Bob Dylan’s best songs – Ballad Of A Thin Man #4

bob dylan ballad of a thin man

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?

E/E: Who is Mr. Jones, in Ballad Of A Thin Man?
BD: He’s a real person, you know him, but not by that name.
–Ephron & Edmiston Interview, NY – 1965 of the purest songs of protest ever sung, with its scathing take on the media, its interest in and inability to comprehend [Dylan] and his music.
~Mike Marqusee (from wikipedia)

This song is almost as good as “Like A Rolling Stone”.. they feel very much alike.. and again it’s a song impossible to tire of.

Now.. I guess Time reporter Horace Judson was one of Dylan’s many Mr. Jones’s:

I was over in England one time doing a press conference. And that was the first time I ever gave a press conference where I didn’t want to answer any of the questions. I didn’t answer any of ’em. From that point on I stopped answering questions. People wanna know just all about your personal life you know, where I came from anyway. That’s very impolite. Anyway I wrote this thing here. Try to have my say again, I don’t know if it ever reached anybody who’s supposed to reached, actually got hurt, but it made me feel better to write it.
~Bob Dylan (before Ballad Of A Thin Man -Tokyo, Japan – 5 March 1986)

The original version in all it’s glory:


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?


Released August 30, 1965
Recorded Columbia Studios, New York, August 2, 1965
Genre Blues rock
Length 5:58
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Bob Johnston

Ballad of a Thin Man” is a song written and recorded by Bob Dylan, and released as the final track on Side One of his sixth album, Highway 61 Revisited in 1965.


Dylan’s song revolves around the mishaps of a Mr. Jones, who keeps blundering into strange situations, and the more questions he asks, the less the world makes sense to him. Critic Andy Gill called the song “one of Dylan’s most unrelenting inquisitions, a furious, sneering, dressing-down of a hapless bourgeois intruder into the hipster world of freaks and weirdoes which Dylan now inhabited.

In August 1965, soon after recording the song, when questioned by Nora Ephron and Suasan Edmiston about the identity of Mr. Jones, Dylan was deadpan: “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.” At a press conference in San Francisco in December 1965, Dylan supplied more information about Mr. Jones: “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders.”

bob dylan 1965

In March 1986, Dylan told his audience in Japan: “This is a song I wrote a while back in response to people who ask me questions all the time. You just get tired of that every once in a while. You just don’t want to answer no more questions. I figure a person’s life speaks for itself, right? So, every once in a while you got to do this kind of thing, you got to put somebody in their place… So this is my response to something that happened over in England. I think it was about ’63, ’64. [sic] Anyway the song still holds up. Seems to be people around still like that. So I still sing it. It’s called ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’.”


There has been speculation whether Mr. Jones was based on a specific journalist. In 1975, reporter Jeffrey Jones “outed” himself in a Rolling Stone article, describing how he had attempted to interview Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. When Dylan and his entourage later chanced on the hapless reporter in the hotel dining room, Dylan shouted mockingly, “Mr. Jones! Gettin’ it all down, Mr. Jones?” When Bill Flanagan asked Dylan, in 1990, whether one reporter could claim all the credit for Mr. Jones, Dylan replied: “There were a lot of Mister Joneses at that time. Obviously there must have been a tremendous amount of them for me to write that particular song. It was like, ‘Oh man, here’s the thousandth 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?

So for the goodies….

Live versions:

Maybe 1 May 1966 @ KB-Hallen, Copenhagen, Denmark:

Check out: Bob Dylan – Ballad of a Thin Man – (maybe) 1 May 1966

1966-05-14 Liverpool:

1966-05-26 London:

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?

Earls Court, London – 20 June 1978:

Rich Stadium – Buffalo, New York – 4 July 1986:

Check out: Bob Dylan – US Summer Tour 1986 – True Confession Tour part 3 (Videos, Audio, and more)

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?

Rome, 12-11-2011:

Collisioni 2012, Barolo – 16-07-2012:

Bethlehem, PA on 18 April 2013:

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?

Check out:


6 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs – Ballad Of A Thin Man #4”

  1. Oddly enough, I truly dislike this song… it’s such a sneering put down of someone who, if anything, really needs a helping hand, not condemnation… It just sounds like elitist snobbery. In other Dylan “put-down” songs he sounds hurt and angry. Here he just looks down his nose at someone like a mean-spirited bully.

  2. Ballad Of A Thin Man is more than a song. It’s a state of mind. It’s a way of being.

  3. The best live version of this song ive ever heard (even surpassing 1966!! in my opinion)was from the 1974 Toronto show(10th january) with The Band. Its unlike any other version ive heard from that tour,a lot slower with Dylan in magnificent vocal form, reminding one of what an expressive singer he once was. Its well worth checking out.

  4. Like many Bob Dylan songs, this masterpiece operates on a variety of levels: on one level it depicts a casual homosexual encounter – in a bathhouse ? – on another level it explodes with resentment over mindless media driven journalism. Without taking into the first level it is hard to understand the “spooky” feel of the music.

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