“Sweetheart like you”: deep meanings or general observations inside Dylan’s song?

By Tony Attwood

The more I have worked on this series of reviews of Dylan’s songs, the more I have reached the conclusion that while Dylan does often write about ideas and issues that concern him, and while he does sometimes write about real live people, he also often writes about fictional characters, without their story having some moral or deeper meaning.

It is curious that while with novelists we don’t generally assume that they are always writing with a message (rather we expect them to be telling a tale for enjoyment) with song writers – or maybe it is just with Dylan – many people expect there always to be a deeper reference.  A meaning that we have to tease out.

This song is one that I think simply sets a scene.

Now I appreciate that the All Music review, made the point regarding this song that “there is — as always is the case with Dylan — more going on under the surface. The song can be enjoyed as a simple pop story, but digging deeper results in a rewarding listening experience.”

And that I agree with, but I don’t think that automatically means that the song is expressing Dylan’s view of things.

The All Music review particularly focuses on the second verse.

You know, I once knew a woman who looked like you
She wanted a whole man, not just a half
She used to call me sweet daddy when I was only a child
You kind of remind me of her when you laugh
In order to deal in this game, got to make the queen disappear
It’s done with a flick of the wrist
What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?

In reference to this work the critic says, “the listener is roped in by the song, trying to figure out who these people are and what kind of game the narrator is playing,” and describes the writing as an “effortless play between the vernacular, musical, and the profound. The song should be ranked among the songwriter’s best, with an amazingly soulful vocal performance (listen to him stretch out the phrasing of “do-ing” during the refrains) and some of his most classic lines, including an inversion of Samuel Johnson’s aphorism — “They say that patriotism is the last refuge/To which a scoundrel clings” — and this variation of a Eugene O’Neill line (from The Emperor Jones):

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
There’s only one step down from here, baby
It’s called the land of permanent bliss
What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?

The original line from Emperor Jones is

“For de little stealin’ dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stealin’ dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks.”

In the film that accompanies the song the woman is a cleaning lady who stands and watches the band perform the song – and that is in essence what Dylan has done.  Transformed the famous saying into another context.

Now from that point the “dump like this” can be the room that she’s cleaning, or it can be the USA, or perhaps the whole world.  Indeed in a 1984 interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan said that with regards the album it could have been called “Surviving in a Ruthless World,” but was told he’d made a load of albums starting with the letter S so he changed the album to Infidels.  And he then added, “I don’t know what it means, or anything.”  [The “S” thing I guess is about Slow Train Coming, Shot of Love and Saved.]

Of course it is possible that Dylan was just being playful – as he so often seems to be when asked about meanings in songs – but there is a certain ring of truth to the notion that Infidels wasn’t chosen for any clear or deep meaning.

So we can go on looking for meanings for the “dump like this” and wondering who the boss is, but given that Dylan said he didn’t really have a clear view of what the title of the album meant, I wonder if this is the right approach.

I can’t see why it is not enough to have the song work as a simple observation of how things are – and then if one wants to see the situation as a metaphor for something else, that is fine.  But if that is how it is, the metaphors and meanings are the listeners’ metaphors and meanings, not Dylan’s.

So of course you might find references to Virgin Mary, Satan or all sorts of other things in this song.  You can find a real significance in the “many mansions” and see it as a reference to John 14:2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” but all Dylan is doing is opening a door to possibility.  There is no definitive answer.

Thus for me finding some deep meaning that Dylan wanted us all to get is both silly, and not what the composer intended, any more than HG Wells in writing “The War of the Worlds” wanted to warn us about a possible invasion from China and so used Mars as a metaphor.  It was just a story.  This is just a scene.

Thus the line “Got to play your harp until your lips bleed,” can be seen as having some deep meaning in relation to harps that angels play, or to the fact that Dylan then plays the harmonica, or it could mean “you gotta do what you gotta do” or  it could just be another image without specific meaning.  After all, not every line in every picture means something.

And as I have said before, what really prompts me in this direction is that when Dylan wants to be clear about meaning he most certainly is clear, as with the very strong religious message from the albums “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved”.

But other times Dylan describes scenes, settings, moods and feelings.  I suspect many of us have met people who we perceive as having talent and ability, and yet they are doing mundane jobs.  So it could also be a song that just describes the fact that some people never get what they deserve, and some situations seem intractable.

Following this line of thinking, this is not a case of worrying about when a situation might be resolved.  It might never be resolved, because it just is how it is.    Indeed I quoted the Roy Harper line “everything’s just everything because everything just is” when reviewing “It’s alright Ma” and somehow it comes back to me now.  The world is just muddled and a mess, and although some of us can affect our own lives a little, a lot of the time it can seem as if situations are intractable and unresolvable.

Some people can change their lives and in doing so affect the lives of others, but many, many people who could, don’t. And anyway, most can’t.   And I think that is what Dylan is observing in lines such as

You know you can make a name for yourself
You can hear them tires squeal
You could be known as the most beautiful woman
Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal

That’s just how it goes sometimes.

One of the interesting aspects of some commentators attempts to put deep meaning into every Dylan song (instead of treating some of them simply as observations, or as abstracts) is that mostly they tend only to give certain lines this treatment.  I haven’t read any commentary that suggests that the opening

Well, the pressure’s down, the boss ain’t here
He gone North, he ain’t around
They say that vanity got the best of him
But he sure left here after sundown

is anything other than just a bit of general scene setting.  It wasn’t a particular boss, a particular place in the North.    Which means that it is the commentator who decides when the lines are supposed to have deeper significance and meaning.  And I guess in the end that is what we argue about.

Musically Dylan weaves a really interesting melody above a slightly unconventional chord structure.  If you play the song in C you get the opening chords of

C Am Am G F

And if you play the guitar or keyboards you’ll know that ending a phrase on F when playing in C is not at all common.  It leaves us waiting.  The line is not resolved (that is to say the is no full stop) as there would be with the line ending on the chord of C.  And there is no cliff hanger ready to be resolved, which is how it would feel if it ended on G.   Ending on F leads us to feel we are ready to slip back – which is exactly what the words of the opening lines (the pressure’s down, the boss ain’t here) tell us.

Interestingly, and in keeping with the mood, the Middle 8 does something similar, ending on D minor.  It is an interesting technique and not one that Dylan uses very often at all.

To wrap this up there are two videos of the song.  One with the cleaning lady looking on, and the other which is part of the rehearsal run through, during the course of which the song changes.



Considering this song so many years after I first heard it has been a really interesting day-long project.  Not least this is because the day is Christmas Eve (a day on which I am less likely to be disturbed by events – not least because I had a big night out with friends yesterday and have family celebrations for Christmas Day tomorrow, so it is a day I spent on my own).  It really has been something of an unusual day, listening in the morning, doing some background reading through the day, and writing it all up in the evening.

A Christmas Eve to remember I think.  Thank you for reading.

The Discussion Group

We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/

The Chronology Files

There are reviews of Dylan’s compositions from all parts of his life, up to the most recent writings, but of late I have been trying to put these into chronological order, and fill in the gaps as I work.

All the songs reviewed on this site are also listed on the home page in alphabetical order – just scroll down a bit once you get there




  1. Dylan is quite consistent when it comes to establishing scenes with an existential atmosphere as in ‘Sweetheart LikeYou’.

    The cleaning lady in the accompanying video is just another Cinderella sweeping up after the show on Desolation Row:

    “What’s sweetheart like you doin’ in a desolate
    place like this?”

  2. As Attwood suggests, and I’ve been noting,
    the fragmented image is the thing, not the message, in modernist and postmodernist song lyrics which draw in the listener to participate in what the song is about: with poststructuralism /deconstructionism linguistics having had their day, black and white interpretations have given way to Noah’s great rainbow; there’s a crack in
    everything and that is how the light gets in.

    So in ‘Sweetheart Like You”, there is the image of
    (a la broken cup, cracked bells, washed-out horns elsewhere)the broken glass – perhaps of Cinderella’s slipper, the troublesome glass ceiling in the office tower, along with the reassuring fireproof floor and the permanent bliss of certain death. The listener gets to put the fragments together how s/he wants to come up with a comment on the present economic/political situation of women, for example, but that glass is opaque, not crystal clear. Nor does Dylan intend it to be.
    The answer is blowing in the wind, and as William Blake (and Captain Beefheart in his vortexial lyrics)have observed the wind and dust
    blow back as well as forward.

    ie, Is the cleaning woman in the video, meant to sumbolize Dylan’s feminine side?

    ‘Sweatheart Like You’ is ‘Desolation Row Revisied’.

  3. Absolutely love this song, for some reason it really sticks with me.
    A feeling of wasted potential emanates from the lyrics.
    Street Legal also starts with an S, haha.
    The cleaning lady is actually Bob’s mum!

    Merry Christmas, thanks for all the reviews.

  4. Missing to an extent from Heydin’s and Attwood’s examination of Dylan lyrics is the influence of literature as he mixes traditional songs with the style and content of poetry, plays, fairy tales, and novels, into a renewed chaotic mixture that takes into account technological history and the effects of different forms of art, both old and new, like oil painting, black and white silent films, and the
    more recent flashing of neon signs, movies that talk, and multichanneled television, each medium back and forth influencing the other; even as the train whistle yet competes with the squeal of rubber tires.

  5. ie, “You know, news of you has come down the line/
    Even before you came in the door.”
    (Dylan: Sweetheart Like You)

  6. How does it feel to crawl across cut glass; do you wanna make a deal?
    Is ‘cut glass’ the real thing or a substitute for a diamond? Is it being more broadly associated with an ordeal like walking on burning coal? Has the sweetheart been dumped?
    The words are not being carelessly thrown about, but are deliberately left somewhat ambiguous with holes left in the narrative for the listener
    to fill in lest the songwriter become perceived as conventionally moralistic and didactic.
    Generally speaking, religious scripture depicts a world corrupted by evil; Romantic transcendentalist poems depict the surrounding environment pervaded by goodness; the Existentialist writers by meaninglessness.
    It is for each individual to choose among the
    many philosophical mansions therein, with their
    many different points of view, Dylan appears to be suggesting in “Sweetheart Like You”; the future
    sure only in the final going down of the sun.

  7. It’s a beautiful song, one of his greatest from the 80’s, a decade where he wrote more great songs than anybody. And he sings it with just enough fire and hurt ain his voice, a really expressive performance. It’s impossible to say what he really means sometimes, but the songs integrity is never in question, and he found a perfect set of lines for this one.

    There was also an allegation of sexism – “a woman like you should be at home, that’s where you belong, taking care of somebody nice who don’t know how to do you wrong.”

    That’s not sexism, it tenderness, and care for the woman, who’s obviously fallen on hard times, and it’s romance.

    I love the way the hook line is one of the oldest cliches in the book, but he turns it in to many things, the many times he sings it…

  8. Terrific song and great to read this analysis and the comments.

    One question I’ve always had: who plays the excellent guitar solo on this — the one that closes out the song? Knopfler? He’d my guess but Mick Taylor also plays on a cut or two on the album, (Infidels).

  9. What it means to me:
    Dylan became close to the Church and Christian convention prior to the period when this song was written. Though it seems sacrilegious to the max, the woman is Jesus the Christ. I think Dylan is expressing his disillusionment (if not disgust) with Christian religion as it is in the modern age. He loves the woman, but can’t understand why she’s involved with those who do not appreciate her and who, in fact, diminish and defile her. Of course, this is all easily dismissed and Dylan will never be questioned on it, but still . . .

  10. By the way, the King James Version of the Bible says: “In my Father’s house are many mansions . . .”

  11. That the Sweetheart is Jesus Christ in Pilate’s Bar wearing a leopard-skin pillbox hat instead of a crown of thorns causes one to pause and wonder what He must look like under something like that, and how one might crack the ice, given the circumstances:

    “By the way, that’s a cute hat/
    And that smile’s so hard to resist”.

  12. The two quoted lines are from the lyrics of “Sweetheart Like You” and certainly puts Ed’s above interpretation in a bit of doubt I would think.

  13. Larry – don’t worry about the email address – they are not published, but just occasionally used by me if I want to reply personally to a correspondent, and of course to validate that the person writing is real.

  14. As Mr. Attwood points out it is an exercise in futility to attempt to come up with a deep and unified universal meaning to all of Dylan’s lyrics.
    TS Eliot fragmented the organic unity of the optimistic Transcendental Romantics, but the art of the Modernists yet contain a central focus, the
    chaos and alienation wrought by industrial society, ie the broken cup, the poem, contains a moralistic message or parable to digest.
    But then the Black Beast of Post Modernism raises its ugly ‘deconstrucuionist’ head. Under the hammer of the poststructuralists, words are rendered relatively meaningless in the same way that Existentialists like Nietzsche put the orthodox God out on the cross to die.
    If the deconstructionists want to play, Dylan is quite prepared to take them on and beat them at their own game. ‘Sweet Heart Like You’ is a piece of deconstructionist art where there’s lots of wiggle room for the listener, but no matter which way s/he puts the broken cup back together, there’s always a piece left over. Why? Because the unifying presence of the songwriter “has gone North for a while.” The postmodernists try to kill off the author of a written work, and so Dylan obliges them by saying he’s going, and it’s left up to listeners to fill in the holes. But he’s not really gone yet.
    For example, you can suggest that the Sweet Heart is a transgenderd Christ if you’d like, but one is then stuck in an absurdist theatre with Him wearing a leopard-skin pillbox hat in Pilate’s Pub instead of a crown of thorns; Dylan tries out a pick-up line in spite of the dire circumstances:

    “By the way, that’s a cute hat/
    And that smile’s so hard to resist”
    (Dylan: Sweet Heart Like You)

    They say that tradition is the last refuge to which an artistic scoundral clings, but mockery including self-parody and the likes of it are just handy-dandy. Dylan is inspired by his own creative activities.
    “Sweet Heart Like You” is another masterpiece.

  15. Mr. Attwood:
    This technopeasant accidently messed up the E-mail address and couldn’t fix it by himself….but things are fine now.

  16. Golly, I did say “what it means to me.” I presume that is allowed, even if it does put my interpretation into a classification I was blissfully unaware of. When I heard Dylan say cute hat, I really did think of the crown of thorns and do not follow why it has to relate to an old Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. Yes, it seems absurd, but so what? We’re talking Dylan. The first kiss – Judas’ kiss on the Mount of Olives. News of you has come down the line – well, you know. Larry, Tony, your ideas are good; your understanding and expression excel. I bow to you both.

  17. Self-interpretation is what it is about, but surely some lines must be quoted from the song and shown to support the view taken; then another
    listener might indeed come to the very same conclusion or at least see how it’s been arrived at. Otherwise,'”this is what the song means to me” gives licence to say almost anything including that Jesus liked to dress up in drag….maybe so…. but I haven’t been given any evidence to convince me that is what the song might be suggesting.

  18. Ed, don’t get me wrong…that Sweetheart be Jesus is a great idea, but just seems a bridge too far….Now if you had conjectured that she’s Mary Magdelene whom the narrator talks to and compares to another Mary, the queen of heaven-“you remind me of her”- my mother who “used to call me sweet daddy when I was only a child”-, you’d not be crossing the bridge before you come up to it.
    Bob’s narrator personna, who is actually Jesus Bogart, then discards the Queen so he can focus on speaking to to Magdelena, mesmerizing her with parables about many mansions as they dance the Durango Fantastic.

  19. In songs like this, Dylan’s intentions will never be known. He speaks as if in a dream. Unity is not required; reaching conclusions is a fool’s errand. As for myself, I readily admit to being that fool, one who has mined the song for his own benefit. I find symbols which clearly, to me only – apparently, allude to the Christ in a bold, outrageous, pioneering way. Bob Dylan is great because his songs open doors in the listener’s mind. We don’t agree on this song, but we don’t need to.

  20. Exactly, the cup is brioken; but it’s not the meaning(s) of the song we disagree on, it’s that there is no evidence put forth by the listener from Dylan’s surrealistic lyrics to support the Dylan/Jesus interpretation…..indeed, I believe it might be quite easily done way out there on Highway 61…but is one expected to just accept a ‘me only’ diagnosis without being entitled to at least some detailed explanation for the benefit of us other Dr. Freuds as to how such conclusions are arrived at?

  21. I’ve heard a couple of references about the song being sexist. I’ve always had a different take on the song, ever since I first came across the album many years ago. Before I start, let me say that I am a female, someone who’s been an adult for as long as ‘Infedels’ has been around.

    To me, the song has always seemed to be about a woman’s who’s maybe ‘slumming’. Some woman from the upper East Side maybe, hanging out in a ‘dive bar’. Just about every reference that he uses to describe her seems to talk about someone who’s priviliged, like Kathy Hilton maybe, Paris’ mother, rich. Maybe the rich woman is seeing someone on the side, and she and the man are trying to avoid the cameras. Something along those lines. She would be someone in the papers whose known well enough for the ‘dive bar’ people to know of her. The ‘be at home’ part could reference someone who doesn’t have to work, someone who ‘stands by her man’, that being her job in life. Him talking about the boss not being there is just the bartender making idle chit-chat to the customer. He then turns to her and talks about her not really belonging there.

    Since the video is not telling a story, but is instead showing the band playing, the cleaning woman could be a representation, a capsulation, a metaphor for the gist of the story. Or maybe, since they seem to be in some kind of club, she is just someone who is there and merely stopped to listen, and nothing more than that.

    Anyway, like I said, that’s my take on it.

  22. I guess that my previous two comments from earlier today got removed. Pity.

    For the last few weeks, I have been posting ‘A Dylan a Day’ on Twitter and Facebook. I mostly post covers, because I wanted to show how others have taken his songs and interpreted them. I do have a couple of his versions, like this one. I was surprised by Rod Stewart’s version of this, however I didn’t think that he had ‘weariness’ in his voice.

  23. No Monica, nothing was removed.

    A couple of things to remember. First the site is run from England, and so time scales are different and editing happens at different times. (Actually it will be different again February when it is edited from Australia). Second, the editing and publishing is done by me, and work and time with friends, plus my other hobby of football, can get in the way. But I do clear the commentaries most days, and only exclude those that are either irrelevant or abusive.

  24. Sorry, Mr. Attword. I had entered in my comments at work. When I got home, I pulled up this page and my entries were not showing. A bit later, after I added that last comment, they then showed up; however, I could not retract or edit the comment. Sorry about that. And I will keep the time difference in mind next time :-).

  25. okay… my two cents. This has always felt to me like a song about how we as humans always think each situation and person in it is unique but in fact the same patterns tend to recur… The random woman sitting next to you at a bar has a story and its a story like you’ve heard before and read about before and has been sung about before. In fact the same sort of thing is going on in many bars on many blocks in many cities. A few details will change sure but her essence… her sweetheart-ness… is from the same place to place and person to person. We dont want to see it but it doesn’t mean it is not so.

    Having said that… there can still be the connection but it is a bit less special and true when it is the 500th time you have come across it, like I imagine the narrator (dare we say Dylan?) has.

  26. The glass image Dylan takes pain to install into his lyrics more than once, a symbol it seems of the individual having to reflect on whether or not to follow the written law, the moral law, or one’s own self interest whatever that may be:

    “For if any be a a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass” (James 1:23)

    An Existential conumdrum indeed that can lead one down a very dark road:

    “Whose visions in the final end/
    Must shatter like the glass”
    (I Pity The Poor Immigrant)

    “Who ever crawled across broken glass
    to make a deal”
    (Swetheart Like You”

  27. “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty,
    And continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James I: 25)

    A path taken by St. Augustine and Joe Hill.

  28. Who is the SHE:
    1: SHE is a very beautiful lady with a “cute hat” and ” smile’s so hard to resist”.
    2: In fact she is so beautiful, that she could have been a model. “You know you can make a name for yourself”
    3: Her father comes from a mansion house, but now there is a queen around.
    4: Her husband has gone North, he ain’t around. Who is he visiting there?
    5: There are rumors about it:
    “You know, news of you has come down the line
    Even before ya came in the door”
    6: What kind of rumors could it be? Is Mr. Jones with the spencers around?
    “You know, I once knew a woman who looked like you
    She wanted a whole man, not just a half”
    8: The album is called “Infidels”

    Even in the royal family it happens.

    How much more help do you need to find out who SHE is:

  29. -My guess always been it’s just about the classic bitterness of ageing vs youth dreams. The video reflects that too: a poor old woman, once a young and pretty girl full of expectations, now cleaning a floor were others go to enjoy music…”What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?” The verses are just scenes of her life.
    -Is really the old woman in the video Dylan’s mum (as one comment states)?
    -Regarding the solo, I know everybody says it’s Taylor, but for me it’s sounds more like Knopfler…

  30. I’m answering Larry’s “put up or shut up” challenge to Ed – for the simple reason that clear Christological references pervade this song more than any other since. I will separate these references into three levels of “support” for the argument: Compelling, Persuasive, and Plausible.

    As you noted above, John 14 is implicated in the mansions line. In this case, there is simply no reasonable alternative to recognizing the line as a direct Jesus quote. “They say in your father’s house there’s many mansions.” Jesus – John 14:2 King James – “In my father’s house are many mansions.” Of course it’s not just the word “mansions” that compels this reference; it’s the formulation of plural “mansions” being “inside” a single “house.”

    In John 14, Jesus is talking about Heaven – the place where his father is and where, someday, he will take his disciples. Thus, Dylan’s next line “each one of them got a fireproof floor,” is mutually corroborative with the “heavenly” reference. The floor of “heaven” protects against the fires of hell, which are importantly below the mansions (not above, not to the side, etc.). So with that very clear reference, the other lines in this stanza, due to their proximity to this unmistakable reference, also fit too nicely and become inarguable references to Christ.

    And the intro line to this stanza – “news of you has come down the line, even before..” – clearly now refers to the variety of old testament messianic prophecies (note the temporal proximity to Dylan starting messianic study with Chabad).

    I contend that there’s simply no other way to interpret this verse of the song – the conclusion is compelled, admittedly for this verse only. However, in light of this verse, other lines in the song are least persuasively Christ references.

    “Snap out of it baby, people are jealous of you. They smile to your face, but behind your back they hiss.” The gospels are replete with accounts of the Pharisees/Elders etc. being jealous of Jesus – Luke 20: 19-20 is an exemplar – “The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.” Similar passages use the word “jealousy” or “envy”.

    “wanted a whole man, not just a half.” Luke 14:26 is a representative of many such references – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

    “how much abuse…..first kiss.” As noted by Ed above, clearly a reference to Judas who, with a kiss, set off the events directly leading to the crucifixion.

    “Steal a little and they throw you in jail, Steal a lot and they make you king; There’s only one step down from here, baby, It’s called the land of permanent bliss.” Jesus is on the cross, “stealing” the sins of others, he’s wearing a crown of thorns, and the cross is inscribed with “King of the Jews.” Two others are crucified with him – one expresses faith and Jesus tells him “today you will be with me in paradise.” The “step down” from the cross leads to “the land of permanent bliss.”

    Any one of the above “persuasive” references, on its own, might be subject to argument. But with the context of the entire “mansions” verse, and the cross-corroboration with and among the above three, these three arguably rise to a persuasive level.

    Finally, virtually every other line in the song implicates an at least plausible ground for reference to Christ. The bridge fits nicely as a reference to the gospel accounts of Jesus being tempted by the devil. The chorus is also a perfect fit – “Jesus, you are too good to be hanging around here in this miserable sinful dump of a world? (you should be at home – That’s where you belong – Taking care for somebody nice – Who don’t know how to do you wrong).
    I’m left with two possible constructions. It’s Dylan essentially singing a song of thanks to Christ for the sacrifice. Or, it is, in its entirety, and account of the devil tempting Christ.

  31. Thanks, Micky – masterfully done. I don’t have the patience. Having been raised as a preacher’s kid, much in the song seemed glaringly obvious. I thought Larry was playing dumb.

  32. Here’s my two cents worth – The song is from start to finish about Jesus.

    From the start

    “Well the pressure’s down, the boss a’int here, He’s gone North for a while”. Jesus has left us all here (but we will not be left orphaned). He’s ‘gone North” because he was assumed UP into heaven. But without the boss being here many people feel “the pressure’s down” to be good and faithful.

    “They say that vanity got the best of him but he sure left here in style”. Because Jesus was crucified – the charge “blasphemy” – the height of vanity to consider your self equal with God by forgiving people’s sins. But the charge was false for “They say”does not equate to truth telling. For Jesus often said “you have heard it said – but I say………..”.

    “But he sure left here in style” – Resurrection and assumption to heaven is “leaving here in style”. The accusation was false but Jesus had the last laugh – He rose through the clouds into the sky all the way to heaven, but now lives in our hearts.

    If you get the opening context the rest of the song falls into place.

    The boss may be gone but people are here and all people are made in the image of God.

    The artists sings it to a cleaning woman in the video clip (reportedly his actual MUM).

    The boss may be gone but His children are here – “blessed are the meek” “blessed are the poor in Spirit” “blessed are the pure in heart” etc etc.

    So treat everyone like they are Jesus. Treat everyone like they are God’s Sons and Daughters.

    And the refrain should be a self accusation and a self effacing – It should humble you and delight you – the song is directed at the very listener (who is God’s Child) – go ahead and ask your self;

    “what’s a sweetheart like me doing in a dump like this?”.

    And if it’s a dump is it you who make it so? – for we can all choose, like Jesus did, to say “not my will but Your Will be done” and thus make the world a divine place, hallowed ground and a place of Spirit. If you find it a dump you may well very find that’s a projection of your ego. If it’s a dump – clean it up (thus the cleaning woman in the clip).

    And oh how it’s so very very easy to do evil “in a dump” (that lets us off the hook) but if the world is not a dump (for God became a human – God came into the world – God made the world “very good”) then “the boss” is still here (in every one you see) and the pressure is ON ON ON to be good and true and holy and loving. Nowhere does the loving message of Jesus, passed on through the Gospels and the Epistles, give any of us time to be complacent about being “awake” and being “ready and willing” – for this is the great and overwhelming emphasis of Jesus ministry and moral teachings.

    If you are living like the “pressure’s off” and “the Boss a’int here” you are a part of the problem. You are manifesting the “dump” in our lives. If you can recognise that Jesus is a “sweetheart” then you can recognise that everyone is a sweetheart (even YOU – yes YOU). Embrace your true self and accept that God loves you and freely and willingly claim your home “in the many mansions in Our Father’s Hell Fire-Proofed Floored Eternal Heavenly House.

    I am not asking you to become religious. I am not advocating “Christianity” as it has developed. I am (and the song is) asking you to consider who you really really are. You are a sweetheart (made by God) and the world can be amazing and divine and You have a divine roll to play. Don’t be “an important person……….. with a harem” that’s ego based delusion. be a “sweetheart” like Jesus.

    Sadly often the last place you’ll meet “sweethearts” like Jesus is in the (so called) “Christian” churches. We don’t need religion – we all need loving truth and Spiritual Grace. If you can find these and embrace these in a church – well good for you. That’s brilliant – but it’s not a prerequisite.

    Religion only wakes us up to who we really really are – if the Dylan song does that – then praise God – you don’t need religion. Yet most of us do but perhaps you are “the few” that Jesus talked about. The road to heaven is narrow AND FEW they are that find it. The Road to Ego Shit is vastly wide and most people easily find it…………..

    Sheeeeeeesh I got a bit preachy there he he he he ……….

    Bless You “Sweetheart’s Like You”(YES YOU YOU YOU) …….

    …………….. 🙂 Alex in Perth Western Australia

  33. Dylan once stated in a 60 min.interview,he sold out to the “boss” like Robert Johnson did.scripture says the”boss”(Satan),says,”I will ascend to the North,like the Most High…kinda makes you wonder,coincedence,or maybe NOT?

  34. The boss that has gone north,is Satan, possibly…see 60 min interview with Bob Dylan on you tube,about selling his soul,to the devil,who dylan refers to as the “boss”.. Satan says in Scripture,i will ascend to the NORTH,like the MOST HIGH,…maybe a coincidence,maybe NOT!

  35. It would appear that the sweetheart like you Dylan is talking to is Jesus. The dump like this is the earth. Everybody here belongs here because of some evil deed, but jesus hadn’t done any evil deed. So it would seem the question Dylan’s asking him is kind of like wtf are you doing here?! You don’t belong here.

  36. The dump’s actually a NY warehouse out of which a ring of Nazis operate; ‘Gloves’ (Humprey Bogart) says to his buddy ‘Sunshine’:

    “What would a sweetheart like that Miss Hamilton be doing in a dump like this”.

    Leda’s helping the Nazis so they won’t kill her father, but Bogart finds out he’s already dead, and they end up working together to bust up the gang and stop a navy ship from being blown up.

    It’s all in the humourous film noir ‘All Through The Night’.

  37. Dylan also quotes from Robeson’s “TheEmperor Jones” based on a play by Eugene O’Neill – s/he who claims to have a
    sure-fire explanation to the song best keep a ‘silver bullet’ for themselves for when the drums start to beat.

  38. The cleaning lady in the video always seemed to me that it could have been Dylan in drag. Far fetched? Whaddya think?

  39. This afternoon I heard “Out in the Street,” which was followed by the song in question. I looked up the lyrics to Dylan’s song. This led to my reading all of the above, which reading and contemplating has made my day. Thanks to all!

  40. Tell me if I’m crazy.

    One part that sticks with me is the following:
    “Got to be an important person to be in here, honey
    Got to have done some evil deed
    Got to have your own harem when you come in the door
    Got to play your harp until your lips bleed.”

    The last line always seems so incongruous. Also, I always remembered it as,
    “Got to play your jew’s harp until your lips bleed.”

    When I looked it up and couldn’t find it, I thought it was another victim of PC speak. But it seems that is wrong, and I was just imagining it. Of course, a jew’s harp is that funny twangy thing played with the lips, aka gewgaw, so it would be easy to assume a person could make their lips bleed by playing one a lot. Apparently it has nothing to do with Jewish people or even any slang or slur on Jewish people. Nonetheless, Dylan must have been familiar with the Jew’s harp and that world might have been in his mind when he simply wrote (or purposefully omitted) “Jew’s harp”.

    However, seeing as how the line about the harp is associated with “evil”, and “harem” in the stanza, I wonder if Dylan was making some point about anti-semitism similar to the theory about Israel that I hear to explain the lyrics to “Neighborhood Bully”. That is, Christians have associated evil-doing with Jewish people to justify persecution. It gives the stanza a sense that the people he is describing are more strange and exotic, “oriental” even.

    So, IF Dylan was thinking of the “Jew’s Harp” instead of a harp/harmonica, the meaning behind this line is that people who are in “the dump” are considered somehow “other”, “wiser” or “sinister” by the people outside “the dump” (wise guys?). So, Dylan is saying the people in “the dump” are in a sort of state of degradation (the world of film noir) that people are constantly telling loving and innocent people not to enter (what are YOU doing in a place like this). Some people on this forum compare that character to Jesus. I would think more like Adam/Eve learning about original sin.

    Another point, which I don’t think is that far-fetched, is that Dylan most likely read Blake. Blake’s concept about Innocence and Experience parallels his attitude towards heaven and hell. That is, hell is the adult world of experience or the “wisdom of the world”; whereas, childish innocence is associated with heaven and divine protection.

    Thus the people in “the dump” – evil-doing, harem-owning, jew’s harp-playing people – exist in the “bad old sinful world” that the innocent and childish sweetheart will never understand because she lives in a world of youthful idealism.

    And of course, this works on multiple levels simultaneously, making it a delight to think about.

  41. John is the only book where Jesus is supposed to call Himself the’ Son of God’ rather than the ‘Son of Man’. Now at least we know the proper translation is ‘Daughter of God’ (lol).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *