The sweet pretty things are in bed now of course
The city fathers they're trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere's horse
But the town has no need to be nervous

The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits
At the head of the chamber of commerce

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
I'm in the kitchen
With the tombstone blues

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, "I've just been made"
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
Says, "My advice is to not let the boys in"

Now the medicine man comes and he shuffles inside
He walks with a swagger and he says to the bride
"Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it's not poison"

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
I'm in the kitchen
With the tombstone blues

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saving, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken"

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
I'm in the kitchen
With the tombstone blues

The king of the Philistines his soldiers to save
Puts jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves
Puts the pied pipers in prison and fattens the slaves
Then sends them out to the jungle

Gypsy Davey with a blowtorch he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedro behind him he tramps
With a fantastic collection of stamps
To win friends and influence his uncle

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
I'm in trouble
With the tombstone blues

The geometry of innocent flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo's math book to get thrown
At Delilah who's sitting worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter

Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill
I would set him in chains at the top of the hill
Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille
He could die happily ever after

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
I'm in the kitchen
With the tombstone blues

Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bed roll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks' home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
I'm in the kitchen
With the tombstone blues


Lyrics submitted by roger wilco, edited by Funky_Nickie


Tombstone Blues song meanings
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50 Comments

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  • +5
    General Commentmore about "the sun's not yellow, it's chicken": the roman sun god is apollo and the spanish word for chicken is "pollo". chew on that for a while
    ronwomanon September 16, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General CommentYeah, I tend to agree with rider of waves, these are mostly little images of abuse of power.

    The city father's first ridiculously trying to legislate the reincarnation of a horse. He then characterizes them "the chamber of commerce": Belle Starr (a famous criminal), Jezebell the nun (hypocrit), Jack the Ripper (famous killer.)

    The chorus just puts it in perspective, real, everyday people are just trying to survive.

    Who would John the Baptists commander and chief be, has to be Jesus Christ. After torturing a thief, putting judgement to a sinner, feels sick with guuilt. He looks to the commander in chief wondering, is this really what we should be doing? Christ is portrayed as so freaking tough that he is pumping a barbell, saying death to all those who don't have the stomach for this, and challenging the sun directly (its a cool play on words, but also conveys the insane conviction.) Anyway, the abuse of power by christianity is the theme of these verses.

    The king of the philistines puts jawbones on the tombstones of his soldiers. Then heaps them with honors. Samson killed the philistines with a jawbone. Its the same as putting a rifle on the grave of a soldier (the impliment of their death!) and honoring them. The hypocrisy of probably the president in particular, but the US governemt in general, blithely sending soldiers off to die, and honoring their deaths so shallowly, at the same time, jailing pied pipers (those who would lead the youth presumably to protest the war). Fattening the slaves before sending them out tio the jungle, is the same hypocracy of honoring the soldiers deaths.. If you had so much honor for them, you'd not send them off to die!.

    Gypsy davy, is the soldier in the army. He's burning down camps, ie burning villages, the fantastic collection of stamps means, enjoying travelling around the world, to win friends and influence his Uncle (Sam), that is to gain favor in the military. He's saying, the avergae Joe soldier burning down villages, isn't thinking about what he's doing, he's thrilled to be travelling the world, and not looking at the bigger picture.

    Brother Bill is probably Billy Graham, or some one like him, a reactionary judgemental rightwing christian type, and he's ironically saying, that he wishes he could give him his greatest wish and let him die a martyr in cecil b. demill cinemagraphic glory.


    Ma Raney was a famous Blues-Woman, he is equating her to bethoven as a true musical originator, they've now been replaced by tuba players saluting the flag, its a humorous image of crappy music that serves the mainstream purpose. And any one trying to save your soul is making a profit, preying off the old and naieve.

    Theres more here, its all in that vein i think.
    shockandaweon March 07, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI've read that this song is an attempt to render musically the same kind of crazy randomness that surrealist artists in the 1920's put in their paintings and movies. This song is full of one liners and verses that are almost by definition non sequitors. From what I understand, surrealists were trying to get people to look at the world differently by placing normal, run of the mill images in unexpected, and sometimes unsettling, contexts.

    By the way, "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken," may just be one of my favorite lines ever.
    distopiandreamguyon December 04, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General Commentsmeared -- basically, that line is a purposely ambiguous and awesome pun. Dylan plays with word connotations here.

    Yellow's most obvious connotation is the color.
    However, it can also mean "cowardly" or "scared."

    Chicken's most obvious connotation is the food.
    However, it can also mean the same thing as the second connotation of yellow -- scared (You're chicken!)

    So, no matter which way you look at this statement, one of the words will screw up the sentence's meaning.

    For instance, the sun definitely can't be chicken, but something that's yellow can be.

    What an awesome pun. This song is amazing. The lyrics are great, and Michael Bloomfield's guitar work is exceptional.
    MagiDrakeeon February 03, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIt's hard to tell how all the allusions fit together. Who are Gypsy Davey and Ma Raney?

    The Biblical references are a bit easier. Jezebel (corrupt queen of Israel) shows up in the first verse, John the Baptist in the second, but Samson (though unnamed) is the big allusion.

    He killed 1000 Philistines with a donkey's jawbone (see third verse), married and was betrayed by Delilah (fourth verse), and finally killed his captors by tearing down the pillars of the great house of the Philistines (fourth verse; note the reference to Cecil B. DeMille, who directed several major Biblical epics in the 1950s).

    As far as how Samson and the others fit into the larger context of the song, I have no idea. Any thoughts?
    orthonormalon December 13, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAs soon as I read the lyric I thought of Vietnam in particular and war and capitalism in general. To me, verses 1&2 say that the gangsters are now running the country, using patriotism as a cover. The chorus notes that capitalism is tough and that here Dylan is singing about it from a relatively comfortable position.Verses 3&4 are about being made to shut up and accept a brutally exploitative system. In 5&6 we see a sarcastic incarnation of Christian icons as military figures. 7&8 are self-explanatory - think My Lai. 9&10 use a biblical allusion to suggest LBJ ought to kill himself rather than sending others off to war. 11 says the military-industrial complex has usurped education and culture and 12 says that even if you realise all this, you can't change it. I'd see it as a picture of Dylan's disillusion and bitterness at the time he moved from his 'protest' period to his electric period.

    Just a first impression, you understand. I'm sure there are broader and deeper interpretations, but mine certainly fits the anger of the song and the death motif.
    losttangoon November 05, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWhat? No comments?! an outrage! This is a masterpiece, and if u can't even listen to it then why should I explain what its about?
    queenjaneon September 26, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love the way this song sounds like it's perpetually about to go off the rails, but manages to stay just balanced.
    Michialon September 06, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentmore about "the sun's not yellow, it's chicken": the roman sun god is apollo and the spanish word for chicken is "pollo". chew on that for a while
    ronwomanon September 16, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think the ultimate aim is tell us that the upper crust sucks and the people are starving to death. I think that's why he wrote the chorus the way he did. I think's that also the point of the second to last stanza. "The National Bank sells at a profit road maps for the soul to the old folks home and the college." Only the priveleged have a shot at getting into college and the old folks home, and if your underpriveleged, then you have to sell your soul for a promissary note. You'll never escape the debt of this life with those bills. Dylan's the best songwriter of the 1960's.
    OpinionHeadon October 12, 2005   Link

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