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Ballad of a Thin Man

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Commentary

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Many songs have been written about the perpetual clash between the hipster and the square, the rebel vs. the establishment. Besides girls and cars, I guess it’s the most common theme in rock ’n’ roll. Revolution by the Beatles, Street Fighting Man by the Stones, Won’t Get Fooled Again by the Who, are just a few examples that leap to mind. Surely Ballad of a Thin Man is the best of them all.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The basic premise of the song: Mr. Jones, an organization man, perhaps a journalist with his “pencil in his hand”, buys a ticket to see a show, presumably a rock ‘n’ roll concert, expecting to watch what to him is a sideshow put on by a bunch of freaks. When he enters the performance hall he leaves his comfortable “normal” world behind, passing into the realm of the performers and their core audience. Much to his astonishment, he finds that he is now the freak, the one who is weirdly different. This turn of events is confusing and difficult to fathom. He’s bewildered. “Oh my God / Am I here all alone?” he cries. For the rest of the song he is faced with scene after scene that confuse his conventional sensibilities and further demonstrate his inability to understanding “what is happening”.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 So just who is Mr. Jones? Of course, Mr. Jones is probably not really one particular person, but just a name that Dylan put to an archetype. Still, it’s just too hard to resist the fun of naming names.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The first person that comes to mind to all hardcore Dylanologists is certainly the “science student” who comes to interview Dylan backstage before a concert in the the film Don’t Look Back. The student, Terry Ellis, who years later co-founded Chrysalis Records, comes off as the ultimate short-haired, glasses-wearing, pocket-protector-owning geek. Dylan rides him mercilessly. He’s the epitome of the Mr. Jones that Dylan describes in the song. Of course, Dylan probably met hundred of these guys and the only reason Ellis comes to mind is because he’s in the movie. Still, for me poor Terry Ellis will always be Mr. Jones.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Judson Manning, the Time reporter who Dylan berates in Don’t Look Back, also comes to mind. As Manning attempts to interview Dylan it become quite obvious that he has almost no knowledge of Dylan’s work. Dylan goes off on him in an unattractive manner, telling him that Time magazine wouldn’t know the truth if it fell out of a tree and hit it on the head. Dylan becomes quite agitated and it’s easy for the viewer to see Dylan writing Ballad of a Thin Man with this scene in mind.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Yet another possibility: Dylan introduced the song at a 1978 concert by saying “I wrote this for a reporter who was working for The Village Voice in 1963.” It is possible that he was referring to Jeffery Jones, who wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine claiming to be “Mr. Jones”. Jones said that he interviewed Dylan for Time magazine just after Dylan’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival show. The interview did not go well, and Dylan and his entourage mocked him the rest of the weekend, calling him “Mr. Jones!”, asking him repeatedly “Getting it all down, Mr. Jones?” It’s possible that Dylan confused both the year and the names of the publisher.  Or perhaps there really was a reporter for The Voice who remains unnamed.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 And we shouldn’t forget Dylan’s response to a reporter who asked Dylan about Mr. Jones at the well-known San Francisco Press Conference. Dylan said:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders. He’s a real person. You know him, but not by that name… I saw him come into the room one night and he looked like a camel. He proceeded to put his eyes in his pocket. I asked this guy who he was and he said, “That’s Mr. Jones.” Then I asked this cat, “Doesn’t he do anything but put his eyes in his pocket?” And he told me, “He puts his nose on the ground.” It’s all there, it’s a true story.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 What a kidder.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Dylan, unlike most of his contemporaries and very unlike the bluesmen he learned from, has always been very circumspect in matters of a sexual nature. In fact it’s rather odd that a man who wrote so many songs during the “free love” decade of the sixties rarely references sex at all.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 It’s not absolutely clear that he does in this song either, although the possibility of the lyrics being taken that way must have crossed his mind. Consider these lines:

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Now I guess it’s possible that this scene is simply more circus imagery meant to help convey the confusion and disorientation of Mr. Jones. However, I find it hard to believe that Dylan – a good friend of the outspoken homosexual Allen Ginsberg – was not aware that people would read oral/transsexual sex into this verse. Another possibility, although perhaps less likely, is that the several phrases were meant to be interpreted as sexual in nature: “hands you a bone”, “give me some milk”, and “one-eyed midget”. I don’t think any of these require additional explanation.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The lines “you should be made/to wear earphones” always puzzled me. I can’t find the source, but probably a post on rec.music.dylan, that suggested that it may be a reference to the guys you see on TV at the United Nations, wearing earphones so they can hear the translation of the presenter. Maybe Dylan is suggesting that Mr. Jones needs to wear headphones so he can understand what “is happening”. Pretty clever.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Not surprisingly, given the quality of the song writing and the visceral power of the music, Dylan plays Ballad of a Thin Man often. Versions appear on Live 1966, Before the Flood, At Budokan, and Real Live. Each is powerful in its own way, but I wouldn’t choose any of them over the original. A truly remarkable version, however, was shot during the 1966 tour for the never released documentary Eat the Document and finally made available on the DVD No Direction Home. The video is shot from behind the stage; the lights from the stage glow around Dylan’s fuzzy hair like a halo. The crowd is buzzing, clearly agitated. Dylan is clearly agitated too as he hammers down the first chords on the piano. Dylan sings the song with power and emotion, and The Band blasts away behind him in perfect splendor.

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25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Lyrics

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel
To be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word “NOW”
And you say, “For what reason?”
And he says, “How?”
And you say, “What does this mean?”
And he screams back, “You’re a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home”

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Page 69
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Source: http://www.bobdylancommentaries.com/highway-61-revisited/ballad-of-a-thin-man/