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"Tangled Up in Blue": theories?

I've been thinking about this for a while, and the dog is asleep on my foot, so now's as good a time as any to ask: is there a generally-accepted theory about the women in "Tangled Up in Blue"?

This will be easier to explain with lyrics, so cut for length:

Lyrics from Dylan's website, with numbered verses for ease of reference:

  1. Early one mornin' the sun was shinin',
    I was layin' in bed
    Wond'rin' if she'd changed at all
    If her hair was still red.
    Her folks they said our lives together
    Sure was gonna be rough
    They never did like Mama's homemade dress
    Papa's bankbook wasn't big enough.
    And I was standin' on the side of the road
    Rain fallin' on my shoes
    Heading out for the East Coast
    Lord knows I've paid some dues gettin' through,
    Tangled up in blue.
  2. She was married when we first met
    Soon to be divorced
    I helped her out of a jam, I guess,
    But I used a little too much force.
    We drove that car as far as we could
    Abandoned it out West
    Split up on a dark sad night
    Both agreeing it was best.
    She turned around to look at me
    As I was walkin' away
    I heard her say over my shoulder,
    "We'll meet again someday on the avenue,"
    Tangled up in blue.
  3. I had a job in the great north woods
    Working as a cook for a spell
    But I never did like it all that much
    And one day the ax just fell.
    So I drifted down to New Orleans
    Where I happened to be employed
    Workin' for a while on a fishin' boat
    Right outside of Delacroix.
    But all the while I was alone
    The past was close behind,
    I seen a lot of women
    But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
    Tangled up in blue.
  4. She was workin' in a topless place
    And I stopped in for a beer,
    I just kept lookin' at the side of her face
    In the spotlight so clear.
    And later on as the crowd thinned out
    I's just about to do the same,
    She was standing there in back of my chair
    Said to me, "Don't I know your name?"
    I muttered somethin' underneath my breath,
    She studied the lines on my face.
    I must admit I felt a little uneasy
    When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe,
    Tangled up in blue.
  5. She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
    "I thought you'd never say hello," she said
    "You look like the silent type."
    Then she opened up a book of poems
    And handed it to me
    Written by an Italian poet
    From the thirteenth century.
    And every one of them words rang true
    And glowed like burnin' coal
    Pourin' off of every page
    Like it was written in my soul from me to you,
    Tangled up in blue.
  6. I lived with them on Montague Street
    In a basement down the stairs,
    There was music in the cafes at night
    And revolution in the air.
    Then he started into dealing with slaves
    And something inside of him died.
    She had to sell everything she owned
    And froze up inside.
    And when finally the bottom fell out
    I became withdrawn,
    The only thing I knew how to do
    Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
    Tangled up in blue.
  7. So now I'm goin' back again,
    I got to get to her somehow.
    All the people we used to know
    They're an illusion to me now.
    Some are mathematicians
    Some are carpenter's wives.
    Don't know how it all got started,
    I don't know what they're doin' with their lives.
    But me, I'm still on the road
    Headin' for another joint
    We always did feel the same,
    We just saw it from a different point of view,
    Tangled up in blue.

The women in verses 1 & 2 can't be the same. I think verse 5 refers to yet a third woman (who is also the same as the woman in verse 4). The woman in verse 6 could be the same as any of the prior women, or someone completely different. And yet the singular is used throughout.

Any generally accepted interpretation of this? Personally I like to think of it as a fantasy story of some sort, but my biases are showing.

Tags:

montoya

2007-03-29 03:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Is it actually SUPPOSED to make narrative sense? I mean, it is song lyrics.

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Maybe not, but I prefer to start from the premise that they are, because it's more interesting.

kgbooklog

2007-03-29 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Are you assuming the narrator is the same in each verse?

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

I was, which is perhaps not supportable, but I think it's inevitable when it's "I" and a single person.

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Err, single singer.

mmcirvin

2007-03-29 03:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Generally accepted, I don't know, but reading it what came to mind was a circular structure: all the verses are about different people except that the women in 1 and 7 are the same.

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 12:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Entirely plausible, though I'm not entirely sure the emotional weight of it makes sense.

rachelmanija

2007-03-29 04:25 am (UTC) (Link)

I think they're all different women, and verse 7 is deliberately ambiguous-- it could refer to any of them. I think it's ambiguous because even though # 7 is a particular woman, it could be any of them or even one who doesn't appear in the song at all-- each relationship has that possibility of being the one that's special, the that you miss... even if only in that particular moment.

It reminds me of A Bang on the Ear.

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 12:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

That would work too, and strikes me as the most likely, though with my biases I find it less interesting. =>

I will have to see if we have that Waterboys song, thanks.

orzelc

2007-03-29 01:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, we have that Waterboys song.

papersky

2007-03-29 11:15 am (UTC) (Link)

I always used to think it was about reincarnation -- the time period on them is clearly different -- "into dealing with slaves" in one verse and "drove that car as far as we could" in another? I think it's a very American story about two people being repeatedly reincarnated and failing to get things right between them. A bit like Katherine Kerr's first Deverry book.

I suppose it could also be an alien intelligence or goddess moving consciousness between blue-eyed women. But the reincarnation motif can also be seen more overtly in other Dylan songs like "Oh Sister" "We grew up together from the cradle to the grave, we died and were reborn..."

I love this song, and not only because without it I probably wouldn't have read Dante at sixteen.

mmcirvin

2007-03-29 12:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

I can think of some modern American contexts in which "dealing with slaves" would make sense, either metaphorically or literally; my interpretation was that that verse is set sometime in the late 1960s and the guy became a pimp.

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Like mmcirvin, I thought the slaves were metaphorical, especially considering that I think of "cafes" as something much later in history, and none of the rest really jumped out at me as inconsistent in period.

But that would be interesting all the same.

Montague or Montagu?

(Anonymous)

2007-05-17 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Ringo Starr owned a basement flat in London on "Montagu Square."

John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived there after he left his wife - where he and Yoko used a lot of heroin and were later busted.

I surmise that this verse is about John Lennon...

"REVOLUTION was in the air"

ben urquhart

Re: Montague or Montagu?

kate_nepveu

2007-05-18 12:30 am (UTC) (Link)

The lyrics are straight from Dylan's own website, so I think we have to take it as Montague with an "e" . . .

orzelc

2007-03-29 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

This is further complicated by the fact that different versions of the song have different lyrics-- there's a demo version on some bootleg series collection that's entirely in the third person (I think), I think, and when we saw him live, he did a slightly different take on them then, too.

I may still have some lingering effects from being all feverish the other night, but I think you can make it make sense with just two women:

The woman in verse 1 is someone the singer knew as a young man, who he wanted to marry, but her parents didn't approve. so he set off for the East Coast to try to make some money.

Verses 2-6 describe a different woman: After setting out from home, the singer works as a cook, and then on a fishing boat (verse 3), and then stops into a topless place. He becomes friends with a dancer (verses 4-5), who happens to be married, lives with her and her husband for a while, until things go bad (verse 6), then he does something violent to the husband, and they split up (verse 2).

After all that, his thoughts turn back to the woman from verse 1, and verse 7 finds him heading home to see if she's still there.

That's kind of awkward, but I almost buy it. I think you could make them all be one woman, if not for the line about her parents in verse 1, which doesn't really fit with her being married when they first met.

Then again, I might still be slightly feverish...

kate_nepveu

2007-03-29 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Google claims that Montague Street is in Brooklyn, though I suppose they could've moved in-between.

I don't know if you're still feverish, but requiring verse 2 to be the only one out of chronological order does seem to be a stretch.

orzelc

2007-03-29 03:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

I think the bigger problem is that they verses 4 and 5 work a lot better if they already know each other-- for example, if she's the same woman from verse 2.

I used to live on Montague Street

magicdragon2

2007-03-31 06:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Believe it or no, I used to live on Montague Street. Really. In the same building where Arthur Miller (Death of Salesman) lived. And in which penthouse apartment Andy Warhol shot one of his first films. And where his actress (now also painter and author) Mary Woronov babysat me.

Yes, it's an important street in the history of Brooklyn Heights, and the United States, for that matter. At its foot is The Promenade, and the memorial about George Washington's escape by night across the river to New Jersey, as part of the Battle of Long Island.

Montague Street is the key to the whole song. Cafes, revolution in the air.

I've written tens of thousands of words on this. Don't get me started. Music -- which music? Google for which musicians were in Brooklyn Heights when Dylan visited from Greenwich Village and the like. Revolution -- which revolutionaries?

But google some more, and you'll see that other Dylanologists have latched on tho Montague Street, and debated it.

papersky

2007-03-29 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, yes, and the verse 7 woman -- in either my reincarnation theory or my alien/goddess theory this isn't the same as any of the previous woman, but the next blue-eyed woman who he believes will be there for him. I think the resonances of "all the people we used to know" and so on support that.

Also, I think it's worth considering this in the contect of "Shelter From the Storm" and "Idiot Wind" (also on Blood on the Tracks) which are also about multiple interactions of a man and a woman who may or may not be the same, in weird versions of US history, then I think you've legitimately got a theme going on.

kgbooklog

2007-03-29 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

I like the reincarnation theory, especially since we know from Pratchett that blue is the color of infinity.

paoconnell

2007-03-29 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Dylan's always said that you can interpret his songs any way you want to. Works for me.

mmcirvin

2007-03-29 11:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

This is certainly a song rich in possible interpretations, given that everybody so far seems to have a different one.

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