Ballad of a Thin Man (7:00)

Cover of Bob Dylan: The Collection

From Bob Dylan: The Collection and 123 other releases

“Ballad of a Thin Man” is a song written and recorded by Bob Dylan, released on the album Highway 61 Revisited in 1965.

A dark and menacing-sounding song, “Ballad of a Thin Man” addresses a certain “Mr. Jones”, telling him repeatedly that he simply doesn’t “know what’s happening”. The song’s lyrics have Mr. Jones facing a wild, nonsensical, hallucinatory, carnival-like world, and the character is portrayed as a clueless poser who cannot deal with it all.

The “identity” of Mr. Jones has long been in dispute. When asked about it in an interview in 1965, Dylan responded:

“He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders. He’s a real person. You know him, but not by that name… I saw him come into the room one night and he looked like a camel. He proceeded to put his eyes in his pocket. I asked this guy who he was and he said, “That’s Mr. Jones.” Then I asked this cat, “Doesn’t he do anything but put his eyes in his pocket?” And he told me, “He puts his nose on the ground.” It’s all there, it’s a true story.”

The opening lines of the song, “You walk into the room, with your pencil in your hand,” appear to lend credence to the notion that “Mr. Jones” may have been a journalist. In a mid-1980s interview with Q magazine, Dylan appeared to identify Mr. Jones as Max Jones, a former Melody Maker critic, supporting the theory that “Mr. Jones” was simply one of the many music critics who didn’t “get” Dylan’s songs, especially the more allegorical ones he wrote in the mid-1960s.

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