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"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.Another theory is that the Jones in question was Jeffrey Owen Jones (later a film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology). As an intern for Time Magazine, Jones had inteviewed Dylan just a day before the musician's legendary performance at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival.

In Todd Haynes' 2007 surrealist Dylan biopic, I'm Not There, actor Bruce Greenwood plays "Keenan Jones", a journalist who doesn't understand the meaning behind the Dylan-esque character Jude Quinn's songwriting. In the film, Jones is sent through a hallucinatory nightmare sequence while Stephen Malkmus' cover of "Ballad of a Thin Man" plays in the background. Greenwood also plays Pat Garrett in the Richard Gere segment of the film.

It has also been speculated that the song is about Brian Jones, co-founder and guitarist of The Rolling Stones. Dylan was a friend of Jones and watched his lengthy downfall.

Apart from all of these possible Dylan-specific references, the term "Mr. Jones" is in general broadly understood as an allusion to the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses" — a reference to the prototypical materialistic American family, so at odds with the outlook on life espoused by Dylan and the counterculture of the 1960s.

Another possible interpretation of the song is that it is about a man coming to grips with his own homosexuality. Several lyrics appear to reference phallic symbols ("He hands you a bone", "With your pencil in your hand", "A one-eyed midget", "Sword Swallower", "He hands you back your throat") and there are possible allusions to fellatio ("Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you / And then he kneels", "Here's your throat back, thanks for the loan" "Give me some milk or else go home") and transvestism ("He clicks his high heels") as well. In this interpretation of the song, some of the lyrics ("How does it feel to be such a freak"; "There ought to be a law / Against you comin' around") could allude to society's intolerance of homosexuality.

Lyrics

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
And somebody points to you and says
"It's his"
And you say, "What's mine?"
And somebody else says, "Where what is?"
And you say, "Oh my God
Am I here all alone?"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, "How does it feel
To be such a freak?"
And you say, "Impossible"
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

You've been with the professors
And they've all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, "Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word "NOW"
And you say, "For what reason?"
And he says, "How?"
And you say, "What does this mean?"
And he screams back, "You're a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin' around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

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