Ballad of a Thin Man

by Bob Dylan

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 says, “What’s mine ?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is ?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone ?”

But 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.

And 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 someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To all 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.

But something is happening here
And 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”.

And you know something is happening
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
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 on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones.

Does something is happening
And you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones ?


3 responses to “Ballad of a Thin Man

  1. The media comodifies its product. On Invasion Day 2012 the media presents the Prime Minister falling .. being caught by a security policeman … Murdoch’s journos portray the fall as an embattled PM fleeing an angry black mob. it was Gillard’s spin doctor who created the situation by telling people that Abbott (the hollow man) was sitting in the restaurant feeding his face having just denounced the tent embassy.

    John, I would like to extend the metaphor created by Dylan and your explanation of it.

    Everbody knows the dice are loaded, everbody knows the rich man wins … we are alienated from it all by comsuming the media as sensation. The media feeds on each new fiction it creates and wants more anger, greater division, more violence in order to mount more sensation. Wasn’t it Lord Monkton who advised Gina Rinehart she needed to buy more media to prosecute her mining interests?

    Lie in bed late at night and listen to the BBC. We can hear British journos on the line with shelling in the background saying “… the Syrian army is bombarding civilians in Homs…” For all we know the journos could be in a London bar and even if they aren’t their commentary is so hollow, they could be (in a London bar). Western governments impose sanctions against Syria … they deploy drones over Damascus, Gaza, Hebron, Yemen to monitor, taser, and assassinate yes kill .. well … who and why? Obama ordered the extrajudicial murder of an american citizen in Yemen last year – why? because he was a member of al Queda? No. Because he was in a terrorist? No. Because he had killed someone? No. Because he was ‘suspected’ of ‘having links with’ unidentified radical islamic groups. Israel goes one better, their troops kill Palestinian children who throw stones.

    Oh! western hypocrisy at applying sanctions against Syria – a country in civil war — with
    opportunists trying to influence the outcome from all sides – US (Israel, oil interests), France (huile), Britain (oil), China (oil), Russia (will never give up its mediterrean port in Syria), Qatar (deploys troops), Saudi (more troops on the southern border), Jordan (more troops on the jordanian border), Israel (to defend US interests), Iran (to protect itself).

    Never once during the shelling on Gaza in 2008/9 did Rudd, Gillard, Obama,
    Sarkozy or Cameron call for sanctions against Israel. not once.

    i think the arab league called for a cease fire in 2009 which was followed by a belated call by the UN when one of its schools was bombed with phosphorus by Israeli jets.

    The US & Oz media said Israel had the right to defend itself?@#$%!


  2. This is my favorite Dylan song.

    “This is a song I wrote in response to people who ask questions all the time. You just get tired of that every once in a while.” – BD

    No, I don’t think Mr Jones is the commoner being put down by the seer and we are not Mr Jones. Mr Jones himself is the elitist seer who is exposed as ignorant by the nature of his questions.

    The folkloric explanation is that Mr. Jones is a journalist in a press conference asking stupid questions. I interpret it as a critique of the mainstream media that did not understand the 1960’s youth movement – and Dylan’s role in it – yet persisted in generating commentary about it.

    I think “The times they are a changing” give a hint as to what he means – “And don’t criticize what you can’t understand”.

    The Ballad of a thin man came to mind when I watched mainstream media coverage of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – something was happening but the questions the journalists asked indicated their ignorance of what it was.

    I have my own theory of who the Sword swallower and one eyed midget are based on one of the theories as to who Mr. Jones is – that he was Jeff Jones from the Rolling Stone. The sword swallower and midget are people in the music industry – perhaps Dylan’s own management. The sword swallower borrows Mr Jones throat – as a publicist would use the media. The one eyed midget shouting “now”, gives Mr Jones the cue to begin his questions and reminds him that he is a cow – a cash cow – his job is to provide milk – to write about and promote Dylan or else go home. So the trinity of Mr Jones, the Sword swallower and the one eyed midget represent how the bullshit public images of the pop music industry are created.


  3. I don’t know what Dylan thinks this is all about (does he?) but for mine it is a song about alienation – ideas and images squirl around.

    We (Mr Jones?) know something is happening, but we don’t know what it is.

    Do we?

    When asked about the song, Dylan said:

    “You put your eyes in your pocket
    And your nose on the ground
    There ought to be a law
    Against you comin’ around”

    An insulting provocation with savage words.

    Is Mr Jones the commoner being put down by the seer?

    What do you think?


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