It’s all over now, baby blue. Bob Dylan’s song is as powerful now as it was when he wrote it

By Tony Attwood

This review updated July 2018, with a few changed comments, a copy of the song that Dylan cited as his source, and a performance of the song found by Pat Sludden, which really takes into somewhere completely different.

And I wanted to add something to the review anyway, as I was asked to come up with a simple summary of this song.  In the end I took a line from this review that I wrote in 2013.  It still seems about right:

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.

That’s how it goes.   Now here’s the full review…


This is 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 cites Gene Vincent’s Baby Blue as a source of inspiration…

Here’s a video of that record

‘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 does 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 go, you are told in no uncertain terms.

But the symbols, similes and metaphors are so rich from the start that this is not just “get out.”   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” and get on with the rest of her life but then that is what we would expect with such a gentle lilting song.

You may recall 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 happen,” 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.  Stuff happens.   Learn to cope.  (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 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.  Today it still moves me no less than it did when I first heard it, not least because at that time I could only imagine what it was like to go through that scenario.  Now, all these 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.

Here is a quite astonishing alternative version, found by Pat Sludden

What else is on the site?

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains links to reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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. 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. Tony,

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

  4. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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

  11. Folly it is hammer down Dylan’s lyrics, which are written under the influence of Rimbaud’s Romantic/Symbolist poetry, into a specific meaning for a particular place and time. Though the song may be have been sparked by a personal event, the flames spread out into a generalized direction that the listener can take in for his own
    consideration. That times and circumstances change, and require a re-examination, a renewal
    of one’s position, is thematic to a lot of youthful, individualistic-asserting Romantic artists:

    “Through the blue summer days, I shall travel all the ways/
    Pricked by the ears of maize, trampling the dew/
    A dreamer, I will gaze, as underfoot the coolness plays/
    I let the evening breeze drench my head anew”
    (Rimbaud: Sensation)

    This is not the end, as Attwood has it, but a new beginning: the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

  12. *(correction) may have been sparked

    Dylan’s mythological star system, influenced by the likes of Shakespeare and Swedenborg, swirls with spirits, sprites, shades, shadows, and souls…..including Tom Thumb, who, like drifter- poet Rimbard, and songwriter Bob Dylan himself, ventures forth from home all by himself out into a big alien world in search of adventure and experience, and finds himself surrounded by tradegy, pathos, and comedy, on the stage of an existential absurdist theatre. On Desolation Row, all is not dismal by any means.

  13. To repeat, folly it is to try to hammer down most Dylan lyrics into one single time-bound interpretation.

  14. Dylan may indeed have cut his teeth on the blues, but time and circumstance draw him into the anti-war folk protest of the college crowd, and also to anti-establishment past and contemporary authors of literature. An artist chained to his times, Dylan’s a pawn in the game, at least in first finding a suitable outlet for his talent …for example, his being dependent on the music industry’s profit-seeking decision-makers as to what they should promote.

  15. Apparently it goes something like this: apocalypic events described in the Old Testament have already happened, and the ‘chosen people’ await an earthly leader, a Messiah, to lead them to the Promised Land, while in the New Testament there are apocalpytic events described still to happen before the Christian Messiah returns from supernatural Heaven to Earth in order to set up a
    New Jerusalem.

    Dylan is absolutely sure of : personal psychological apocalypes in one’s life and the final Apocalypse of an individual death.

    “Forget the dead you left behind, they will not follow you”
    (Dylan: It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue)

    Said Christ:” Let the dead bury the dead, but go thou… (Book of Luke)

    But Dylan demurs on not showing any respect for departed elders, even if old-fashioned.

    “Maybe next time, I’ll let the dead bury the dead”
    (Under Your Spell)

    Dylan criticizes others, but often, at the same time, takes an ironic shot at himself, at his own “will to power”, at his “foot of pride”.

  16. Re: ‘yonder stands your orphan with his gun
    Cryin’ like a fire in the sun’
    -I have often heard of a guitar referred to as a ‘gun’.
    I think he is announcing/coming to the fact that he is moving away from his present folk darling persona to a whole world of music that beckons to him as an artist.

  17. Interesting after reading these comments that no-one seems to have mentioned that “the highway is for gamblers…” may refer to his about to be released album Highway 61 Revisited which going from acoustic to electric could be regarded as a gamble (& assumed Dylan was referring to himself using Baez’s reference to his eyes, “bluer than robins’ eggs”). As someone of Dylan’s age, I’ve spent a long time assuming the vagabond who’s rapping at your door was Phil Ochs & the empty handed painter (ie. words, not a brush) was Donovan who’s lyrics were rather psychedelic. But all these suggestions about politics will make me think again… or he could have mashed a whole lot of his thoughts on both subjects together just to keep us guessing. Hmmm…

  18. i always thought that the empty handed painter was Bob and the crazy patterns on the sheets were the cum stains he left on some square’s sheets after fucking his wife…

  19. Interested to see Mel Kinder’s interpretation (Nov 15) as I have recently come to believe that this is all about the Holocaust and similar scenarios of persecution and apocalypse. I also thought the empty handed painter might be Hitler. This plain reading is a much better fit to the lines than a relationship bust-up. The narrator is urging people to get out of the country with whatever possessions they can, or face the consequences – orphans with guns, saints coming through (marching in), sky folding, carpet moving under you, vagabonds wearing your clothes etc. “Use your sense, take what you have gathered from coincidence”, i.e. it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

  20. 1965- Viet Nam. LBJ President. Had blue eyes. It’s all over now. All his sea sick sailors are all coming home.

  21. I heard that ‘It’s all over now, Baby Blue’ is a song about a prostitute (hence the sailors and the lover going away) that is just about to die (hence the orphan, and the saints coming through) and everybody is taking away from her home everything that was hers, even the carpet from beneath her dying body. 

  22. Big sky’s folding
    And it can’t be long ‘fore day
    – Tampa Red

    The sky too is folding over you
    – Bob Dylan

  23. Well I think you’ve nailed it as a farewell to a love. Perhaps it’s me, in these times, but I can’t also help hearing a farewell to idealistic American citizens because the American dream game is up. Perhaps too prescient even for him?

  24. My little flash on this much covered song: (1) the song is about Dylan’s doomed-to-obscurity protégé David Blue with whom he probably had an affair. Half the songs on Blue’s eponymous debut lp on elektra are slavishly derivative of D., leaving Blue open to ridicule and unfortunately eclipsing his interesting originals like ‘Grand hotel’. (2) “orphan with his gun” alludes to d.’s bisexuality as do other phallic symbols in ‘Thin Man” “Memphis Blues” and much later in “Standing In The Doorway” (3) D.’ power in his symbolist/ surrealiste dittys is his ability to obscure intimate personal experiences only- so- much as to make the song ambiguous and universal at once. I first heard “Baby Blue” @age 13 after a month in an awful boys’ overnight camp. no, I didn’t have a gay pubescent affair there but the song’s feel and certain lines like “all your seasick sailors/ they are rowing home” seemed about the campers returning home at summer’s end and, in my case, leaving the bad experience behind me (4) D. was/ is a very well read person who understands all forms of poetry. Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and others so inclined would not have combined pop forms with poetic forms w/o his precedent. They would have been writers.

  25. If you want to understand the meaning of “It’s all over now, baby blue” then simply watch the 1940 motion picture “Gun Crazy”. It’s basically that simple.

  26. Dylan did his job well…setting brilliant impressionistic poetry to an evolving musical style, with his mostly ambiguous train of notions, letting the world debate the effort. Just watch and listen to most of his early interviews about the ‘meaning’ of some of his iconic work..he appears sincere when he many times will say, he’s really not sure what he was ‘thinking ‘ …that was another lifetime ago…

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