Thunder on the Mountain: It’s a cruel world in Bob Dylan’s song.

It’s a cruel world today

by Joost Nillissen

I’ve been worried before and I’m worried now. I used to worry about a hard rain gonna fall, about the state of this union, about a lot of things. Today it’s this cruel world that’s got me occupied. In my mind’s eye I see ceremonies of horsemen, I hear riders approaching my watchtower. I tell myself I will not go down under the ground, because, then as now, I want to die in my footsteps.

All my life there’s been trouble all around, but today there’s thunder on the mountain, fires on the moon and ruckus in the alley. As soon as the sun is up I’ll go out and play music, lighten the mood.

My head is full of music and its history. Saw a young singer once and she made me think of Mimi Memphis singing about Ma Rainey, how she looked for her clear through old Tennessee. I could look for Alicia Keys, too, although she wasn’t born in Georgia, but in Hell’s Kitchen, when I was already living down the line.

Music can do that to you, make your soul expand, make you grow. If only my friends and followers could look into my heart, they just might come to understand. I am doing the best I can, but we all got to hear the thunder on the mountain and see the writing on the wall. Come closer, see for yourself. It’s a cruel world today.

The thunder on the mountain is beating like a drum, it’s a call to arms and music to my ears. I think it’s time for me to go there now. No, don’t bother, I know the way, I do not need a guide. It’s time I’d stop thinking about myself and go out to see what others need. You do realize I’m doing it for you?

On the other hand, the North wind is picking up speed and the sun could burn my brain right out, so I’ll pick up Ovid again and read a bit about the Art of Love, that book that got him exiled to the ends of the earth. I know how he must have felt. I’ve sort of lived my life in exile myself. It’s hard to find a real good woman and though Love is greater than Faith and Hope, all I can hear now are shots ringing out in the street. The power is down. It’s hopeless. I’m too far from town to do anything about it and I still sit here wondering what the matter is with this cruel world today.

Thunder on the mountain. I really need to get up and get on my way. It’s a hard road to travel and I may need an army of orphans by my side, youngsters who’ll have no parents to mourn them. This is a sacred mission so I should say my religious vows in St Hermans church. I might be gone for a long, long time, there will be a great number of obstacles on the way, but remember: I will not betray your love or any other thing. It’s just that I want to be ready to meet my king. I don’t expect you to understand.

You eat your pie, while I chew on pork chops. I know you’re not the sweet angel everybody thinks you are, but neither am I. It doesn’t matter. I need to get away from here, for I can no longer stand  this greed, all these wicked schemes in this cruel world. I know you had different plans and dreams, but you know I do not give a damn about anybody’s dreams.

The thunder on the mountain is increasing, a hurricane is blowing. It’s really bad out here, as I make my way up north. Evil reports reach me about all the ladies leaving town, airplanes coming down. Everybody is in despair, every boy and girl. I’ve done all I could and tried my best, believe me. I even confessed and I won’t confess again. There’s nothing more that I can do for you.

So I think I’ll go up North, get rich, live of the land with a hammer on the table and a pitchfork on the shelf. I’ll think of you from time to time and hope that for the love of God you all take pity on yourselves.

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



  1. I really, really don’t want to come off as an asshole… but why was this song-referencing exercise published as an article?

  2. Because on this site we are interested in all sorts of different ways of responding to Dylan’s work, and this is one of them. The overwhelming majority of readers appear, from their correspondence with me and their comments on the site, to appreciate this approach, knowing that they might find articles that are of no interest to them but that there will be others that are. Indeed that is inevitable with over 1000 articles about Dylan appearing here.
    I am sorry that, it would seem from your question, you haven’t quite got that.

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