This song is about none other than David Bowie, whos real name is David Jones. Well read, thin man, homosexual references, it's all there in the lyrics. Bowie later responded in "71 with "Song for...

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 somebody 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 to 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



Lyrics submitted by itsmyownmind


Ballad of a Thin Man song meanings
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  • +10
    General Comment:People, people, people. You're all obviously TOO YOUNG to have the faintest idea what's going on. And maybe ignorance is not your fault, but if I read one more person saying "It's about Larry King" or "It's about a gay swinger party", I'll start swinging an axe. The song was written in the mid-60s, so it's all about the counter-culture movement Bob Dylan was part of, centered around NYC's village.

    "You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand"
    Reporters in the ye olde days before recorders and iPhones with a voice recording option used to wander around with a notepad and pencil and make notes.

    "You see somebody naked"
    In the 1960s counter-culture movement, the leading wave before the hippies, it was nothing to see people naked in a commune or house shared by young people. If you weren't bothered, you were cool. Mr Jones, however, a reporter, is not cool, is trying to find out why someone is naked, is confronted by it all.

    "Because something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones"
    Mr Jones, the reporter, is mystified completely by the midget shouting "NOW!", the sword-swallower returning his throat, the geek who thinks HE's the freak, and so on. Sounds a lot like a circus, huh? That's because to an outsider that's what it is, a weird circus Mr Jones simply does not understand. But, he knows he needs to, because it's becoming relevant.

    It's all about the media's inability to comment accurately on or to even understand the counter-culture movement of the time, but knowing they had to comment because it was the new big deal.
    aragondon January 21, 2012   Link
  • +4
    General Comment:I see this song much different than you guys. First off, I love it. But I view it as a song about a guy that views himself as a freak...when in reality he is more of a geeky guy with little self-confidence. The song is Bob Dylan's message to Mr. Jones (could be a side of his personality) telling him that he is not so weird and to straighten up.

    Let's take it verse by verse:
    First verse: Mr. Jones comes by and finds his girl in bed with another guy. He just walks out.
    Second version: He ask God why this is happening, and God tells him (or he thinks God tells him) I am taking everything away from you.
    Third verse: He visits a carnival and visits the Geek (a person who bites the heads off of chickens.) A geek is a freak by way of his actions. For some reason, the two of them feel a connection.
    Fourth verse: Mr. Jones has a lot of friends from different walks of life, but they aren't real friends...they always take advantage of him. He is also a very smart guy and feels more comfortable with the other typical "nerds" (academics.)
    Fifth verse: A sword swallower at a carnival. Another guy who is a freak by way of what he does. He and Mr. Jones find common ground again. (Great line: "Here is your throat back, thanks for the loan." A sword swallower would scratch the back of his throat while performing. Well instead of using his own, why not use Mr. Jones'? You know the feeling when you are upset, especially after a relationship ends. It feel like a lump or hurt in the back of your throat.)
    Sixth verse: A one-eyed midget is a freak...not cause of what he does (like the geek, sword swallower, and Mr. Jones) but because of the way he looks. He gets in Mr. Jones face and bascially says, "Look at me. I am a freak. Tell me what is so freakin' weird about you. Nothing huh? Get the hell out of here!"
    At this point, you would figure that Mr. Jones has learned his lesson...unfortuantely no.
    Seventh verse: He goes back home and once again his girlfriend cheats on him and he is the one that apologizes. "He puts his eyes in his pockets"...He acts like he sees nothing. "There ought to be a law
    Against you comin' around You should be made To wear earphones" Bob is saying this should be illegal to keep you from being hurt. You should have to wear earphones so you don't have to listen to your girl lie to you again.

    Will Mr. Jones ever learn?

    Maybe the Counting Crowes know..."Mr. Jones" is kinda a sequel to "Ballad of a Thin Man". Both the lead singer and Mr. Jones want to be more normal and life of the party.
    jersey73on May 08, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:I always took it as being about an old-fashioned patricial man who's attempting to fit into the liberal ethos of the 60s, by reading F Scott Fitzgerald's books and giving money to charity, but ultimately he's not thinking of the people and everyone can see through his greed and outdatedness. The social change of the day is the "something is happening and you don't know what it is".
    JackofHeartson October 04, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:i'd say that you'd be right for the most part in saying it's about closed minded person...i think it's more about someone who thinks he's better than everyone else and doesn't care to associate with (or finds it as justification to disrespect) those of other ideologies/values/social class/aesthetic qualities/knowledge (i would say our "thin man" is a good looking, old-monied, conservative, christian, college educated--maybe with a Ph.D.--, profession is probably existing off of the wealth of his fathers, socialite, and so on... He spends much of his time assessing other people but never took a moment to look at himself in the mirror and assess himself. Then a) when he is one day thrown amongst the "geeks" and "sword-swallowers" he begins to go insane because these "lower" people don't show him respect but, in fact, do the opposite and disrespect him and he can't see why these people dont' simply accept that he's better than them rather than just accempting himself that he's no better than anyone else. b) he, like the girl in "like a rolling stone," loses his wealth/status and he finds he has no one to turn to because he's no longer accepted by his other superficial socialites and those he joins on the lower tier are happy to see that he's fallen

    I also think it could mean he is the modern-day equivalent to one of Rush Limbaugh's "ditto-heads" who has always had his conservative ideology reinforced without it having been developed...once his beliefs are challenged he has no defense but doesn't understand how anyone thinks he can be disagreed with and is forced to reassess himself...i think this is part of the whole meaning but i can't see it being only about this...

    anyway, i've said enough, u get the idea
    ZinbobDanon March 19, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:I think harperfan is absolutely right; the song is non-stop references to gay sex. I don't know why so few people seem to have gotten this over the years.
    There's more than just what harper mentioned:

    "and you say impossible, as he hands you a bone."
    hands you a bone?

    "you have many contacts/out there among the lumberjacks"
    vague, but definitely sexual; lumberjacks 1. fell trees all day, 2. appear superficially straight but, like sailors, have a reputation for sodomy...I'd love to know exactly what Dylan had in mind with this one...

    "you've been with the professors/and they've all liked your looks"
    this one's pretty self-explanatory.

    "you've been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Books" - who was one of the greatest misogynists of the 20th Century...

    and finally, the biggest one:

    "you walk into a 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 ([alt.] telephones)"

    Let's analyze this carefully. Picture Joe Camel; that long nose, the puffed-out cheeks; picture the outline of his face. It's a phallus. What's got its eyes in your pockets and its nose on the ground? Your penis. "There ought to be a law against you coming around" - hehehehe. this one makes me laugh. "You should me made to wear earphones." (Earphones are for PROTECTION. Just like you wear a condom to stop you from "coming around.")

    Every line in song is just more incredibly childish and immature than the last -- it's like something 13 year old boys write in the backs of their Latin books. But the genius of it has stood the test of time -- most people who've heard it a thousand times still have no idea what it really means.
    luckystrike6on November 20, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:The song is a spoof on the media. Mr. Jones is a journalist. Bob was upset about how the paparazzi invaded his privacy and reporters were always asking him what his songs meant. I think Bob jokes that despite their education and their prominent position in society, they really don’t have a clue. You could probably also throw annoying fans wanting autographs into the equation.
    rdaggeron March 18, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:Though it sounds like another nutter reading too much into an artists lyrics the theme of homosexuality isnt as for gone as it sounds.the fact that the lyrics are strongy suggesting in that way is only part of the fact i belive the song is about homosexuality.if you read up on when bob dylan actually first wrote the song he read the lyrics to some friends.they were all laughing at how funny the song was including dylan.even as dylan sings "you try so hard but you dont understand" he laugh's as he says "try".all these things could be interpreted in a different way but i belive its a pretty obvious sign that the song is intended as abit of a laugh.people seem to forget the fact that dylan did not just wright political songs,protest songs and songs of such deep meaning.that is the genius of dylan,he wrote many types of songs.and if i am wrong and this song is actually about a small minded upper class man who is either trying to fit in with all the "geeks" and "freeks" of the lower class and liberal or been thrown amoung them then this further proves the genuis of dylan to write a song with different enterpied meanings.i will ad a further comment after i go to a dylan gig on the 18/11/05.
    ed_wyatton October 19, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:This song definitely is about gay sex.Every object or person mentioned in this song is either reffering to a penis or a blowjob. It certainly isn't coincidental that all the things he mentions are long, thin or hard (bone, pencil, sword).

    "You walk into the room
    With your pencil in your hand"

    ---> pencil? (=penis!)

    "You raise up your head
    And you ask, "Is this where it is?" "

    ---> He kneels down to give someone a blowjob,
    looks up and asks if this is the right spot

    "And you say, "Impossible"
    As he hands you a bone "

    ---> bone? (=penis!)

    "You have many contacts
    Among the lumberjacks "

    "You've been with the professors
    And they've all liked your looks "

    ---> No need to explain

    "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 "

    ---> This one makes me laugh. If you replace sword with penis you'll understand it

    "Now you see this one-eyed midget
    Shouting the word "NOW" "

    ---> one-eyed-midget? (=penis!)

    "Give me some milk
    Or else go home""

    ---> this is also very funny


    Well I hope you understand now, who the young man in the title is...
    bob_dylan_fanon January 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:why is it so hard for some people to believe this song references homosexuality, even if he is speaking of mr. jones? as though calling people gay is not an offensive thing to say to someone who is quite likey homophobic or a closet gay. and no, dylan doesnt only write politically fused songs, sorry. i suppose it is a coincidence that every line refers ro something long, thin and hard (thank you bob dylan fan for specifics). seriously, why is it so hard to believe dylan is referencing homosexual inuendos? it especially makes sence that its about someone he is not fond of. yes, i did watch i'm not there and the dong still makes sence in context to the movie. sorry homosexuality is just soooo taboo. (no, i am not gay, but who the fuck cares if dylan references homosexuality in a song!!!)
    riotgrrl_kaboomon March 24, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:Until I came here I didn't (and still don't) think there was much doubt about what, in a general sense, the song is about. It is a satire against all the pompous critics and journalists who were constantly asking what Dylan's songs were about, but didn't have a clue about the creative process. Whether there was some particular writer who got on Dylan's nerves, and if so whether that writer was called Jones, is almost irrelevant.
    DavidBon January 18, 2010   Link

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