The Man in Me: the meaning of the music and the words

By Tony Attwood

The Man in Me appears to exist in three versions by Dylan.  Two I have access to and the third is written about but have never heard, which is frustrating.

The first version is the one we all know – it is on New Morning as track 10 on the CD.  That was 1970.   The film version appears as part of the soundtrack to the 1998 Coen Brothers movie The Big Lebowski.

This film version is considerably faster (although the album version doesn’t keep to a strict tempo and does speed up as it progresses, but never gets to anything like the Lebowski version).  It is played in the title sequence at the start and in the hallucination scene where the Dude has his rug stolen.

The third version, and the one I haven’t got, turned up part way between the original and the film version, and was apparently played on the Japanese tour of 1978, but is not included in the Budokan album.   It is cited by Heylin and he gives us the lyrics,

I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it’s true
I’m lying next to her but I’m thinking of you
I know you got a husband and that’s a fact
But ah baby turn me loose or cover my tracks

The problem is of course that Heylin is no musician, and never comments on the musical structure, content, chords, melody etc so we don’t know what it sounded like, although he mentions the “level headed use of the girl-singers”.  But no more.   By the time of the movie, we were back to the original lyrics.

I have read one review that suggests the song “makes the woman subordinate to the man in a relationship,” but I really don’t see it that way at all.  Mind you nor do I find the “la la la” stuff “inspired” as the writer of that previous comment did – but then different things appeal I guess.  I think the “la la la” is just an attempt to convey rural simplicity and happiness – another way of saying that having a wife in Utah is “what it is all about” in Sign on the Window.

To me, what we have here is rural stolid man who knows who he is and what he is.  It is the world outside that changes, not the man.  He stands like a beacon keeping the world at bay, not revealing any emotions.

In many senses the rural man who lives in the remote farmhouse, tilling the soil, not part of the civilised world beyond.    It is also the woman who can bring out his emotions.  He appreciates that he isn’t communicative and giving, but he really understands what the woman does for him.  As such this song fits perfectly with the other rural idlys within the album.

Musically this seems to be another Dylan song composed on the black notes at the piano, and the recording, although slightly inaccurate as many of these made for the LP, not digitally, records are, seems to be in A flat – a good key to write in if you like the black notes.

The chordal progress is simple but still takes one slightly by surprise, ending bar two on the minor – when in fact the melody up to that point doesn’t suggest this at all.

It runs

Aflat / Dflat Bflat minor/ Eflat Dflat/ A flat

You’d rarely willingly play that on the acoustic guitar but if you are a reasonable performer on the electric, it’s no particular problem.  But on the piano, it is fun.

The middle eight, which comes after two verses rotates back and forth between B flat minor and A flat, before ending up on the dominant of E flat – suggesting a brief period of reflection (Oh what a wonderful feeling) before we are ready to return to the verse – which of course we are.

So he were are, rocking along and feeling content with life, just as we are with Winterlude, New Morning, and One More Weekend.  The guy’s ok, the world’s ok, the woman with him is ok.  He’s a solid worker, he’ll just get on with it.

The man in me will do nearly any task
And as for compensation, there’s little he would ask
Take a woman like you
To get through to the man in me

But sometimes it all seems a bit too much as the world changes, while the man tries to stay the same.  But the woman can keep him calm and balanced.

Storm clouds are raging all around my door
I think to myself I might not take it anymore
Take a woman like your kind
To find the man in me

And then it is time in the middle 8 to celebrate her existence with the rocking back and forth as mentioned above…

But, oh, what a wonderful feeling
Just to know that you are near
Sets my heart a-reeling
From my toes up to my ears

But he knows he is not a party man, he’s shy, he wants to keep himself to himself, he doesn’t want a job in a factory, he wants to express himself in the country, doing the repairs, looking after the building, being him.  And she’s seemingly very happy with that too.

The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from bein’ seen
But that’s just because he doesn’t want to turn into some machine
Took a woman like you
To get through to the man in me

Index to the songs reviewed

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6 Responses to The Man in Me: the meaning of the music and the words

  1. Depp91 says:

    That version 2 you mentioned from The Big Lebowski is the same as the album version. The version in that video you provided a link to is simply sped-up. It doesn’t appear in the movie that way, neither does it appear that way on the OST CD.

  2. DamianBlassone says:

    Interesting, thoughtful piece. I think there is a discernible difference in mood between the 1970 and 1978 versions. There is a feeling of content on New Morning but the 1978 version seems to be a mood of restless discontent. By the way, the bootleg I have goes:

    I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it’s true
    I’m lying next to her but I’m dreaming of you

    i.e. the word ‘dreaming’ replaces ‘thinking’ that Heylin transcribed. I think ‘dreaming’ works much better. To me, this is one of Dylan’s finest couplets.

    There’s also another lovely rewritten part that goes:

    Lost on the river / of no return
    I try to make it to you / but I’m afraid my heart will burn.

  3. nigel hinton says:

    You should note that the first two lines (and the melody) of the middle eight very closely resemble the song, ‘On The Street Where You Live’ from the musical My Fair Lady – a musical that Dylan would have been very aware of as he was growing up:
    And oh! The towering feeling
    Just to know somehow you are near.

    Strange that such urbane thoughts intrude into this ‘rural idyll’

  4. Kieran says:

    No mention of the song, “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady?

    “And oh the towering feeling
    Just to know somehow you are near
    The overpowering feeling
    That any second you may suddenly appear.”

  5. TonyAttwood says:

    Depp – very many thanks for that. I assumed it was the same. Why on earth would someone bother to speed up the recording, and then put it up as a video? Surely not to trick people like me who try to understand all this!

  6. TonyAttwood says:

    Thank you to both correspondents who pointed out the My Fair Lady. I missed that in writing the review, and it is a significant point.

    Credit to both correspondents will appear in the book “Untold Dylan” which will contain many of these reviews but updated to incorporate points made in correspondence.

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