Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35

Commentary

Surprisingly, Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35 was one of Dylan best selling single, reaching number two on the U.S. charts and also doing well in Britain, even though it was banned from many radio stations in both countries because the lyrics celebrate the act of getting “stoned”.

Dylan biographer Robert Shelton wrote that record producer Phil Spector and Dylan had heard Ray Charles’s Let’s Go Get Stoned on a jukebox not long before the song was written. Spector and Dylan were surprised that a song about getting high could be played so frequently on the radio.

There’s no doubt that Dylan intentionally wrote the lyrics so the listener could interpret the song both as a jokey “drug song” and also about someone literally being stoned to death. A search of the King James Bible returns no less than 31 hits on the word “stoning”. In most of the stories the victim is being punished for some misdeed, unlike the innocent character in the song. But in The King of Kings Naboth is stoned to death unjustly by supporters of King Ahab. (Ahab is mentioned in Highway 61, and is married to Jezebel, a character in Tombstone Blues.) God finds out about the crime and destroys Ahab’s kingdom.

The title of the song is rather mysterious. Many have noted that a “rainy day woman” was a popular slang term for a marijuana joint in the sixties (I hadn’t heard that term used before – but see Time Magazine July 1, 1966 – it’s true). And what about the numbers 12 and 35? One apocryphal story has it that a woman, age 35, and her daughter, age 12, were guests at the Blonde on Blonde recording sessions. The most far out theory is that 12 * 35 = 420. And 4:20 was teenager code for the time to meet after school to smoke a joint. Somehow I doubt that one.

Al Kooper said producer Bob Johnston had the idea to play the song in a drunken Salvation Army band style. The Salvation Army is a Christian organization that maintains a number of brass bands, not always of the highest quality, that play at its various functions. Members of the Army refrain from alcohol, drugs, smoking and so forth. Pretty ironic to appropriate their musical style for this song.

Rainy Day Woman is a clever, amusing song. However, a novelty song grows tiresome with repeated listening. I think it would have worked better if it were the last selection on the recording, not the first.

Dylan used the song as an encore for a long time. It’s an effective number in concert, giving the inevitable concert-attending potheads something to cheer about.

 

 


Lyrics

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good,
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would.
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home.
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ ‘long the street.
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to keep your seat.
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ on the floor.
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ to the door.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

They’ll stone ya when you’re at the breakfast table.
They’ll stone ya when you are young and able.
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck.
They’ll stone ya and then they’ll say, “good luck.”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end.
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again.
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car.
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar.
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone.
They’ll stone you when you are walking home.
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave.
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

2 thoughts on “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35”

  1. Avatar

    Captain Arab, not Ahab (the captain from Moby Dick ), is mentioned in ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ from Bringing It All Back Home. In Highway 61 Revisited the name is Abe.

    Otherwise: good work!

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