It’s all over now, baby blue

By Tony Attwood

Bob Dylan’s third farewell ending, in as many albums.  Restless Farewell, It Ain’t Me Babe, and now It’s all over, written early in 1965.

Utterly amazingly it seems that Baby Blue, Tambourine Man, Gates of Eden and It’s Alright Ma, were all recorded on the same day.  Not enough that one side of one album should contain four astonishing, magnificent songs of this magnitude, but that they should all be recorded on one day is just beyond belief.

The song is unusual for Dylan, with the lyrics starting on the dominant (V) chord, and descending both in the melody and the sequence.  But the sequence, like the melody is conventional throughout save that the sub-mediant is heard as a major.  In traditional folk it would be a minor chord.  The accompaniment is faultless and exquisite.  Acoustic guitar, harmonica and bass.

Dylan himself sites Gene Vincent’s Baby Blue as a source of inspiration…

‘When first I met my baby, she said how do you do, she looked into my eyes and said,my name is Baby Blue.’ It is a statement that has made some commentators feel that Dylan is saying farewell to folk, and moving into rock.  But that doesn’t quite work.  He’s saying (on side one of the original album) hello to rock.

But Dylan here do say farewell in no uncertain terms, for the song starts “You must leave now”, just as in the previous ending song on an album he  said “Go away from my window.”  It seems that when Dylan tells you to fuck off, you are told.

But the symbols, similes and metaphors are so rich from the start that this is not just “fuck off”.   The images exist alongside those of “Like a Rolling Stone”,  but the tone is softer yet the rejection is as strong.  Yet we only have to consider the lyrics for a moment and forget the music, and the similarities are overwhelming.

And just in case she ain’t got the message, he’s not messing.  He is even pulling the carpet away from her.  OK he is not totally vindictive, because he wants her to “Strike another match, go start anew” but then that is what we would expect with such a gentle lilting song.

Remember that in “Rolling Stone” we have that aggressive rising chord line while the melody stays in the same place “Once upon a time you looked so fine…”  Here the music and the message is gentler, less vindictive, but still clear.  Time to go babe.

What links most of Dylan’s farewells is the need to move on and stop thinking that what will be will be.  “No it won’t,” says Dylan.  It won’t in my life, it won’t in your life, it just won’t.  We all take responsibility for our own lives.   The vagabond knocking at the door is to be despised as much as baby blue needs to move on.  Take control, don’t blame fate.

Thus although he says, “Take what you have gathered from coincidence,” it is not with any thought that there is meaning in coincidence.  It is just, well, coincidence.  Deal with it, move on.  (You don’t get more harsh than that).

So how come the song has such a gentle conventional accompaniment?  That is the puzzle.

But try this.  The penultimate line of each verse has Dylan straining to the very top of his vocal range.  And in that line that reaches the very limits of his voice he sings, in the four verses:

Look out the saints are comin’ through
This sky, too, is folding under you
The carpet, too, is moving under you
Strike another match, go start anew

The apocalypse, the apocalypse, the earthquake, total darkness – that is what those four lines tell us, as the music challenges the very key that we are in – the very essence of our establishment in a world that makes sense.

And we must remember, as I just noted, that these are the lines which use that highly challenging major chord, which ought (in folk music) to be a minor.

Now let’s look at lines three and four – the two lower lines, easily sung with no stretching of the vocal cords and no challenging musical chords…

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun

The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets

The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor

The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore

These double lines in each verse are totally about the end, the end of hope, the end of your current life, the end.  And Dylan lowers his voice.  He’s telling her where to go, but also there is a recognition that although she has to go, he is not here to hurt her more and more.   “Look” he says gently, almost kindly, “it is all falling apart.  All these people you have messed about with, everyone you have played with, they are all lost too.   You can’t go round doing this sort of thing – at least not here.  Leave, get yourself sorted.  Find your own life. Time to go babe.”

And in the end that is what this stunning, beautiful, amazing song that we first heard almost fifty years ago, is all about.  It is about the anger of “get out now” and the softness of “come on love, time to go.”  And because it contains in both music and lyrics both elements of farewell it is a total masterpiece.  48 years on (to be exact) it moves me no less than it did 48 years ago, not least because 48 years ago I could only imagine what it was like to go through that scenario.  Now, 48 years later, far too often, I know – as I guess many of us do.

And that’s the point: Dylan talks about what many of us sadly experience in this delicate, torturing song.  Sometimes it is almost too unbearable to hear.  Almost, but not quite.


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10 Responses to It’s all over now, baby blue

  1. Joni Zornes says:

    I’m just a recent fan of Bob Dylan, but I have noticed quite a few of “farewell” type songs and the reasons why, ie.

    “Maggie’s Farm”:

    “Well, I try my best
    To be just like I am,
    But everybody wants you
    To be just like them.”

    “I Believe in you”:

    “‘Cause I don’t be like they’d like me to
    And I, I walk out on my own
    A thousand miles from home
    But I don’t feel alone
    ‘Cause I believe in you.

    “I’m Pressing On”:

    “Shake the dust off of your feet, don’t look back.
    Nothing can hold you down, nothing that you lack.”

    He is such an inspiration to just keep going and doing what you know is right, no matter what others say or do.

  2. Phil Jacobs says:


    This song is all about Bob, not a girl. He’s talking to himself.

    He’s telling himself that HE has to leave, has to get out. ‘Your orphan’ is one of his fans will shoot him ( a la Mark Chapman). Bob’s leaving due to the tangible fear of this threat. (Look out – the saints are coming through).

    The vagabond who’s rapping at your door, standing in the clothes that you once wore is Donovan (not specifically, but he did look uncomfortable hearing that line in ‘Don’t Look Back !’) .

    ‘Forget the dead you’ve left they will not follow you’ this is the whole world, no-one could follow Bob at that time. We were just imitators or non comprehenders. Bob was so ahead of everyone that frequently the only person he could talk to on a level was himself. Consequently many songs of that time, this one included are talks with himself.

  3. Sam Chianello says:

    It seems as though he’s addressing ex-paramour Joan Baez. What do you think?

  4. Steve son says:

    Yes he is singing to himself, baby blue is a term representing ones self.bob had undergone a change where he had realized that protest was not enough.mind expanding drugs had influenced him to the point that he realized true change must come from within.yonder stands your orphan with his gun,crying like afire in the sun means he is now dead to his child,protest folk music whose finger pointing songs are ineffectual.the vagabond wearing the clothes that he once wore are his old fans who have not made thetransition to his symbolic compositions,so it’s time to leave the stepping stones of the protest movement behind and attempt to communicate with a newer hipper crowd

  5. Wilhelm Twigg says:

    So far, no one has mentioned the political level, which I think I hear (among others) in this song. “All your seasick sailors are a-rolling home” sounds like the withdrawal of an Imperial military. “The vagabond who’s standing at your door is standing in the clothes that you once wore” sounds like Castro and/or Guevera having replaced Washington and Lincoln as heroes in the fight against imperialism and slavery. Then “Strike another match, go start anew” advises America to give up the empire game and go back to its roots. Those meanings and that advice seem, like other levels of the song, to have lasted the test of time–alas for the US and its new, or recycled, worldwide enemies. –Still, since the song was written, segregation, apartheid, and the Iron Curtain have ended, and Vietnam has become a friend. Baby Blue still bears a memory of and a call to freedom, a need and an ability to start anew, to “strike another match.” (Sparks of Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.”)

  6. Dominic Purdue says:

    It’s meaningless to attribute meaning to this lyric. It is impressionist poetry.
    There is an outline, there are broad brush strokes, exquisite touches, and flashes of genius. Impressionism in poetry music is as indefinable and as resistant to microscopic scrutiny as that on canvas. Dylan was then and is now an impressionist.

  7. Alt Ermail says:

    Remember when this was written. This is a tribute to the Cuban Revolution, when orphans with guns sent the Mobster Casino Owners and the US troops protecting them (Baby Blue) running back to the United States, carrying what they could but leaving so fast that their clothes were left behind for Castro’s troops to wear.

  8. mel kinder says:

    I can’t believe the CRAP that has been written about this song. It belongs in his top FIVE! At the time there was a HUGHE Up-Roar. How dare Dylan write a political anti-war song disguised as a phony love-song!
    “Baby Blue” is a strict reference to Britain ( as in the Blue People, their Roman name as in “Blue People”. And we, The USA are “Baby Blue”
    Now this was the beginning of the Vietnam War. The orphan-think Viet-Cong. “Crying like a fire in the Sun”.
    The “Lover who walks out the door”??? Come on people. France (ever hear 0f Charles DeGaul who opposed the war and eventually kicked the U.S. and NATO out of France, etc.( France, our “Lover” who saved us in the American Revolution).
    The “Empty-Handed Painter”??? Come on! Who was Germany’s unemployed painter? HITLER !!! And what crazy patterns was he noted for? . . . .
    “Baby Blue” belongs up there with “Visions of Johanna”

  9. Tony Attwood says:

    Mel, I appreciate your comments, and agree with you it is a wonderful song.

    My feeling increasingly in going through the 200+ Dylan songs on this site is that the specific explanations about words and phrases, such as you cite, are possible, but less likely than the fact that Dylan just liked the phrase.

    Of course that is just my feeling, and I can’t prove it without asking Bob, and even if I did, I am not sure he’d tell me – and indeed why should he?

    I guess I have been driven to this view by reading so many commentaries on Dylan’s songs that equate each line of the song with a verse from the Bible – a type of analysis that I find dubious in the extreme. And above all my thought is – since these connections are obscure and open to different interpretation, why bother? Why not be more forthright.

    Dylan does often uses images for the hell of it – consider this

    Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
    Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
    And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
    To the old folks’ home and the college

    Since I was a student at the time I felt that last line was very profound, but really in retrospect, I think it is just words. Not less enjoyable or indeed brilliant for that, but like an abstract painting it is an abstract vision of reality.

  10. mel kinder says:

    Had a conversation on a radio show back in the early 70’s. My guest and I were discussing the image of the “broken” door knob that occurs in several of Dylan’s songs. It can be serious < ". . about the time the door knob broke",(GOD's comment to Dylan in "Desolation Row"), or being in the "hall" and the knob coming off in ones'
    hand. It can be a funny scene as in "Le Parisienne", a Bardot movie where a horny "suitor" is invited into her compartment (on a train) but the door handle comes off. (Dylan refers to Bardot several times in songs and "notes". My friend, a New Yorker familiar with the village scene claimed that door knob "malfunction " was common in that part of town. We both agreed that our shared experiences would shape our future views of that image of the broken doorknob.
    Once you are exposed to "Baby Blue" as a totally political song you will be "hooked" and their will be no going back. Of course, your other ideas and thoughts will always be with you.
    History, politics , and poetry are themes all through Dylan' early songs and poetry. {Girl by the whirlpool lookin' for a new fool} a great reference to Keats "La Belle Dame Sans Mercy". . . . .( The Pump Don't Work 'cause the Vandals stole the handle! {where the Church(The Pump keeping the faithful from drowning) is wrecked by the Vandals who sacked Rome. Later in "Visions of Johanna" , Dylan calls the church "The Fish Truck" that loads while his conscience explodes.

    Dylan wants to attack our imagination . That's what great art does

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