoking the stuff they raise and living in the houses they dig, I’ll be there too.”