She Belongs to Me

Of course you never know with Dylan, but it is hard to put any interpretation on “She Belongs to Me” other than that it is about a child – a daughter most like, but it could be the daughter of a friend.

Never has a 12 bar blues sounded so beautiful, so relaxed, so warm, so kind. Perhaps a listener who is in his 20s smoking dope might not find it so, but anyone who has a daughter instantly sees it, feels it, warms to it.

If the lyrics don’t convey the message then the music and the accompaniment does. The most famous version of course is on Bringing it all Back Home, but there are also examples on the curious Self Portrait album, recorded at the Isle of Wight, and a truly lovely version on “No Direction Home”. This last version is perhaps the earliest attempt by Dylan to have an instrumental break without a lead instrument – something that he worked on over and over again in the concerts and recordings of the late 90s and early 21st century.

The girl in the song has everything – she never stumbles, she has an Egyptian ring, she’s got everything she needs…

Of course it is a child – the child who can play forever with the simplest toys, who can paint or crayon a picture and make it exactly what she wants it to be. She is the girl you idolise, the girl you bow down to, the girl whose birthday you make into the biggest occasion in the history of the world. The girl to whom you want to say, “I made you, you are everything, this is the world I give you.”

And of course you buy her toys.

What father would not have wanted to give her such a beautiful eloquent testimony as this elegant song, in that most simple and traditional of formats, the 12 bar blues with its repeated opening line.

Quite how it is possible to interpret the song differently, and still make sense of the title is beyond me – although I must admit much of the world is beyond me. The girl has the freedom of the world – which only the young have. And yet she belongs to the adult in her life. Only with a child is the title, the general lyric, and the final line about the trumpet and drum meaningful, without getting into the most convoluted analysis of the trumpet and drum, not to mention the title and half of the lyrics being symbolic for something else.

In a case like this, let’s live with Occam’s Razor – if there is a simple explanation why not take it, and make it so.

If you haven’t heard the version on No Direction Home, give it a try. It is just something to behold.

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19 Responses to She Belongs to Me

  1. Peter says:

    This is an interesting analysis. I always thought ‘she’ was time. She wears an egyptian ring cause she’s been around for ages, she can make the day time black because she is time and day goes into night..

    I interpreted the keyhole line like you’re ‘looking’ back on your past and you can’t get to it cause it’s through a keyhole/it’s already happened.

    I guess you never really know with Bob.

  2. Sam says:

    Hi Tony,
    sorry, I don’t get why the female person in this song should be a child.
    The descriptions are pretty dark. Lines like
    “She’s a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique”
    or
    “She’s nobody’s child, the law can’t touch her at all”
    doesn’t seem to fit into your intpretation.
    Also the second verse doesn’t make sense to me if I think about a child:
    “You will start out standing, proud to steal her anything she sees
    You will start out standing, proud to steal her anything she sees
    But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole, down upon your knees”
    Could you please tell me your opinion about my arguments?

    thanks,
    Sam

  3. TonyAttwood says:

    Sam, quite honestly I can return to some of these songs – especially this song – and see it a different way next time around. In fact the reason that twice I have stopped writing more reviews on this site is because I get to the stage of thinking – hell I want to go back and change the reviews to something else.

    That would then leave me chasing myself around in circles, so I don’t … but the true answer is, if you can put together a coherent explanation of the song, then that’s great, and our version is just as valid as mine.

    Just cos I’m the guy with the web site certainly doesn’t mean I’m right.

  4. Rob says:

    I would go all-in that the ‘She’ is a full-grown woman with whom the narrator used to be intimate.

  5. Don Matthews says:

    She, is not a person. She is The U.S.A. You start out believing all the patriotic stories you are taught in school and become disallousioned. The Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks is around the top of the pyramide on the back of a dollar bill. Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes, July 4th. Let’s not forget he was a protest singer.

  6. Dorothy Dullea says:

    USA. (I agree with Don and here’s why)
    She’s got everything she needs – the flag is a she, the USA is freedom as well as a superpower.

    She’s an artist, she don’t look back – we created our own democracy and our own constitution, but fail to look back on it’s high principles.

    She can take the dark out of the nighttime – light up the sky with blaze of warfare weapons. And paint the daytime black – what the atom bomb did.

    You will start out standing, – saluting the flag
    Proud to steal her anything she sees, – patriotically go along with all the invasions

    But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole upon your knees- Watergate, etc.
    She never stumbles, She’s got no place to fall – internationally and geographically.
    The Law can’t touch her at all – The Presidential ability to suspend the right of habeas.
    She wears an Egyptian ring – the pyramid on the dollar bill.
    that sparkles before she speaks – money talks.

    She’s a hypnotist collector , – wake up, people!
    You are a walking antique – your asleep

    Bow down to her on Sunday – now remember at the time this was written, “good people” always went to church on Sunday.

    Salute her when her birthday comes – the 4th of July.
    For Halloween give her a trumpet – (need help here. Angels & Demons?).
    And for Christmas, buy her a drum – Parades.

    The title, She belongs to me refers to the esoteric truth of conspiracy theory:
    “they” are “we” . We all participate in this and need to take personal responsibility. Or, it’s my country, but nah – that’s too simple.

  7. Dorothy says:

    This song is the USA. Here’s how obvious it is:
    She’s got everything she needs – the flag is a she, the USA is freedom as well as a superpower.

    She’s an artist, she don’t look back – we created our own democracy and our own constitution, but fail to look back on it’s high principles.

    She can take the dark out of the nighttime – light up the sky with blaze of warfare weapons. And paint the daytime black – what the atom bomb did.

    You will start out standing, – saluting the flag
    Proud to steal her anything she sees, – patriotically go along with all the invasions

    But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole upon your knees- Watergate, etc.

    She never stumbles, She’s got no place to fall – internationally and geographically.
    The Law can’t touch her at all – The Presidential ability to suspend the right of habeas.
    She wears an Egyptian ring – the pyramid on the dollar bill.
    that sparkles before she speaks – money talks.

    She’s a hypnotist collector , – wake up, people!
    You are a walking antique – your asleep

    Bow down to her on Sunday – at the time this was written, “all good people” went to church on Sunday.

    Salute her when her birthday comes – the 4th of July.
    For Halloween give her a trumpet – (need help here. Angels & Demons?).
    And for Christmas, buy her a drum – Parades, (Dylan may say, “well, the line fit in.)

    The title, SHE BELONGS TO ME : We all participate in this and need to take personal responsibility. Or, it’s my country, but nah – that’s too simple.

  8. Thelonious says:

    I think she’s more of a muse/goddess figure.

    I can understand not wanting to rewrite all of your reviews, but you should at least consider revising the “I don’t see how any other interpretation makes sense” rhetoric in here

  9. Stephen says:

    I agree with Thelonius, but more than just a muse more like Bob’s entire creative process. But whatever its about I just adore this song.

  10. She’s Marilyn Monroe.

  11. Roger says:

    Thelonius is right, stephen is. She is art, and title is not contradicting the lyrics at all. Bob’s an arrogant prick, but he’s right on this one.

  12. This link is included in The Bob Dylan Project at: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/555/She-Belongs-to-Me (Additional Information)

  13. Tony S says:

    This song is about bob’s relationship with Joni Mitchell. He even bought her an Egyptian ring. No doubt about what he meant. A woman/former lover who left him ‘peekin thru her keyhole, down on bended knee’. Jerry Garcia’s cover of this song is exceptional, Dylan said Jerry played this and Tough Mama as if he wrote them himself.

  14. tony says:

    Meant to say his relationship with Joan Baez, whom he gave an egyptian ring to prior to writing She Belongs to Me. Who gets a child or the USA drunk for Christmas? While I love to ponder about latent meanings or lyrics, seems that many are going too far on this one…

  15. Lorraine says:

    The album this song was on was given to me after a (short) relationship faltered–actually it never got started because I was an emotional basket case at the time for reasons I won’t go into her. The guy gave me the album and told this song was written for me. It happened eons ago, but I can’t hear it without thinking about what he said, bitterly, as he walked away.

  16. Lorraine says:

    The album this song was on was given to me after a (short) relationship faltered–actually it never got started because I was an emotional basket case at the time for reasons I won’t go into here. The guy gave me the album and told this song was written for me. It happened eons ago, but I can’t hear it without thinking about what he said, bitterly, as he walked away.

  17. TonyAttwood says:

    Lorraine, for the moment after the affair has ended and there are these lines from Dylan

    You trampled on me as you passed
    Left the coldest kiss upon my brow
    All of my doubts and fears have gone at last
    I’ve nothing more to tell you now

    Read more: Bob Dylan – Tell Ol’ Bill Lyrics | MetroLyrics

  18. Louise Luna says:

    What a hoot some of these comments are. The U.S.A.? A little girl? That’s no little girl he’s writing about. More like a free-flyin’ gypsy woman. So far ahead, that you’re a walking antique. I would agree that it’s about Joni Mitchell, who had her fun in the sun with all the pretty boys in the bands. And who is unique enough to inspire Dylan to write about her. While Dylan’s lyrics can be Dali-esqu, some are fairly straight ahead.
    ‘Tempest’ is pure genius and without a doubt, he earned that Nobel prize. He is our resident song hero.

  19. Larry Fyffe says:

    About a child???? When Mr. Attwood is on, he’s really on, but when he’s off, he’s really, really off! ie Summer Days.

    ‘She Belongs To Me”s likely about Joan Baez, who Dylan thinks is caught up too much in the folk protest song box which prevents her from expanding her artisic wings.

    ‘I bought you some cufflinks/
    You bought me something’: ‘Diamonds And Rust’, Joan Baez).

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