“Pledging My Time”: the meaning of the music and the lyrics

By Tony Attwood

Pledging My Time” is in many regards a fairly standard 8 bar Chicago blues which was recorded in a couple of sessions along with Absolutely Sweet Marie and Just like a woman.

Indeed if we look at the chronology of Dylan’s writing we can see these three songs written within a short while of each other.

Pledging my time was the B side of the Rainy Day Women single, and the second track after Rainy Day of the Blonde on Blonde album.

It is hard to see much connection between Pledging my time, and Just like a woman, but the links with Absolutely Sweet Marie are clearer – the wondering where she is, overtly asked in the chorus of Sweet Marie, while expressed in the hope that she will come through in Pledging My Time.

So while Just like a woman is a critique of a woman, with the man taking the high moral ground, in the songs either side of that it is the woman who has the strength, and the man who is lost – a typical stance for a blues.  His only hope is to move on before she does, to avoid being left in the room, isolated, alone, afraid, full of the blues.

And still it gets even darker at the end

Well they sent for the ambulance
And one was sent
Somebody got lucky
But it was an accident
Now I’m pledging my time to you
Hopin’ you’ll come through too.

Consider this alongside

Now, I been in jail when all my mail showed
That a man can’t give his address out to bad company
And now I stand here lookin’ at your yellow railroad
In the ruins of your balcony
Wond’ring where you are tonight, sweet Marie

There is a similarity between the two.  The feeling of being lost, of having travelled too far.  Having ended up in exactly the wrong place.

It is in fact all a tribute to the blues.  Life is bad, but it ain’t my fault.   As many commentators have noted the “Somebody got lucky” line is very similar to a section in Robert Johnson’s “Come on in my kitchen”

Ah the woman I love
Took from my best friend
Some joker got lucky
Stole her back again
You better come on in my kitchen
Babe it going to be rainin outdoors

Women come, women go, other men get hurt, I get hurt, while some get lucky.  It is the old blues message, exactly as elsewhere, for there is hope in a desperate situation, but not too much that can be done.

Well, early in the mornin’
’Til late at night
I got a poison headache
But I feel all right
I’m pledging my time to you
Hopin’ you’ll come through, too

There is never anyone to trust…

Well, the hobo jumped up
He came down natur’lly
After he stole my baby
Then he wanted to steal me

…and never any guarantees.

Won’t you come with me, baby?
I’ll take you where you wanna go
And if it don’t work out
You’ll be the first to know

And that desperation of being alone or being hurt.

There are elements in Dylan’s writing here of all the famous blues songs here from “Dust My Broom” onwards.  It’s Dylan does the blues in one song, but with a question mark.  Why is it “hoping you’ll come through too”?

The obvious meaning is that I, the guy, the singer, have pulled through or got through, or beaten my way through, and I just hope you can make it after me.  So because I can’t be the last to leave, I’m going out the door now, leaving you alone in the room, then you’ll have to come through on your own.  Hope you make it.

It is a fairly spooky approach – the approach that says that he can’t help her, she’s got to fight it on her own, he’s going out first.

What we expect him to say is that he hopes she’ll “come through to me.”  But no he stops on “too”.  It is really curious, and certainly perplexed me when I first heard it.

I think I began to solve the problem for myself by considering the links between the songs on the album.  Because Visions was always my favourite song, I focussed on that, but Visions gives us an ethereal world in which people are trapped in the “empty lodge”.  And in Pledging My Time the singer and the woman are trapped but trying to break through, one after the other.  In Visions the perspective is different, no one is trying to escape, no one can escape.

And then, fairly obviously, everyone is trapped in Rainy Day Women, no matter what you do.  They’ll stone you, no matter what.

So on this basis Pledging my Time is part of a sequence of songs of people being trapped.  I am not saying this is how Dylan consciously thought it through, but maybe his subconscious was dictating this sequence of songs.

Musically, as I said at the start, this is a standard blues.  But there is one unexpected effect.  This is a blues in A, and Dylan sings “I got a poison headache” on the chord of D major – which isn’t what you’d normally do for a phrase like “poison headache”.  That would normally be a minor chord (minor chords being used for sadness, the negative etc, by and large).

But the even bigger surprise.  “I feel all right” which should be on a positive major chord is sung to a very solid D minor chord.  In short Dylan is singing those two lines with accompaniments which are completely the wrong way way around.

Looking at this lines in each verse shows us how Dylan played with the idea.  The first line in this couplet has the positive feel in the music, the second line the negative feel.

After he stole my baby
Then he wanted to steal me


And if it don’t work out
You’ll be the first to know


Ev’rybody’s gone but me and you
And I can’t be the last to leave


Somebody got lucky
But it was an accident

Gradually we have moved from negative to positive lyrics in these two lines through the ambiguity of

And if it don’t work out
You’ll be the first to know

to a reversal – the positive first line in the lyrics (as with the music) to the negative second line (again as with the music).

Somebody got lucky
But it was an accident

It is as if life can throw you any outcome – you never know – you just have to give it time and take your chance.  Can come out well, can come out badly.

All the songs reviewed

Dylan songs in Chronological order

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