She Belongs to Me

Commentary

She Belongs to Me is a love song, of sorts. As Joan Baez wrote in her song Diamonds and Rust, Dylan had a gift for “keeping things vague.” Often his songs can be interpreted many ways, and this one is especially open to interpretation.

Over the years many have speculated about its meaning and the identity of “she”. Dylan commentator Stephen Scobie (and others) believe that the narrator is speaking to his artistic muse. Baez wonders in her biography, And a Voice to Sing With, if the song could have been inspired by her, since Dylan once gave her a “red Egyptian ring”.

Some think the subject is Dylan’s stepdaughter, Maria, which does make some sense given the line about “nobody’s child” and the Christmas gifts.

Paul Williams argues that it’s an “anti-love” song. Williams thinks the “she” of the song is a manipulator, that the narrator despises her for it.

To me, it seems to be a love song to a strong, protective woman, the same type that Dylan has been attracted to his entire life (see the various biographies). It’s a reversal of the usual love song that depicts the woman as a gentle, delicate flower. Dylan has written many songs about this type of woman, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands being a particularly good example. Isis and Shelter from the Storm both express similar sentiments. See Betsy Bowden’s book Performed Literature for an in-depth discussion of Dylan’s songs about women.

Whomever the “she” is or isn’t, the lyrics are interesting; the vagueness pulls the listener in, tricking the listener into pondering the meaning of it all. Of particular interest is the line “she’s nobody’s child, the law can’t touch her at all”. To me anyway, this line is meant to convey the strength of this woman, a person who is beholden to nobody and incapable of being controlled, even by the law. It is possible that Dylan got the phrase “nobody’s child” from the traditional ballad of the same name. The lyrics are below.

As I was slowly passing
an orphan’s home one day,
I stopped for just a little while
to watch the children play.
Alone a boy was standing
and when I asked him why,
he turned with eyes that could not see
and he began to cry.

I’m nobody’s child,
I’m nobody’s child.
Just like the flowers
I’m growing wild.
I got no mummy’s kisses
I got no daddy’s smile.
Nobody wants me,
I’m nobody’s child.

No mummy’s arms to hold me
or sue me when I cry,
‘cos sometimes I feel so lonesome
I wish that I could die.
I’ll walk the streets of heaven
where all blinds can see.

And just like for the other kids
it will be a home for me.

I’m nobody’s child,
I’m nobody’s child.
Just like the flowers
I’m growing wild.
I got no mummy’s kisses
I got no daddy’s smile.
Nobody wants me,
I’m nobody’s child.

The Traveling Wilburys, the super-group Dylan performed with in the eighties that also included George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne, recorded Nobody’s Child for a benefit recording that was organized by George Harrison’s wife to help Romanian orphans. Given Dylan’s encyclopedic knowledge of traditional music, it seems likely that Dylan suggested the song to the group.

Dylan recorded a very interesting version of She Belongs on the soundtrack to his film, Renaldo and Clara, which was released in 1978, turning the song in a blues number. It sounds similar to New Pony, which can be found on the 1978 Street Legal recording. In the film, his wife Sara walks into the picture just as this song begins. As the song starts Allen Ginsberg chants his stunning ode to his mother, Kaddish. Is this a hint as to what the song is about?

A solo version (linked to below) is included on Live 1966. He sticks pretty close to the recorded version, but the vocal has a bit more bite, as if the narrator seems a little angry at the object of attention.

Another live version is included on Self Portrait. This version was recorded with The Band at the Isle of Wright Festival in England. The performance was Dylan’s first in several years and was highly anticipated by his fans. Unfortunately, the quality of Dylan’s new country-music influenced performance-style did not match the anticipation.

 

Ok,  this is kinda amusing.

 


Lyrics

She’s got everything she needs,
She’s an artist, she don’t look back.
She’s got everything she needs,
She’s an artist, she don’t look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black.

You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees.
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees.
But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees.

She never stumbles,
She’s got no place to fall.
She never stumbles,
She’s got no place to fall.
She’s nobody’s child,
The Law can’t touch her at all.

She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She’s a hypnotist collector,
You are a walking antique.

Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum.

2 thoughts on “She Belongs to Me”

  1. Avatar
    Lee N Julie Spilky

    “She belongs to me”. I have racked my brain trying to understand the meaning of the line “A hypnotist collector”. Is this simply a rhyme for rhyming sake or a is it a hypnotist who collects objects? I realize this question is quite trivial but I’d appreciate any input on this. T.I.A.

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