Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're going to have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him, "Do you want to make a deal?"

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're drinking, thinking that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you'd better lift your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it, babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?


Lyrics submitted by oofus, edited by sparrowhawk73

Like a Rolling Stone song meanings
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213 Comments

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  • +9
    General CommentMy first thought while listening to the song, was: Isn't Dylan describing every person in this world, when we are completely stripped? All of us are rolling stones, a thing we will never get away from - no matter how rich, intellectual and commercial (etc) we become. I think that is ONE of all the meanings this song has.
    loev1501on March 04, 2012   Link
  • +8
    General CommentDisagree entirely, with most of this. Have studied the song greatly, so may be able to offer some fact based insight.

    The song is about socialite, Edie Palmer. A one time girlfriend of Bob Dylan, who cheated on him, with a number of people, while he was an up and coming musician, and eventually left him for the artist Andy Warhol. Their lives went different ways, with Dylan moving on to fame and fortune, and Palmer becoming destitute, and dying a homeless drug addict. Sadly, the song is black humour on Dylans part, mocking the girl after she was dumped by Warhol, and quickly lost the brief fame she had as his girlfriend.

    Most of the song hints at a rich, fame hungry girl, who was maybe destined for a fall. But there are many hints to what happened to her, after falling on hard times:

    “You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns. When they all come down and did tricks for you”

    This refers to the many suitors that Palmer had. Many men, trying to impress and court her, and how much she loved it. Dylan refers to them as “jugglers and clowns”, as in, men trying to entertain her, trying to catch her attention. Dylan thought of them quite literally as desperate clowns. He comments that she had little care for their feelings, and probably refers to himself as one of these “clowns”, as he was well known to have pursued Palmer vigorously, as a younger man.


    “You said you'd never compromise. With the mystery tramp, but now you realize. He's not selling any alibis. As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes. And ask him do you want to make a deal?”

    This refers to the fact that Palmer resorted to prostitution, not literally, but in Dylans eyes. It was well known that Palmer slept about a lot, mostly for gifts, and fame – generally sleeping with anyone she though of as “hip” – Dylan being one of them. He’s commenting that she used to make fun of “working class people”, and considered herself a better class, but at the same time was (in Dylan’s opinion) prostituting herself to the same people, for fame.

    “You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat. Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat. Ain't it hard when you discover that. He really wasn't where it's at, after he took from you everything he could steal.”

    “The diplomat” was one of many names Dylan referred to the artist Andy Warhol. Dylan and Warhol were known enemies of the New York art scene. Dylan, the legitimate artist, and star, whereas Warhol was more “shock” value person, who attained fame by courting the media, and trying to shock. Dylan disliked Warhol, and his “factory” immensely, and felt of them as untalented wannabes. He called him “the diplomat”, as although he had an exterior image as a wild artist, he was in his early 40s, and very wealthy, so Dylan felt it was all an act, and he was in fact a very establish piece of New York society. “Chrome Horse” he is obviously referring to a car. The Siamese cat line is referring to Warhol’s almost comedic artistic decadence. The imagery of a man walking around town with a Siamese cat (very rare at the time) on his shoulder, was Dylan explaining how ridiculous he felt Warhol was, and how much attention he craved. “He really wasn't where it's at, after he took from you everything he could steal”. Warhol’s 60s fame was seen as a “fad” at the time, and Dylan was basically saying “you backed the wrong horse”, as in the late 60s, Dylan really was the biggest artist/star in the world, rivalling the Beatles, and Warhol had slipped into obscurity.

    “You used to be so amused At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse. When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.”

    Someone touched on this earlier, claiming “Napoleon in rags” was referring to himself, Bob Dylan. Nice, but sadly wrong. “Napoleon in rags” was another Dylan (mocking) nickname of the artist Andy Warhol. As stated earlier, Warhol painted himself as a beatnik/struggling artist, yet, he was immensely wealthy, middle class, and powerful, in the new york scene. He was also at least 20 years older than Dylan at the time. “Napoleon in rags” was basically Dylan mocking the image Warhol tried to convey of himself, stating that he was actually, underneath all the rags, and imagery, a little, ageing powerful man, who dictated himself to people. As a parting shot “Go to him now”, Dylan is telling Palmer to go to the man she left him for, and states that they are both “invisible”, as in, not famous, whereas, he was world start. Basically stating what a mistake she actually made.

    In conclusion, the crux of the song is the fact that Eadie Palmer, left Dylan, as a struggling musician, in the new york scene, to date the 40 year old artist, Andy Warhol, for what Dylan felt were money related issues. He was very rich and famous in the early 60s after all. Dylan, rather darkly, is mocking them both, and basically stating that “you left me for money, but now look at you – your nothing, and I’m huge”.
    ceej1979on October 09, 2008   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis song is about a rich girl getting strung out on heroin or other opiates.

    As with any Dylan song, he dresses it up quite obliquely and is addressing things on multiple levels here, but the heroin references are everywhere ...

    Now, getting 'juiced' just refers to getting drunk, but that was back in school ... so that's how the addiction cycle started. Then it graduated to opiates, which people told her to 'beware' of or she'd be sucked in, but she didn't believe them.

    The terms 'kicks' and 'hanging out' are both junkie terms for dope withdrawals. The general term 'kicking drugs' is derived from the phenomenon of 'the kicks', which are uncontrollable leg spasms that occur in opiate withdrawals. Early-on, she apparently thought addiction couldn't happen to her ... to the point where she laughed at people who were dope-sick (i.e. 'hanging out').

    At the beginning of the song, the 'living on the streets' refers to how you have to go to bad neighborhoods chasing down the dope man ... and as an addict, you have to 'get used to it'. By the end of the song, she probably literally was living on the streets.

    The 'mystery tramp' is the drug dealer(s), pure and simple. And I've got my suspicions that Napoleon is the drug habit itself ... it starts out 'amusing', but then eventually it becomes an addiction ... which in turn just calls you, and indeed, you can't refuse.

    Due to her addiction, she ends up in life of misery and despair, pawning her possessions for drug money, and basically 'invisible' to the world, possibly homeless ... if not literally, then figuratively at least ... as addicts tend to drive everyone away from themselves.
    brettjvon February 22, 2012   Link
  • +3
    General Commentmy take on it.. i just think it's about how children of the 60s (and still today) were so eager to get away from their parents and into the 'real world' but were greeted with a smack of reality in the face
    pezking21on June 17, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis is the moment of self relization, when everything you've spent most of your life putting up to hide the sad truth from your eyes comes crashing down and you are left with nothing but reality.
    curious georgeon June 21, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis is most likely about deceased heiress/debutant/Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick. The lines "You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat/ Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat/ Ain't it hard when you discover that/ He really wasn't where it's at/ After he took from you everything he could steal." refer to Andy Warhol rather pointedly.
    I've heard that the Dylan songs Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat and Just Like a Woman were also Edie-inspired, but I doubt it.
    dewdropon September 12, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Commentwhen i hear this song it makes me think of one of those signs next to Mt.'s on the highway. The signs that are like "watch for rocks"

    i dunno it just makes me think of a rock tumbling down a hill about to smash into cars on a highway for some reason.....
    bmx_ryan360on September 14, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentSo, many of you saying this song is about Edie Sedgwick, when it makes much more sense to presume it's about, at least in part, Joan Baez.
    There's a shifting point of view too, as there is in so many Dylan songs, with some parts being about himself.

    It describes Baez as the queen of the scene when she first took Dylan under her wing, their relationship (including some biographical detail), and Dylan tiring of her, and her straight lacedness - You never understood that it ain't no good
    You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you - in preference for the rest of his entourage - see the film 'Don't Look Back'.
    The lines - You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat - are the most obvious pointers; when Baez and Dylan stayed in Woodstock together they used to ride Dylan's triumph motorbike round the woods together, one pillion behind the other (see her biography, and David Hadju's 'Positively 4th Street') . The diplomat with the Siamese cat is Dylan - see the cover of 'Bringing It All Back Home', the cat is actually Persian and Dylan wears a jacket and cufflinks bought for him by Baez - and the lines that follow - Ain't it hard when you discover that He really wasn't where it's at After he took from you everything he could steal - describe the situation as it must've have seemed to Baez, who did so much to help Dylan at the start of his career, but got nothing in return on the tour of England and was cast out and discarded by a Dylan who no longer needed her help to gain attention.
    Presumably the 'mystery tramp' in the earlier verse is also Dylan.

    A couple more lines seem to be biographical though the details are unclear - Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things But you'd better lift your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe - as mentioned Baez had given Dylan the jacket and cufflinks, she'd later write 'Diamonds and Pearls' and in her biography refer to years later finding cut stones wrapped up in her laundry and instantly being taken back and reduced to tears - obviously Dylan bought her the stones, or they bought them together, whatever, it fits.
    It's been suggested Napoleon is Donnovan, a pale imitation of Dylan they'd met on the tour in England - who knows - but whoever it is the final verse is a really vicious pay-off, as much of the song is, Dylan telling her he's finished with her, so she might as well get what comfort where she can.
    Nasty.
    SuitBoyon August 31, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentTHis is not, in any way, Dylan's best song. Not musically, not lyrically. But still, I can't say it isn't a masterpiece, and that it is probably the most influential song this genious has written. Simply brilliant.
    "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal".
    Outstanding.
    ligeirinhoon November 10, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI believe this song is either about a woman who lived her whole life with money and prestige and one day she either realizes that all that money is worthless, or she loses that money somehow. She always looked down on the poor people, but never took time to look at them objectively, and now she's one of them.
    MrMojoRisin5552on May 03, 2002   Link

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