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Lyr Req: Ballad of a Thin Man (Bob Dylan)

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TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING
YOU AIN'T GOING NOWHERE


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Little Hawk 12 Mar 02 - 08:54 PM
michaelr 12 Mar 02 - 09:03 PM
Little Hawk 12 Mar 02 - 09:08 PM
catspaw49 12 Mar 02 - 09:32 PM
SDShad 12 Mar 02 - 10:15 PM
michaelr 12 Mar 02 - 10:22 PM
khandu 12 Mar 02 - 10:35 PM
Rick Fielding 12 Mar 02 - 10:42 PM
khandu 12 Mar 02 - 10:50 PM
rangeroger 13 Mar 02 - 01:26 AM
JudyR 13 Mar 02 - 01:47 AM
Mark Cohen 13 Mar 02 - 01:52 AM
John in Hamilton 13 Mar 02 - 01:56 AM
Mark Cohen 13 Mar 02 - 02:03 AM
Little Hawk 13 Mar 02 - 03:11 AM
Big Tim 13 Mar 02 - 06:25 AM
Spartacus 13 Mar 02 - 08:58 AM
Rick Fielding 13 Mar 02 - 03:47 PM
Little Hawk 13 Mar 02 - 03:47 PM
Peter T. 13 Mar 02 - 05:27 PM
Little Hawk 13 Mar 02 - 06:39 PM
GUEST 30 Dec 17 - 05:59 PM
GUEST,I was once the lady from the lowlands 30 Dec 17 - 11:08 PM
The Sandman 31 Dec 17 - 08:27 PM
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Subject: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 08:54 PM

All right, Bobaholics...this is the one and only Dylan song that has genuinely puzzled me for many years. Like most of his songs (specially from that period) it has many different layers of meaning, and some of those layers are fairly obvious...referring to various people around him at the time (the press, fans, business people, etc.) who simply failed to understand what was going on with Bob, his music, his lyrics, his state of mind...yet desperately wanted to be part of the "in" group and understand it all...but couldn't by their very nature.

Okay...

But....why is the song full of homosexual imagery??? I mean, just packed with it. Symbol after symbol conjures up some homosexual scene. Why?

This puzzles me simply because it's really the only significant Dylan song in his entire career where that is the case. Most of the time he's got his mind on women, if he's got his mind on sex at all. So what was going on in that song?

If someone out there's got an original theory about that I could use it right now... :-)

- LH


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: michaelr
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 09:03 PM

Well there's something going on but you don't know what it is -- do you, Mr. Hawk? ;-)


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 09:08 PM

Ha! Someone had to say it... :-)

- LH


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: catspaw49
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 09:32 PM

I think it's a ballad about this real freaky, geeky, skinny dude..........

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular drug induced bizarro Dylan turkey, here's the lyric:

Ballad of a Thin Man

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

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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?"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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

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

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?


Spaw




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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: SDShad
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 10:15 PM

And to think, Dylan was borrowing from David Lynch even back then, in nineteen sixty...was it five? (Not sure; my Dylanology ain't what it could be.)

Chris


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: michaelr
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 10:22 PM

Color me naive, but I don't see much that could be construed as homosexual imagery (unless you're referring to the one-eyed midget) - just hallucinatory paranoia.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: khandu
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 10:35 PM

Little Hawk, I had never noticed the Homosexual connotations until you pointed it out and Spaw gave the lyrics (A few errors I must add!)

But, yes, now I see them.

I think this is beyond me. You need a greater mind than mine to figure it out. Who?....SHATNER!!!

khandu


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 10:42 PM

All right Michael....you're naive. It's obviously "HOMOSEXUAL hallucinatory paranoia"! Maybe Bob visited a Gay Bath-house, did some drugs, and didn't get back home to the wife until 6 am. That COULD make ya paranoid!

What steams me is that he obviously stole the tune from "Home on the Range" and didn't give credit!

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: khandu
Date: 12 Mar 02 - 10:50 PM

Yes, I have seen the "Home On The Range" similarities. I though it was due to my youthful drug indescretions, so you have given me dome relief, Rick.

LH, I do wander if the BOB was experiencing unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, feelings due to his relationship with the Great One, William Shatner. And maybe, this song was just the Bob's way of dealing with these feelings!

Stranger things have happened, though I don't remember what they were!

khandu


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: rangeroger
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 01:26 AM

Obviously, Dylan was communing with Major Tom when he wrote this.

rr


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: JudyR
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 01:47 AM

Well, I can't come up with clever associations like most of you -- I always found most of his lyrics obscure, but hey, the more mysterious, the deeper back then, you know?

Just for fun, though -- I did a little search. This gets so far-fetched, it's hilarious. Can you believe the lengths to which some of them take the homosexual thesis?

www.edlis.org/twice/threads/mr_jones.html


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 01:52 AM

Khandu, I'm sure Rick will be happy to hear he's cured your headache. Or does "dome relief" have some other meaning that's only understood where no man has gone before? ;-)

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: John in Hamilton
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 01:56 AM

Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones used to think that this one was directed towards himself. He was a bit paranoid, apparently

JM


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 02:03 AM

By the way, JudyR, that was a fascinating discussion you linked to. I'm satisfied by the explanation that the song was written about Jeff Jones, a journalist who interviewed Dylan for Newsweek at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. And at the same time, I'm sure Dylan was well aware of the other possible interpretations.

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 03:11 AM

Ah, yes, ze Shatner connection....Vell, it iss all becomink clear to me now. Ze Bobster's mind vas temborarily, shall ve zay, unhinged by ze great Shatner's vunderbar sexual aura, und he vent off und wrote zis veird sonk as a sort of catharsis...yah, zat must be it...

Ze only problem iss, ze Shatner/Dylan sessions, zay did not occurr until ze late 70's, und "Ballat of a Sin Man" vas recorded in '65. Verrrry strange...

Could it be some sort of time varp phenomenon? Mental transference? Or is it oedipus complex? Fascinatink! Vere iss Herr Liebenscheiss ven I need to discuss zese sings mit annuder great mind?

Yeah. Well, we've got a start on it here, but I can't stay up any later tonight to pursue it. Thanks, guys. Good comment there, Rick. Ha! Bob's thievery of "Home On The Range" is almost as heinous as the way he stole the words "the" and "at" from "The Star Spangled Banner" and used them to get a monster hit with "Like A Rolling Stone"! Check the lyrics if you don't believe me. Unforgivable. No wonder Dick and Sandy get so upset with him.

Michael - Yes! You're naive...or else you're just a bit unfamiliar with Dylan's use of symbols in his lyrics...he's far more subtle than is customary in pop music, but the implications are there. The only verse that doesn't have an absolutely clear homosexual connotation is the 2nd one.

I have heard about the young journalist whom Dylan sarcastically referred to as "Mr. Jones" ("Gettin' it all down, Mr. Jones?"), and I think the song was partly directed toward him all right, but that's not the whole story. With Dylan, one simple angle is very seldom the whole story. He's almost incapable of not hitting multiple targets with every shot, and I don't think he premeditates it either, it just happens instinctively. You can't write material that good by planning it out ahead of time.

- LH


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Big Tim
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 06:25 AM

In "No Direction Home" (1986) Robert Shelton quoted Dylan on Thin Man: "Mr Jones is... like a very weak, ah, well-to-do person. Not well-to-do in terms of bread or shelter, but well-to-do, knowing he can always go home. Friends will put Mr Jones up, not because they like him, but because they must, out of the mores in which they live. Mr Jones has his own environment and his own people. Mr Jones's lonliness can easily be covered up to the point where he can't recogize that he is alone. Mr Jones is suddenly locked in a room...he stumbled into a room. God knows, we all do that! It's not so incredibly absurd and it's not so imaginative to have Mr Jones in a room with three walls and a midget and a geek and a naked man. Plus a voice...a voice coming in his dream. I am just a speaking voice. Anytime I am singing about people and if the songs are dreamed, it's like my voice is coming out of their dream...Mr Jones is powerful, because it is very concise and very emotional, do you dig"?

No!!!

Shelton himself says, "Who specifically might Mr Jones have been to Dylan? A Time reporter named Jeffrey Jones wrote in Rolling Stone in 1975 that it must have been him. I would nominate Pete Seeger[!], thrown for a complete loss by Dylan's electric music; Tom Wilson, not understanding Dylan's concepts about recording; another Time reporter, Horace Judson, whom Dylan scourged in Don't Look Back; Howard Alk, husband of Jones Alk, both members of the film crew. Mr Jones is undoubtedly a composite. Other theories are bandied about. Mr Jones was Le Roi Jones, militant black writer. Mr Jones is patois for the heroin user. Jones is a masculinization of Joan. Mr Jones is the farmer in Orewell's Animal Farm.....


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Spartacus
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 08:58 AM

This the story I heard....

Subject: Mr. Jones is (not?) homosexual? From: John Howells (howells@sgi.com) Date: 1996/08/15 It seems perfectly obvious to me that Mr. Jones is a critic, in particular a music critic who hasn't a clue what pop music is all about. Assuming you're serious, let me give you my interpretation.

> pencil=penis. basically he has entered a exotic gay strip bar/club > where they are doing all of these weird acts of sexuality and he > wonders what's happening, and how he is going to deal with this.

Pencil=pencil. The basic tool of the reporter/critic. The room he walks into is hosting a Dylan press conference.

> he walks up to Mr. Jones when he hears Mr. Jones speak maybe because > Mr. Jones sounds gay and he asks how does it feel to be "a freak" or > gay and replies "impossible" because Mr. Jones doesn't think he is - > at least not at the level flaunting that these people in this club are > doing.

Mr. Jones is now attending one of Dylan's concerts, but the artist confuses Mr. Jones even more by confronting him and throwing the whole experience back on him - something that Dylan was fond of doing in 1965. "How does it feel..." is of course Dylan singing "Like a Rolling Stone", and the freak turns out to be Mr. Jones!

> You have many contacts > Among the lumberjacks > > > * * * > for me this is a key verse since it says "you have many contacts > among the lumberjacks" or 'straight'/'manly' people, "when someone > attacks your imagination", like these people are doing in these strip > club.

"Lumberjacks" is just a code word for the "common man". Since Mr. Jones doesn't have any real life experiences to fall back on, he pretends to be a salt of the earth type instead of the elitist he really is.

> 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 > > this verse shows Mr. Jones tries to convince himself that he IS a > part of society since he has done all of these things and not like > these other "freaks"

No, he just tries to convince himself he's intelligent.

> 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" > > just use your imagination for this one. its pretty clear to me that > he is in a gay strip club.

Ha ha! The sword swallower is just another sideshow freak, which the critic expected to see, but once again Dylan shows Mr. Jones to be the real freak.

> one-eyed midget - a penis more than likely. again use your > imagination.

Or another sideshow freak. As in the typical Dylan press conference or interview of 1965, he would answer questions with more questions.

> 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 coming' around > You should be made > To wear earphones > > the lasts lines are what Dylan is famous for - incredible lyrics. > Mr. Jones thinks that society should "protect" him from places like > this, and he shouldn't be allowed to even be exposed to this.

No, what Dylan is saying here is "why bother to come to my concerts if you aren't going to listen?".

> overall I think its a great piece of work by Dylan as usual and the > lessons from it can be applied to any type of situation.


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 03:47 PM

On the other hand, maybe he was just noodling around with that neat descending bass line, and threw a few spontaneous lines in (believe me he can do that) and presto, had a memorable song.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 03:47 PM

Tim and Spartacus - Excellent answers to my question! The Dylan quote is a good one and sheds much light on the subject for me. I believe you're right, Tim, that Mr. Jones is a "composite" figure.

Spartacus, your analysis is superb, and pretty well says all that needs to be said about it. I believe that you are quite right "it can be applied to any type of situation"...it works on the gay strip bar level, and it works on the level of the uncomprehending Time reporter or music critic. Indeed, you have to ask yourself, why would they come to his concerts? And why would they interview him, not having one worthwhile question to ask him or one original thought in their minds?

For money, that's why. They sleepwalk through life waiting for their next paycheck.

As Dylan said at a much later date (1985):

"I saw thousands who could have overcome the darkness,
For the love of a lousy buck, I've watched them die.
Stick around, baby, we're not through,
Don't look for me, I'll see you
When the night comes falling from the sky.

- LH


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Peter T.
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 05:27 PM

This is one of the very few Dylan songs that I have no trouble making clear sense out of. It seems completely transparent to me. A quick watching of "Don't Look Back", especially the interview with the journalist, would answer all important questions I would have thought.

(The headmaster in the school I went to was called Mr. Jones, and whenever he came into our dorm to stop whatever mayhem we were engaged in, someone would pipe up with the refrain, so I have a warm spot in my heart for the song).

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Ballad of a Thin Man - What's it about?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 13 Mar 02 - 06:39 PM

Yes, Peter, as a chastisement of the press it does make perfect sense...I was just puzzled as to why Dylan used so much implied homosexual imagery in it. Most of the lines are double entendres...so the "pencil" is on the one hand just that (a pen or pencil), and on the other hand it's a penis.

Maybe he just found that a handy way to express his contempt for the reporters he was hounded by.

- LH


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Ballad of a Thin Man (Bob Dylan)
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Dec 17 - 05:59 PM

Ask counting crows they were with mr jones and wanted to be bob dylan lol


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Ballad of a Thin Man (Bob Dylan)
From: GUEST,I was once the lady from the lowlands
Date: 30 Dec 17 - 11:08 PM

I don t see any gay references in this song, but as Dylan is often as not writing poetry, the listener can interpret it through their own sensibilities. I think the song is obviously a scathing assaul on a certain type of person- ordinary (Jones or Smith, common names), living a narrowly prosaic life, unimaginative, and probably pretentiously assured of the correctness of his life and his judgment of others . Whether by curiosity or serendipity, Jones stepped into a room full of people, regarded by the silent majority as a 'freak show' and just couldn't t make head nor tail sense of it. But it was a world that wasn't meant to make sense- Dylan often used circus metaphors in his songs of those years (see Desolation Row) and the circus is alive in 3 rings here. And what was going on was that this strange alternative world, incomprehensive to Jones- was vibrant and disorderly and unpredictable. To him it thrived grotesquely but could not be understood . Jones is the one who is easily understood, by the singer and by these outsiders, thus the line - "you re very well read, it s well known."

And of course what was happening here was - amongst other things -peace love and understanding preempting the old order of moneymaking, status & conformity. Individual freedom of expression, sex drugs and rock n roll - and protests against the war, the early seeds of environmentalism, woman s movement, black power, etc

What was going on was Mr Nixon complaining that there were too many Jews in government, while at least one Jewish reporter was discovering a story that would bring the world of Mr Jones and Nixon and his entire smug and smarmy league - to its knees.

You know a true artist is a visionary, and Dylan was and is a true artist. He has said that he doesn't t really write his songs , they flow through via a muse. And I say G-d bless Dylan s muse.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Ballad of a Thin Man (Bob Dylan)
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Dec 17 - 08:27 PM

Dylan imo was a pseud, if you want good poetry investigate thomas hardy or dylan thomas


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