Workingman’s blues # 2 / Bob Dylan. A very personal interpretation


by Joost Nillissen

Not many people, not even Dylan, know this song is about me, way back when.

And if it isn’t about me, then it’s about a man, who, down on his luck, sits on his porch after a long day at the steel mill and watches the evenin’ haze settle over town. His body aches, his buying power has gone down, but what do you expect: low wages are a reality.

He’s said it before, a long time ago, that in a South American town the miners work almost for nothing. The place he loves best is now a memory, it’s in the past. She is gone. She has wounded him and he is in exile, reading Ovid’s exile poetry.

He’d wish she would come and sit on his knee as she is dearer to him than himself. Come see the starlight by the end of the creek. “Only if you put your cruel weapons on the shelf”, he imagines her saying, but as the steel rails hum and the hunger gets into his gut, the warrior inside of him awakens.

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind. We’ll fight our best on the front line.

The injustice done to him creates visions of a long haul, through wind and seas, to get to the bastards, to drag ’em down to hell. He fantasizes how he”ll stand them at the wall or sell them to their enemies. But these pugnacious thoughts don’t feed him, so maybe it’s better to sleep off the rest of the day.

Sometimes it feels like he’s surrounded by a multitude of foes, none of them too bright. Anything might happen and nobody can say when sorrow will strike, even though he’s sitting here quietly listening to the call of night birds and a lover’s sigh. When you’re sleeping, it’s almost as if you are in the sanctity of death.

Sweetheart, you’re long gone, but listen. You know they tried to ruin me by burning down my barn, stealing my horse. I’m penniless and may have to resort to crime. I’ll try not to and instead enjoy the splendor of the sun going down. If only you were here with me to see. Like Ovid I am wondering if I am wrong in thinking you have forgotten me?

At work, you know, the bosses they worry and hurry, they fuss and they fret, while I spend my nights tossing and turning in bed, but don’t worry: them, I will, eventually, forget.

Memories of you will be with me always, even though you have wounded me. I think you should reconsider what you’ve said and yes, the stories you’ve heard about me, they’re all true.

If only you could look into my eyes and find no blame. I never took up arms against you. But listen to what I say, it’s true, they will hunt a man down and lay him low and slash him with steel all across that peaceful field.

I may be down and black and blue, but never mind, I’m right here and expect you to lead me off in a cheerful dance. I will wear a brand new suit and you will be my brand new wife. You know that there are people who’ve never worked a day in their lives and don’t even know what work means?

Not me, I’ll earn my rice and beans.

What else is on the site

1: Over 400 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.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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

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