On the Road Again

Commentary 

Dylan wasn’t joking when he said, in response to a reporter asking if he wanted to change the life of his friends with his songs, that he really just wanted to “needle them”. On the Road is another in a long line of Dylan “needling” songs.

It is also another in a long line of bad relationship songs, or more specifically, songs that describe why he is unhappy with a relationship and must get out of it as quickly as possible.

In many of these songs the song’s narrator plays the typical, woe-is-me role of the jilted lover, as in (Sweet Marie, I Don’t Believe You, Boots of Spanish Leather). In a few cases, such as this song, Just Like a Woman, and It Ain’t Me, Babe, he is the one ending the relationship, citing interpersonal conflict.   In many, such has Abandoned Love, Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, and Farewell Angelina, Dylan speaks of the inevitability of parting, even when the described relationship seem very strong.

On the Road has its roots in traditional music. “I woke up in the morning” is a typical blues construct.  Michael Gray notes that Dylan sings the line “well I asked for something to eat” just like Blind Willie McTell sings it in his song, Travelin’ Blues.

The Memphis Jug Band did a song called On the Road Again, and Gray cites them as an influence on this song.   Dylan certainly was aware of this group – his cover of their K.C. Moan can be found on the well-known 1960 Minneapolis Party Tape bootleg. He also covered their song Stealing, which can be found on the 1962 Cynthia Gooding Radio Show bootleg.

Although the song does have traditional influences, its structure and sound is pure rock ’n’ roll. The band really makes it swing, and Dylan plays some inspired harp throughout. Given the general heaviness this album, On the Road Again brings some welcome light-hearted fun.

Dylan has never played the song live.


Lyrics

Well, I woke up in the morning
There’s frogs inside my socks
Your mama, she’s a-hidin’
Inside the icebox
Your daddy walks in wearin’
A Napoleon Bonaparte mask
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, do you have to ask?

Well, I go to pet your monkey
I get a face full of claws
I ask who’s in the fireplace
And you tell me Santa Claus
The milkman comes in
He’s wearing a derby hat
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you have to ask me that?

Well, I asked for something to eat
I’m hungry as a hog
So I get brown rice, seaweed
And a dirty hot dog
I’ve got a hole
Where my stomach disappeared
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, I gotta think you’re really weird

Your grandpa’s cane
It turns into a sword
Your grandma prays to pictures
That are pasted on a board
Everything inside my pockets
Your uncle steals
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, I can’t believe that you’re for real

Well, there’s fistfights in the kitchen
They’re enough to make me cry
The mailman comes in
Even he’s gotta take a side
Even the butler
He’s got something to prove
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you don’t move?

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