156 Meanings
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Ballad of a Thin Man Lyrics

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
156 Meanings
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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.

@aragond totally agree mate, the archetypal take down of the media so used to taking down something they can't or won't try to understand or comprehend so dismiss it, and this is coming from a music journo.
By the way if you want a really good update 40 years later check out stereophonics "Mr Writer" about the backstabbing british press, ironically written by a Mr (Kelly) Jones....

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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.

Yes, lumberjacks are other media members who "cut things (people) down." I originally thought of them as paid thugs, but your interpretation seems more correct.

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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.

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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.

True! Originally, this song was about the pompous critics and journalists who don't have a clue about the creative process. Bob Dylan has always said that. Mr Jones is one of these conformist journalists who is confronted to a freakin world and doesn't know what's happening. I really love the chorus "something is happening here but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr Jones?" with a very worrying tone. It's about losing control and about how these conformist people always want to have control over things, other people and minds. But I'm very curious about the "homosexuality theory". How...

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I think in the rush to discover the "hidden" meaning of this song, people are looking past some of the more obvious stuff. While there do seem to be some lyrics alluding to homosexuality, there are whole sections of the song that have nothing to do with this. Plus, the hostility displayed towards Mr. Jones would hardly indicate a sympathetic commentary on homosexuality. I find the hostile tone more consistent with the critical character assassination of Like a Rolling Stone and much of the Highway 61 album.

The meaning is closer to what people were saying about criticism of the establishment. I've always thought of it as having a bit of a generational meaning as well. F Scott Fitzgerald was popular primarily in the 20's - a generation or two before Dylan's. The youngest people to have read Fitzgerald in the 20's would have been about 60 when this song was released. Add this to all the contacts, professors, charities, great lawyers, etc that Mr. Jones consorts with, and it suggests that he's an older, educated, upper class individual who, despite all his knowledge and power, can't comprehend the changes happening in society in the 1960's - namely the youth 'counter-culture.'

I suspect that the nonsensical verses are deliberately designed to confuse us and thus put us in Mr. Jones' shoes, and little more. You have to be careful not to read TOO much into lyrics sometimes, especially Dylan's. Not every line has an explicit and carefully constructed meaning. He used to write songs like this in about 15 minutes.

It's perhaps even a more subtle continuation of the "times they are a changin" theme.

@ND14 Your suggestion that only people reading when a book is published read a book is ridiculous. " The GREAT GATSBY" is considered an American classic and was assigned reading when I was in high school in the early 70's. It is partly about the corruption of materialism and undo status. But I do think you are right, that some of the lyrics are surrealistic and in some ways meaningless, which allows each of us to impart our own meaning. That is the geinious of Dylan.

@ND14 The biggest problem with that is that when F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 he was considered a failure. He had made a grand total of $13 in royalties from his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, at the time of his death. His first book had been a successful debut, his second also did modestly well. But after that he fell out of favor with critics and the buying public.\r\n\r\nOnly after WWII was he acknowledged as the writer we know him to be.

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The Midget verse is definitely the reporter's meeting w/ his boss, who says "give me some milk or go home," meaning "I want something to put in the paper tomorrow or you are fired." Very clever.

Forget all the Brian Jones/gay references. This tune is one of Dylan's easiest to figure out--it is a rip on the clueless media poking around and trying to figure out Dylan's world, even though they are too lazy/incompetent to even bother listening to his music. Hysterical. I bet he had quite the time writing it!

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I've always understood this song as a rant against bourgeoisie. For sure Bob was mad at someone or at a group of people...

On the other hand, I've always wondered about the title: Why "Ballad of a Thin Man"? Who is the Thin Man? Is he singing the ballad or is he being sung in the ballad? And why is he thin? Is it a symptom of a sickness or a lack of something, or probably he is not being fed enough and is starving? Or is it only a metaphore of emptinees? Or something else? I wonder if anyone has ever though about it...

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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.

Nice try. But no cigar. Like the other poster who thought this was about homosexuality, you guys are stretching here a bit...

I view this song even differently from the rest of you. I think that it is maybe about the average American (think, Jones is a common name for an american man) and how change is surrounding his life and his country (though i understand very little of the lyrics in this song as they all sound like something a psychopath would sing, this is just a thought to get around in the forum)

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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.

luckystrike- I think your theory makes a lot of sense . . . . But I think the last two lines mean something else. Assuming the song is about a gay guy, I think these two lines are sort of critisizing those who think being gay is wrong. Like, "There should be a law against you coming around": "coming around" is gay sex, and people think it should be illegal. And "You should be made to wear earphones" . . . just making fun of what Dylan sees as ridiculous or foolish laws, such as any prohibiting homosexuality. Just a...

Interesting interpretation, luckystrike6...but I must bring up this one point...your reference to "Joe Camel". This song was written in the early to mid-sixties...if memory serves me correctly, Joe Camel wasn't created until the 80's as part of a Camel cigarette advertising campaign.

Just one of those things that makes you wanna say "Hmmmm..."

The imagination of folks can sure take off when they attempt to make meanings fit into their own box. Joe Camel as and advertising icon didn't come along til the late 80's. Highway 61 Revisited came out in 1965.

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One thing that stuck out to me in this song, is that it revolves around a very normal man (like the first post mentioned Ph.D. and all that stuff) in a setting where HE is isolated. Mr. Jones is a very normal man who becomes extremely abnormal in an enviromnent with geeks, midgets, and sword swallowers.

All these people he considers as lower class make sarcastic comments at him of his arrogance (you're a cow, give me some milk or else go home) and Mr. Jones doesn't really get it, though he knows "something is happening".

I remember when I was younger I went with my family to the town of Berkeley, in California. I'd grown up in a nice, white community, and was incredibly naive. As we walked down the street I was gaping at a lady dressed in rags. This homeless guy with a long beard and scraggly clothes came up to me and said "she's cute ain't she?" Shocked, i responded "yea i guess". He then continued "Yea, I like to travel to 3rd world countries and take pictures of poor people and go home to watch them all. Poor people are adorable". It took me a couple of days to realize his incredible sardonicism and how he had been making fun of my naive arrogance. When I heard this song, the image of that man popped into my head. I don't think I could have understood it better at that point.

The geeks, midgets, and sword swallowers are all Dylan in his trippy tale of a biting attack on one poor sap of a news reporter. It is Dylan, through these disguises, who is making fun of this reporter, and any other one who might want to pry into every meaning of every one of his tunes.

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