Well, I ride on a mail train, baby, can't buy a thrill
Well, I been up all night leanin' on the windowsill
Well, if I die on top of the hill
And if I don't make it, you know my baby will

Don't the moon look good, mama, shinin' through the trees
Don't the brakemen look good, mama, flaggin' down the "Double-E"
Don't the sun look good goin' down over the sea
But don't my gal look fine when she's comin' after me

Now, the wintertime is comin', the windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody but I could not get across
Well, I want to be your lover, baby, I don't want to be your boss
Don't say I never warned you when your train gets lost

Lyrics submitted by thechosenone021

"It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" as written by Bob Dylan


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It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry song meanings
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  • +4
    Song MeaningA good poet only tips his hand once or twice a work. Dylan's face card is the fact that this is a male train. Having worked for BNSF railroad, I remember only two passengers on a mail train, the engineer and the caboose-man. You can guess which one Dylan is. Can't you see him leaning on the window sill like engineers do? If you are going to bother to essay a poem, your explanation better ring true in every single word of the work, anything less is an insult to the effort the poet made. No poet will essay a work because tombs are interesting but living things are fascinating. However, if your interpretation even pushes at the thoroughness of the poets effort, I think even a poet like Dylan, a mind who was very hard for anybody to pin down, enjoys the effort. Afterall, it is just one mans thoughts and the poem still walks. What do mail trains deliver? Mail--messages, and Dylan's overwhelming message was revolution. The winter is coming. The second face card here is the greatest line of the poem--"I want to be you lover baby, i don't want to be your boss. This is a love poem from a revolutionary, the engineer on a train of messages. Dylan doesn't want or need a follower, you may look good "running after me" but that won't last for long. So, what does one need to be to hold onto Dylan. He tells us, a break man, a double E, the sun, the sea. That is, a participant, not a follower. This particular follower runs after the engineer pretty hard, so much so that the engineer is convinced that even if the train can't make to the top of a hill, the girl will catch the train there. That must be a pretty heavy anchor for a revolutionary. I begin to imagine how lonely Dylan might have been, finding a break man or the sun or the sea would be darned near impossible. In Dylan's words, "Can't buy a thrill." So, he has been up all night, knowing that this girl he loves chases hard, but that is not enough. Eventually the revolutionay will grow tired of a follower. After all, he has warned her that the train will eventually get lost.
    icecreamanon March 04, 2014   Link
  • +2
    General CommentDitto, BraveSirRobin. It's only as I have grown older (sigh) that the beauty of Dylan's music has hit me, hit me hard.
    JWOon April 23, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnd if I die on top of the hill (if I don't have my "big moment")
    You know my baby will (she'll have hers)
    tomconway53on April 15, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOf all the 'why the hell does this never feature in all-time fave Dylan songs lists' the omission of 'It Takes A Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry' has me scratching my head more than most. Perhaps it's because it's one of the first Dylan songs I truly fell in love with. A perfectly paced gem.
    boosh39on May 09, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA good version of this on the "Super Session" album with Al Kopper,Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.
    I'm not sure if the lyrics are to be taken literally or if there's a hidden meaning eg. "train" is a commonly used expression for sex drive.
    chrisb1on February 03, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentfun side note: Steely Dan's first album is called "Can't Buy A Thrill"...and I've gotta believe that's a reference to this track.
    theoddballon January 20, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentlol! i like it, i think its ballad of a thin man too that sounds extremely sexual in places.

    Seems to me its a song in a similar vein to "To Ramona," he's talking to a girl in both songs and appears to be advising her on how not to get lost. It comes just after "Like A Rolling Stone" on the album too, a song in which the girl's train clearly has got lost.

    The first verse implies he is making a journey (perhaps life) and the last implies that the girl is following/wants to follow him.

    The moon through the trees and the sun going down over the sea also imply perhaps a transition? Perhaps generally of time. He is trying to help the girl keep up with time maybe, when the girl in "Like A Rolling Stone" failed to do so.

    Its also a very 'On The Road' style song and reminds me of 'Its All Over Now Baby Blue' - the ideas that everything is temporary, the importance of being able to adapt and move on and re-invent yourself.
    dan105on September 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentjerry garcia does a good cover of this
    sourire0947on January 23, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"And if I don't make it,
    You know my baby will."

    I like to think he's talking about how his music will endure after he's gone.
    This song is so fucking beautiful it kills me.
    BraveSirRobinon January 28, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's all a sexual metaphor.

    "Die", if you know your Shakespeare, is slang for "orgasm" and if you analyze the lyrics, you'll see that Bob seems to be romanticizing/embracing sexuality.

    "Well, if I die
    On top of the hill
    And if I don't make it,
    You know my baby will."

    "Die on top of the hill" might refer to simultaneous climaxing and "if I don't make it, you know my baby will" is pretty straightforward.

    In the second verse, he really romanticizes sexuality by presenting all these beautiful images, "the moon shining through the trees", "the sun...going down over the sea" and comparing them to his "gal coming after me" (which is also pretty straightforward in it's sexual connotations).

    The last verse is where it becomes open to interpretation. I think Bob is trying to emphasize sexual mutuality ("I wanna be your lover, I don't wanna be your boss"), saying that he doesn't want to have to do all the work everytime (sexual frustration maybe). That last verse is really open to interpretation.
    timopayon January 19, 2010   Link

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