Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again

Commentary

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again is certainly one of the best songs on Blonde on Blonde. The lyrics are highly creative, striking. The music is potent and propelling. Although not as well-known as many of his other songs, Stuck Inside is absolutely one of Dylan’s (many) great songs.

Stuck Inside is another one of Dylan non-narrative narrative songs. The lyrics clearly tell a story of some sort, a tale of loneliness, isolation, longing, desperation, and escape. However, the verses are only connected by theme, not by any sense of linear story telling. In performance, Dylan often swaps the order of several verses (often the third through the fifth). The order doesn’t really matter.

Once again the theme is one of the outsider trying to escape’square society. The song tells the tale of a man desperately looking for a way out of “Mobile’s Grand Street” and into some kind of sane world, such as can be found, apparently, in “Memphis”.

Stuck Inside is a song that would have fit in well on Highway 61 Revisited. First of all, the sound is much more raucous and explosive that anything else on Blonde on Blonde, outside of One of Us Must Know. The style of the lyrics definitely hearkens back to Desolation Row and Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. The influence of the Beat poets is obvious. A phrase such as “neon madmen” could have been pulled right out of an Allen Ginsberg poem. The lines

But he cursed me when I proved it to him,
Then I whispered, “Not even you can hide.
You see, you’re just like me,
I hope you’re satisfied.”

bring to mind Ballad of a Thin Man, another Beat inspired lyric.

Like many songs on Highway 61 Revisited, the song features a host of proper nouns and characters – the Rag-man, Mama, Shakespeare, French Girl, Mona, Railroad Men, Grandpa, The Senator, The Preacher, The Rain-man, Ruthie, The Debutante, and Neon Madman. The song has more characters than some movies.

Dylan probably chose the two contrasting city names, Mobile and Memphis, not only because the names sound good together, but also because of the contrasting history of the two towns. Mobile is a city in Alabama, one of the more racially segregated states in the country. It was the site of some of the infamous civil rights protests and violence that was happening around the time Blonde on Blonde was recorded. Memphis, on the other hand, was the home of “soul music”, and known as a hip and happening town.

On the recording Dylan sings one line differently than what is published in the lyric book. In the published lyrics the line is written “Now the preacher looked so baffled”. On the record Dylan clearly adds an additional word before “preacher”, but it’s not clear what it is. It could be “tea preacher”. Some have speculated that a tea preacher could be a marijuana dealer. Some on rec.music.dylan have suggested that Dylan was trying to sing “teacher” and it came out wrong.

It could be that Dylan sings “teen preacher”. A post on rec.music.dylan noted that Dylan could have been referring to the well-known teen preacher Marjoe Gortner, who worked as a traveling evangelical preacher during the sixties. Gortner later help create a documentary, Marjoe, in which he confesses that his preaching was just an act he did to make a buck. Could be I guess, although in all likelihood it was just a vocal hiccup.

Stuck Inside only appears on one official live album, Hard Rain. It’s a nice version.

Dylan performed it live many times in the late eighties and the nineties. In the live versions he sometimes leaves out several of the middle verses, not always the same ones.

Most of the bootleg versions don’t really add a lot to the original. However, G.E. Smith, the former Saturday Night Live band leader, contributes some very energetic guitar solos to the song during the early 90s shows. More recent performances are performed quite differently, very slow and quiet. All are interesting but none really comes close to surpassing the original.


Oh, the ragman draws circles
Up and down the block.
I’d ask him what the matter was
But I know that he don’t talk.
And the ladies treat me kindly
And furnish me with tape,
But deep inside my heart
I know I can’t escape.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells,
Speaking to some French girl,
Who says she knows me well.
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked,
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line.
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine.
An’ I said, “Oh, I didn’t know that,
But then again, there’s only one I’ve met
An’ he just smoked my eyelids
An’ punched my cigarette.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Grandpa died last week
And now he’s buried in the rocks,
But everybody still talks about
How badly they were shocked.
But me, I expected it to happen,
I knew he’d lost control
When he built a fire on Main Street
And shot it full of holes.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Now the senator came down here
Showing ev’ryone his gun,
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son.
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn’t it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Now the preacher looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of headlines
Stapled to his chest.
But he cursed me when I proved it to him,
Then I whispered, “Not even you can hide.
You see, you’re just like me,
I hope you’re satisfied.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Now the rainman gave me two cures,
Then he said, “Jump right in.”
The one was Texas medicine,
The other was just railroad gin.
An’ like a fool I mixed them
An’ it strangled up my mind,
An’ now people just get uglier
An’ I have no sense of time.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon,
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Panamanian moon.
An’ I say, “Aw come on now,
You must know about my debutante.”
An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb.
They all fall there so perfectly,
It all seems so well timed.
An’ here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

5 thoughts on “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”

  1. Avatar

    “Dylan probably chose the two contrasting city names, Mobile and Memphis, not only because the names sound good together, but also because of the contrasting history of the two towns. Mobile is a city in Alabama, one of the more racially segregated states in the country. It was the site of some of the infamous civil rights protests and violence that was happening around the time Blonde on Blonde was recorded. Memphis, on the other hand, was the home of “soul music”, and known as a hip and happening town.”

    I think this is trying too hard. To me, the song is just a string of images meant to evoke a mood (similar to many other Dylan songs), with blues references scattered throughout.

    The old blues song, “Blues In the Night” includes the lines, “From Natchez to Mobile, From Memphis to St. Joe.” In my opinion Dylan’s song title may simply be an oblique reference to “Blues In the Night.”

    Mobile has a history and culture that is different from the rest of Alabama. It was influenced by the French and Spanish and in fact has more in common with New Orleans than with, say, Birmingham, Montgomery or Selma. During the Civil Rights era Mobile largely escaped the racial conflicts that roiled much of the state.

    I don’t think Dylan was really trying to say anything specifically about Mobile (or Memphis for that matter). There’s no Grand Street in Mobile, for instance. If he were really trying to reference Mobile, he could have used Broad Street, which would fit the meter just as well. There *is* a Main Street, but it is a very minor one that most people there probably have never heard of; Mobile’s actual “main” street is called Government Street.

    Whatever. I love this song!

    (FWIW, I grew up in Mobile.)

  2. Avatar

    In the verse where it says; “How badly they were shocked”. It should read; “How badly they are shocked”. Then where it says; “We built a fire on main street”. It says; “When I speak built a fire on main st.” or something like that. I used a program called Sony Vegas Pro 12 and it allows you to slow the song down as much as you want but I still can’t decipher exactly what he says about building a fire on main st. Hopefully, someone can help me out.

    1. steve

      That’s interesting. I’m going to go thru my old bootlegs and see what is sung on those versions. Might shed some light on what he meant to sign.

  3. steve
    Edlis Cafe comment…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigsaw_Puzzle_%28song%29

    Richie Unterberger draws comparisons to the mid-to-late 1960s work of Bob Dylan. (Dylan’s name appears among the graffiti on the album cover.) Unterberg writes “…the similarity to some of Dylan’s long, wordy surreal songs of the mid-’60s is close enough that it’s a little surprising ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ hasn’t been singled out by more listeners as being a Dylan imitation, particularly since it frankly sounds a little hackneyed in its approximation of Dylanesque weirdness.” Some Dylanologists consider this song to be a direct response to the 1966 “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” The lyrics depict the observations of the singer who finds himself surrounded by “misfits and weirdos”:

    “There’s a tramp sittin’ on my doorstep, Tryin’ to waste his time; With his methylated sandwich, He’s a walking clothesline; And here comes the bishop’s daughter, On the other side; She looks a trifle jealous, She’s been an outcast all her life”

    “Me, I’m waiting so patiently, Lying on the floor; I’m just trying to do my jig-saw puzzle, Before it rains anymore”

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