Pay in Blood

As Allen Ginsberg was fond of saying: First thought best thought. My first thought is this song is that this song is Dylan venting his anger in a dramatic monologue, similar to Like a Rolling Stone.

Tempest was released in 2012, at the tail-end of the horrendous Bush administration, which took America to heretofore unknown depths of dishonesty and deceit, to a place nobody thought possible, to a place from which only Trump and his solicitors could best. This song seems, at least to me, obviously aimed at Bush and Cheney. There are some clear similarities to Masters of War.

As always, Dylan makes numerous references to other works. The phrase “Nothing more wretched than what I must endure” is a near quote of Ovid.

Dylan also quoted Ovid in his previous two albums of original material, Together Through Life and Modern Times.

The title – Pay in Blood – is related to the blood sacrifice by Jesus for humankind’s sins.

An interesting theory – a possible reference to the Book of Ezekiel. This interpretation suggests that our protagonist is Ezekiel the “Watchman”, who was told by the Lord to kill the wicked with his own hands (See AllDylan website for more). This would not be the first time that Dylan modernized the words of the Bible into modern blues/rock language. You might remember that he did so quite effectively on Highway 61.

16Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 17“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: 18When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. 19Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

20“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. 21Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.”

Of course, there’s a lot of Old Testament in the general tone of the lyrics. Our protagonist seems to be the personification of the Lord himself, out for blood vengeance.

I came to bury, not to praise” could be a reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

Is “ragged beggar” a reference to John Greenleaf Whittier? Dylan has mentioned Whittier before.

“You can hear me weep and moan” is clearly a reference to Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues.

You bit your lover in the bed.” Cheney biting Bush?

I think the song should be a bit more unleashed live. Too bad Mike Bloomfield isn’t still around.

It got better by 2015… Note the lyric variations.


Well I`m grinding my life away, steady and sure
Nothing more wretched than what I must endure
I`m drenched in the light that shines from the sun
I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you done

Sooner or later you`ll make a mistake
I`ll put you in a chain that you never can break
Legs and arms and body and bone
I pay in blood, but not my own

Night after night, day after day
They strip your useless hopes away
The more I take, the more I give
The more I die, the more I live

I got something in my pocket make your eyeballs swim
I got dogs that could tear you limb to limb
I`m circling around in the southern zone
I pay in blood, but not my own

Another political pumping out his piss
Another ragged beggar blowin’ ya a kiss
Life is short and it don’t last long
They`ll hang you in the morning and sing ya a song

Someone must have slipped a drug in your wine
You gulped it down and you lost your mind
My head so hard, it must be made of stone
I pay in blood, but not my own

How I made it back home nobody knows
Or how I survived so many blows
I been through hell, what good did it do?
My conscience is clear, what about you?

I’ll give you justice, I’ll fatten your purse
Show me your moral virtues first
Hear me holler hear me moan
I pay in blood but not my own

You bit your lover in the bed,
Come here I`ll break your lousy head
Our nation must be saved and freed
You been accused of murder, how do you plead?

This is how I spend my days
I came to bury not to praise
I`ll drink my fill and sleep alone
I pay in blood, but not my own

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