Crickets are chirpin', the water is high,
There's a soft cotton dress on the line hangin' dry,
Window wide open, African trees
Bent over backwards from a hurricane breeze.
Not a word of goodbye, note even a note,
She gone with the man
In the long black coat.

Somebody seen him hanging around
At the old dance hall on the outskirts of town,
He looked into her eyes when she stopped to ask
If he wanted to dance, he had a face like a mask.
Somebody said from the Bible he'd quote
There was dust on the man
In the long black coat.

Preacher was a talkin' there's a sermon he gave,
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved,
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it's you who must keep it satisfied.
It ain't easy to swallow, it sticks in the throat,
She gave her heart to the man
In the long black coat.

There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way.
But people don't live or die, people just float.
She went with the man
In the long black coat.

There's smoke on the water, it's been there since June,
Tree trunks uprooted, 'neath the high crescent moon
Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
Somebody is out there beating the dead horse.
She never said nothing there was nothing she wrote,
She gone with the man
In the long black coat.



Lyrics submitted by snarflegnarfen, edited by Mellow_Harsher


Man in the Long Black Coat song meanings
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32 Comments

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  • +3
    My Interpretation:The first stanza brings a feeling of a small Soutern community, maybe somewhere near New Orleans? It is a prequel of what happens in the song.

    Contrary to popular belief, i think the man in the long black coat is not Death, or Satan, or even dark at all. He hangs around the outskirts. I think he is a loner, a journeyman, someone who travels without a home. The dust on is coat further symbolizes travel; the Grim Reaper would never be seen with a dirty cloak. The face like a mask shows that he has seen so much in his life that emotion has worn thin,like a man weary of so much experience.

    I dont have much to say about the preacher.

    There are no mistakes in life. The journeyman took her with him, but not for a dark purpose. I think he saved her life.

    Treetrunks uprooted, smoke on water,added to the first stanza's mention of urricane breezes,makes me believe that something horrible hapened to the place where the girl lived. Maybe there was a storm and everything was destroyed,all her family died except for her,because the man saved her. "Beating on a dead horse" means that a particular conversation has ended, and coupled with the lines about her not speaking, probably means that she never told anybody about what had happened.

    The lone journeyman, in a dusty blackcoat, knew that this town was going to be destroyed. He couldn't save the town,but one girl invited him to dance, and so she was the one he led away. It was no mistake that she survived,and when he brought her back, she was distrought, demanding to know why she had been the one saved, and not her friends and family. But he was silent, resolutein his decision. He left, and she never told anyone what had happened.
    Shakespeareon March 15, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:Here's my interpretation:

    There are crickets. The crickets are chirping. There's water. The water is high. There's a dress. The dress is made out of cotton. It is soft. It's on a clothesline. It's dry. There's a window. It's open. Wide. There are trees. They are Africa. They are bent over as a result of strong winds from a hurricane. There's was a woman there, but she left. She didn't say goodbye to anybody, or leave behind a note regarding her destination or when she could be expected to return. She left there with a man. The man was wearing a coat. The coat is long and black.

    It's a bit of a stretch, but it works for me.
    caseydwon October 20, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:This is the best song Dylan had written since 'In the Garden' (overlooked track from the panned and totally ignored album 'Saved'). Yes, elements of 'paranoia' are there, but that's just the microscope talking. It's about how in the midst of destruction (
    'African Trees'/ and then 'tree-trunks uprooted'), people are unwilling to face the fact that they have to come to terms with the fact of Death (MtterOFctItsAllDrk is actually right here). Very heavy track.
    elephant_rangeon April 01, 2005   Link
  • +1
    My Interpretation:this song to me is very fleeting. meaning is not all to clear but this is what i think it is.

    basically to me the man in the long black coat is death.(cliched after reading all other posts i know but yeah!)

    the 1st stanza paints a story of death in the town, (cotton dress hanging dry, bent over backwards from the hurricane breeze). the lady departed with death,(gone with the man in the long black coat)

    somebody's seen him hangin' around-death is looming and is round the corner(outskirts of town)

    he had a face like a mask- no-one has seen death personified, i think it would have a stern~austere face.
    There was dust on the man-dust cause he's travelled around leaving with other people whose time had arrived, or not.

    sermon he gave- admonishing the dying or enlightening the dead about how they lived life. i personally thought this was an extremely heavy stanza cause the whole idea about your conscience being vile but at the same time you having to satisfy it is very paradoxical.

    It ain't easy to swallow, it sticks in the throat,-death is hard to swallow, its hard to accept death. acceptance is the last stage in the 5 stages of death.

    She went with the man
    In the long black coat.-yet everyone dies in the end

    There are no mistakes in life some people say
    It is true sometimes you can see it that way. -pretty true,many people believe this,specially beauty pageant winners who say "i would change nothing in my life, i learnt from my mistakes, made me a better person!!!"

    But people don't live or die, people just float.-brilliant,i think this is dylan trying to infuse his philosophy into the song a little. brilliant.

    She went with the man
    In the long black coat-again everyone dies

    There's smoke on the water, it's been there since June,-death has always been around, or maybe the lady he talks about started showing symptoms since june?

    Tree trunks uprooted, 'neath the high crescent moon
    Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
    Somebody is out there beating the dead horse.-death is out there looming and becomes clear slowly.

    She never said nothing there was nothing she wrote,
    She gone with the man
    In the long black coat. -i think instead of the idea that she was murdered by the man in the long black coat, nothing she wrote meaning no-one knows when they are going to pass?
    illuminouson August 13, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I enjoy the Joan Osborne cover better, but the story is the same. I really think this song is about a girl who kills herself or is murdered.
    ATouchOfMadnesson April 16, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:The lyrics are pretty sub-Dylan-par until you get to the breathtaking second half of the bridge: People don't live or die/People just float. That's incredible, seeing human life through almost an alien's perspective.

    But now that I re-read the lyrics, they're actually all pretty damn good. He sings it too choppily on Oh Mercy, maybe. The song's worth it just for that amazing bridge, though.
    imogenon May 23, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:The man in the long black coat is death.
    MtterOFctItsAllDrkon October 10, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I think this song referes to the early stages of delisional paranoia...Or maybe not so paranoid..
    Detectiveon March 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I disagree i belive the man in the long black coat to be a Demonic entity who speaks in the tongue of babel!
    Detectiveon April 03, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I think the song has links in other Dylan songs. It starts out with a description of some kind of rural area, I'd say the south, (note "African trees" in relation to a song like "Blind Willie McTell") Then they start in with the events that circle around the Man in the Long Black Coat, who I think is related to Woody Guthre's "Gypsey Davey". But I think Dylan is also using Gypsey Davey as a kind of moral story. The Man also represents what we want but can't have, what we are forbidden from having. "Every Man's Conscience is Vile and Depraved."
    In "Gypsey Davey" the husband tries to convince the wife to come back to him by using "your blue-eyed baby" as bait. Her response: "I will forsake my husband dear/ To go with the Gypsey Davey/ I have forsaken my house and home/ But not my blue eyed baby." The Gypsey Davey, like the Man, is forbidden. And it's always pointed out to be forbidden "Somebody's out there beating on a dead horse". The last part of the Bridge is about the woman throwing off the shackles of the religion which forbids what she wants.
    Also of interest, in 2004 concerts, Bob sings "I went down to the river/ But I just missed the boat" Instead of the "Live or die" part.
    dlmccaslinon April 08, 2005   Link

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