“Can you please crawl out your window?” The meaning of the lyrics and the music

By Tony Attwood

Updated 2 May 2017

Dylan has a history of writing about the intellectually, socially and metaphorically lost, and when he does so he can be utterly vicious.    The person to whom “Like a Rolling Stone” is sung is one such example.  “Little Boy Lost” within Visions of Johanna is perhaps another.

Positively 4th Street contains another perfect example.  The pretentious, the inward-looking, the self-centred – they all come in for an attack from Dylan when he’s in this mood. Indeed in coming to “Can you please crawl out your window” after a long absence, or indeed for the first time, it is worth considering Positively 4th Street as an introduction to this song, not least because Positively is quoted as an annex to Window.

This is the land of the night creatures to which Dylan has referred so many times, and to which he was still referring with Soon After Midnight from Tempest.  By then he had lost his disgust at the creatures of the night, and was indeed quite happy to exist alongside them, but each song is just offering a different perspective on the notion of “Come on out the dark is just beginning”.

Some have suggested that the song may be about Edie Sedwgick, an actress and fashion model who starred in a number of Andy Warhol films.  After moving away from the Warhol environment she got to know Bob Dylan, but moved on after Dylan married Sara Lownds.

There’s no evidence this interpretation is true, and as always, Dylan won’t say.  Perhaps the best we can do is to think that the Sedwgick situation was at the back of Dylan’s mind when he wrote the song.

And so to the song itself…

In musical terms this has one of the most unusual chord structures of any of Dylan’s songs, not because the chords are unusual, but because of the way that they are used.  There are more chords invoked than normal, but it is the order of the chords and the resultant cadences are unexpected.   While Positively Fourth Street moves  smoothly between the chords changing chords at the start of each bar, here the mood is utterly jerky.  The singer in Positively knows exactly what he means, and where he is.  He is brimming with self-confidence.  He can slash and burn (metaphorically) with impunity.  In “Window” there is all the viciousness of the attack but none of the certainty.   The singer, the accuser, is more jittery, more nervous.  We can’t imagine the singer of Positively saying “please” even in a sarcastic way.  In “Window” the word is even in the title.

Just as with Visions of Johanna, with the opening, “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet,” so here the opening line sets the scene utterly.  There can be no doubt what sort of world we are in, in either case.   (But let me add, before I start quoting lines from the song that in the quotations from the song that follow, I have diverted from the text given on Dylan’s official site.  Of course I bow to their superior knowledge, but in this case it is just so obvious that what Dylan sings (at least on the UK version of the single)  is not what they have produced and so it seems ludicrous to use their version rather than what one can hear).

He sits in your room, his tomb, with a fist full of tacks (chords I V)
Preoccupied with his vengeance (II, I)
Cursing the dead that cannot throw him back (I, III, IV, V)
You know that he has no intentions (II, IV)
Of looking your way, unless it’s to say (V)
That he needs you to test his inventions (II, IV)

That fourth line ending (repeated in the sixth line) concluding on the sub-dominant leaves us hanging.  This is not a recognised cadence in classical music structure, nor is it used in pop, rock, blues or jazz.  As far as I know Dylan only uses it here, in this song.  To repeat: we are utterly left hanging.  Yes, he could use the structure II, IV, V in one line – and that would complete the cadence, but by holding the dominant over to the next line, we are in limbo.  In fact we ourselves are hanging half way out of the window.  There really is no other way to express it.

The chorus however is more conventional using I, IV, V throughout.

Hey come crawl out your window
Use your hands and legs it won’t ruin you
How can you say he will haunt you?
You can go back to him any time you want to

So the message is clear.  From the lyrics the singer is obviously saying, “he’s useless, and you are being stupid by moaning about him.   Pick yourself up, start living, and stop this whining.  You can do what you want.  Come on out and play in the dark.”  A fairly common theme for most western males at some time in their lives I’d suggest.

So just as with Visions of Johanna, with the opening “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet,” here the opening line sets the scene utterly.  There can be no doubt what sort of world we are in, in either case.  And just as the melody and accompaniment of “Visions” gives us that sense of mist and rooftops at night from the first line, so the bounce of “Window”, the two bar musical intro to each verse, the cutting guitar that precedes Dylan’s voice – all of this gives us edge, edge and more edge.  It as if the rhythm of the piece itself plus the sheer force of Dylan’s singing is throwing daggers at the woman and man in the story.

But in the second verse the plot twists further, because there is the element of “he just wants you as a poodle – you are nothing to him”.

He just needs you to talk or to hand him his chalk
Or pick it up after he throws it

Nothing can be more denigrating to a woman.  And thus the chorus becomes even more hurtful.  It is not “walk away from him” it is much more.  It is “stop seeing the world in this crazy manner.  Wake up for God’s sake”.

The story continues in the same vein – but there is a couplet in the next verse that is extraordinary even by Dylan’s standards.

While his genocide fools and his friends rearrange
Their religion of the little tin women

A religion of the little tin women? (Actually I thought, before seeing the lyrics in print, that Dylan sang “perverted women”, but “little tin women” is much more challenging).   It is as if the men are playing with the women in the same way that  old colonels re-run famous battles with tin soldiers.  This is not a line one hears quoted much when people quote Dylan, but really it should be.  It is a truly remarkable line with layer upon layer of meaning, secondary meaning, tertiary meaning… well you get my point.

And then if that is not enough we get “Come on out the dark is beginning”  Not “the night is just beginning” but “the dark”.  “The night” would imply nothing other than a party. “The dark” is something much more.  Indeed I wonder if Dylan himself might have written “The Dark” – the end of civilisation, the end of the world as we know it, or just The Night, with all the creatures of The Night on show.   If this is about Warhol then Dylan might be saying, “If this is what we now call Art, then this is the end.  Welcome to the Darkness.”

And so we come to the end.  The end that made me burst out laughing the first time I heard it.  A repeat of the opening of Positively, mixed with a part of this song’s title.

You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend if you won’t come out your window

It is a line that confirms the thesis.  You are no friend of mine if you don’t pick yourself up.

According to the reports we have, Dylan recorded this song multiple times and seemingly never quite got it to be what he wanted it to be.   It was played just once live, in 1965, but brought back to Dylan’s audience by being included in Biograph.

What is on the site

1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Can you please crawl out your window?” The meaning of the lyrics and the music

  1. heartattack machine says:

    Nice analysis of what I consider to be Dylan’s most under-rated song-poem!
    Thanks for the “little TIN women” as opposed to the “little TEN women”
    which appeared in “official” lyrics on-line, (and makes NO SENSE!)

  2. Row says:

    More cowbell!

  3. Hazard says:

    This is a very interesting article. Very accurate and extremely enjoyable to read, Tony.
    Yes, you also have this totally spot-on Tony !

    This is definately a song about Edie Sedgwick. Dylan is begging Edie, time and time again, to come out of the Factory and to see him.

    It is another example of Dylan wanting his cake – and him eating it – while his wife Sara is at home.

    Dylan is stood outside the Factory waiting for Edie – believe me, this was a usual event and Edie used to make everyone wait. In this song, Warhol is the person sitting in his tomb – the Factory – his room. Dylan mocks Warhol again because here we have Andy Warhol throwing his tacks and his chalk around on the Factory floor, waiting for Factory-hands like Edie to pick up his chalk and his pens.

    Warhol’s factory hands will do anything that Andy asks: Yes Andy, Oh Yes Andy….Andy, Andy. Yes. They do. And Dylan knows this. Edie too. It is Warhol kneeling down, with his factory ‘blood-hounds’ sat beside him, calm but ready-to-pounce on anyone who says anything ‘negative’ about Andy. Ever. “Oh how could they say that” : the Factory ‘gossips’ begin a daily ritual. This usually started around 3pm and went on for several hours before various people left to attend another New York City Party.

    Dylan jokes about the “little-tin-women” are people inside the factory – who I will not name – but these people are ‘controlled’ by Warhol. They do what Andy tells them to do. Like robots. When the camera is thrust upon them they become his flock. They are betrayed and used for the enjoyment of all, it appears on the outside, however, on the inside a much more complex relationship is ongoing and covered in the excellent Stargazaer. (Ref Stargazer: The Life, World & Film’s of AndyWarhol by Stephen Koch. Pub Marian Boyars.)

    Dylan knows full well that it is Andy who needs Superstar Edie, with her background, breeding and class, for many of his ‘inventions’ – his Art House “movies” of 1964-6 – which were being filmed in the Factory. Edie had just spent almost the last 6-8 weeks moaning to Dylan about this whenever she could – about her money (she didn’t GET any) her life (she paid for many things and Andy let her, albeit Andy paid for things too.) Edie had been moaning to Dylan, and others, that she was just not being taken seriously at The Factory. Dylan replied by saying Warhol was using her and he begged her to leave, time and time again. Grossman too. “Come on” Dylan shouts up at Edie in this provactive song. Knowing full well that Edie can go back to the Factory anytime that she wants to – which she does – time and time again, when Dylan has had enough and needs to go back home to his wife. Dylan taunts her, “Come On, Come on, Climb down….I need you.”

    As Terry discusses above, this song is definately a pre-cursor to ‘Positively 4th Street.’

    By the time this song has developed, Dylan is now angry – EXTREMELY angry. Edie has actually just left Dylan. She left him following a massive argument and fight. Actually Edie very quickly moved on and fell in love with one of Dylan’s best friend’s, musician, Bobby Neuwirth.

    Dylan modifies the introduction of ‘Positively 4th Street’ once or twice, in live shows. In 1974 for example, Dylan changes the first lines of Positively 4th Street screaming, “YOU got a lot of nerve, to say YOU love my friend.” He screams the word YOU. Yet another dig at Edie. More follows when “Edie stands their grinning while Dylan is laying in his hospital bed, forlorn and full of pain.” And more digs from Dylan later in the verse, “No, I don’t feel so good, when I see the heart-breaks that you embrace….” You can hear the pain in his heart. Oh Bobby. You fool – you let her go and now you just don’t like it. At all.

    The last line is one ultimate put-down. Annoyed. Lost. Left. In pain. And Edie is now in love with his best friend – what a story. Bobby, honestly, you just could not make this up. But it is 100% true. Edie had class, style, breeding and an amazing pair of legs and a lucious soft southern voice top with a beautful smile. Edie was a lot of fun. Edie was magical. Lou Reed commented (1968) “Edie IS a Superstar. Edie WAS a Superstar!” and Dylan has been left to rue these events privately for the past 50 years + despite claiming – publicly – that he has no memory. Which is odd because Dylan could still “remember every scene by heart” after 1965.

    Bobby Neuwirth – a great musician in his own right – was present on Dylan’s 1965 tour. Bobby Neuwirth was called and invited personally onto the tour by Dylan who was keen to show what he could do, particularly with The Beatles receiving world wide recognition. Dylan actually begged Bobby Neuwirth to join the forthcoming UK and Europe tour of 1965/1966 – Ref Bobby Neuwirth 2008.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *