Troubled and I Don’t Know Why: Dylan sways back and forth between hope and despair

By Tony Attwood

According to Heylin there is only one version of this song available, but I’ve found two, and I think they are different.  Not very different, but they are performed in different keys (one tone apart).  On the other hand maybe I am just hearing differences that are not there.  Yet on the other other hand that can’t be a digital recording so…

It’s one of those songs that is really enjoyable, but doesn’t quite make it (for me) as a lost gem worthy of inclusion in my 20 lost masterpieces.

So it is the novelty of hearing it for the first time, or the first time in a long old time, that makes it worth playing over and over, and hearing Bob make early disparaging remarks about the media – the verse about the TV station is particularly amusing, but then so is the one about the newspaper.

Being troubled is of course a part of the American folk tale of the 19th and 20th century, a reflection of the real life of the downtrodden working classes who were told that everything was fine because they would have their reward in heaven, so best not get up and fight a revolution.

Bob’s particular concern about the media and its ability to define its own reality however takes that notion of being troubled further, because if the media successfully get the population to look at the world in one way, and see activity x as normal and activity y as totally beyond then norm, then there is indeed total control.

Nothing changes, says Bob in this song, and it was a theme he has often returned to.  It is of course the absolute antithesis of his religious period where the fact that nothing changes doesn’t matter because this is what God has built and all will be solved in the Second Coming,.

But if that view of the future is false, then “nothing changes” in terms of power and greed and corruptible seed really is all that there is.

Which really is a rather depressing thought when it hits home.

Here are the lyrics

I’m troubled and I don’t know why
I’m troubled and I don’t know why
the trouble on my mind is driving me blind
I’m troubled and I don’t know why


Oh, what did the morning say?
Oh, what did the morning say?
Well, it rolled from the night with a dark dreary light
Sayin’ another old weary day


What did the newspaper tell?
What did the newspaper tell?
Well, it rolled in the door and it laid on the floor
Sayin’ things ain’t goin’ so well


What did the television squall?
What did the television squall?
Well, it roared and it boomed and it bounced around the room
and it never said nothing at all


What did the moviescreen lecture?
What did the moviescreen lecture?
Well, it heated and it froze and it took off all its clothes
and I left in the middle of the picture

And the first of the two recordings with Joan Baez


And here is the second recording which I think is different from the first.

There is also a Joan Baez version that comes from her Rare Live and Classic album.  Every time I come back to her recordings I am still just utterly amazed at her voice.  She puts something quite different into this performance.

A little while before this song Dylan wrote North Country Blues and after it he wrote When the Ship Comes In.  For the former I wrote the headline “There is no solution” and that was clearly what Bob thought some of the time.  But with “When the Ship” I suggested that never had Dylan been more certain that it would all work out.

It’s curious, he was swinging back and forth from one to the other, song by song.

What else is on the site

1: Over 470 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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



  1. They’re the same recording. The first one just plays fast. Listen to the identical way Joan stumbles introducing the song, and the way Bob laughs in the “movie screen” verse.

    It’s worth noting that the template for this song is “What Did the Deep Sea Say?” Bob took the melody and adapted the chorus, changing “What did the deep sea say?” to “What did the morning say?,”” “What did the newspaper tell?,” etc. (He was probably thinking of Woody Guthrie’s version, by the way; most recordings have “What does the deep sea say?”)

  2. Dylan is a song writer and poet, not a philosopher or an academic (like myself). He is not concerned with consistency, one reason why he probably laughs out loud when academics or critics – myself included – try to extract a philosophic position out of his catalogue of works. In the song you refer to in your review he seems to identify with a feeling of hopelessness – you wake up, read the news, knowing full well news tends to be about unhappy things that trouble your mind, things that you cannot change STILL YOU DO THIS DAY AFTER DAY because you are human – then at the same time makes fun of the very sentiment he has just expressed presumably because we all live with with this ambiguity. He works both side of the street, the chorus being mocked by the verses. Joan Baez does a great job of bringing out the paradox, encouraging the audience to sing the soulful lament, dishing up the humorous rebuttal with the verses that mock what the audience has just sung. Its all about being human, not about being consistent.

  3. Joan Baez “Live in Edinburgh UK TV 1965” (on You Tube) sings this song and introduces it by saying that they were in a coffee shop when Dylan was asked to make up a song and this was what he sung. Anyone, even a genius, would need a simple melody like one he had used before as a backing on his guitar, allowing him to impromptu create words starting with a chorus then moving to verses about a newspaper, a tv and a movie.
    This might explain why he never recorded it as it wasn’t to a high enough standard, but would be stunning if produced from a standing start! This might also explain why they laughed while singing it.

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