“Temporary Like Achilles” The meaning of the music and the lyrics

By Tony Attwood

This is a blues about the outsider,  played  out at a slow blues pace.  Once again  I think  Dylan would have performed this in G, but on my equipment the album is playing sharp   and it sounds more like A flat – although it plays part way between the two.  I’m starting to wonder if its my record player – although in truth other LPs play in the key I would expect.

And as throughout this third side of Blonde on Blonde what we have here  is an experimentation  with unlikely chord changes.  As I say this is a straight blues song, with the sort of piano part that every blues pianist can play all day and night (just listen to that descending piano melody that comes over and over in this piece… you can hear it in a million blues numbers.

Which is why the introduction of two very non-blues chords in the middle 8 (C minor and F minor) sounds so unlikely and unexpected.  In the blues  you might expect some flattened 7ths but not this.

In terms of the lyrics, this is a classic  blues concept of the outsider, the man who is also (just to emphasise even more that this is classic blues) being messed about by this woman.   But here Dylan takes the blues into a completely new lyrical territory, with the man showing none of the blues bravado.  No this guy is desperate to get back in to see the girl, no matter what.

Also there is no hint of the songs of disdain that Dylan  was developing in other songs.  He is just the poor, sad, sorry outsider.  He’s harmless.  He’s not even got a secret vision, he is just the harmless, sad, outsider, looking in through the window from outside – and not for the first time.

It is a story of teenage angst also seen through the image of the kids sitting around into the early hours,  smoking dope being cool but all the while the guy wanting to get inside the womnans knickers.   But he just can’t read her…

I’m tryin’ to read your portrait, but, I’m helpless, like a rich man’s child

And then worse, he can’t even get into the house… he is the outsider again

How come you send someone out to have me barred?

Then, just as we think that maybe, given that this is a blues, Dylan won’t be continuing his sudden chord change theme that marks out this side of the album we have the chord changes for the middle 8.

Like a poor fool in his prime  takes us to F minor

Yes, I know you can hear me walk is accompanied by C minor before the section ends on B flat major.

Once we are back into the main theme we have a scorpion

Who crawls across your circus floor

The circus floor tells us exactly what the girl is up to – she is loving having all these men around looking for her, wanting her, she’s playing with them, the centre of all attention.

And then along comes Achilles.   Why Achilles?   Well Achilles is still a name that you find, so it could be a real guy, but more likely it a reference  to the fact that Achilles was exactly the sort of character that this wannabe outsider can’t compete with.   He’s the rich man’s child  up against the man who slayed Hector outside the gates of Troy. to win the Trojan  war.  I mean, how does a rich kid compete with someone like this?


Achilles points to the sky , and he wants it all, everything, and that’s what he has.  I would say to every guy, if you’ve never been in such a situation, then lucky you.  I think a lot of us have, and when it happens, it is a bugger.

How come you get someone like him to be your guard?

Come on love, I’m a regular guy, I love you, give me a chance.  He’s just playing with you, he’ll be off soon, he’s just toying with you, I’m the reliable one, I’ll always be here.  Let me in.

But she won’t.

Index to all the songs reviewed



  1. Interesting take because the exact opposite of mine. Dylan, the kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, had fallen in with all these rich, hip, ultra-sophisticated urbanites. But he knew he would be immortal and they wouldn’t. And why would he be immortal? Because he as a great man — his feet on the ground solid, his courage and daring always with him — like Napoleon in rags. Still, he was fascinated with them and maybe take by them for awhile. It was an exotic, glamorous, and even beautiful circus.

  2. Achilles ( the mythological character) was disguised (temorarily) as a girl.
    In the ribald style of the album, this is a song about (Dylan imagining) a girl performing fellatio.
    “Kneeling neath your ceiling”
    Very funny.

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