Bob Dylan’s best songs: I’m Not There (1956)


“No, I don’t belong to her, I don’t belong to anybody
She’s my Christ forsaken angel but she don’t hear me cry
She’s a lone hearted mystic and she can’t carry on
When I’m there she’s alright but then she’s not when I’m gone”
-from “I´m Not There”

There are times you just pick up an instrument—something will come . . . some kind of wild line will come into your head and you’ll develop that. If it’s a tune on the piano or guitar . . . you’ll write those words down. And they might not mean anything to you at all, and you just go on. . . . Now, . . . if I do it, I just keep it for myself. So I have a big lineup of songs which I’ll never use.
—Dylan, Sing Out! June 1968

Finally, for its fortieth birthday, it received an official release under the same name as the film it unwittingly inspired, “I’m Not There.” Hallelujah.
-Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973)

“Dylan’s saddest song, achieved without benefit of context or detail. It’s like listening to the inspiration before the song is wrapped around it.”
-John Bauldie (The Telegraph)


  1. Facts
  2. Lyrics
  3. Live versions / other notable versions

@#100 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

“‘What’s astonishing here is that we can feel with great intensity and specificity what the singer is talking about, even though 80% of the lyrics have not been written yet!… It’s as though when Dylan writes, the finished song is not constructed piece by piece as we might imagine, but tuned in; there is an entirety from the first but still out of focus, like the photograph of a fetus, a blur whose identifying characteristics are implicit but not yet visible — not because they’re obscured but because they haven’t yet taken shape. ‘I’m Not There’ is a performance complete in feeling”
– Paul Williams



Known studio recordings:

Big Pink’s Basement
Stoll Road
West Saugerties, New York
May-October 1967


Never been played live.

“a trance, a waking dream, a whirlpool… Words are floated together in a dyslexia that is music itself — a dyslexia that seems meant to prove the claims of music over words, to see just how little words can do… In the last lines of the song, the most plainly sung, the most painful, so bereft that after the song’s five minutes, five minutes that seem like no measurable time, you no longer believe that anything so strong can be said in words.”
-Grail Marcus

“It’s almost as though he has discovered a language or, better, has heard of a language: heard about some of its vocabulary, its grammar and its sounds, and before he can comprehend it, starts using this set of unformed tools to narrate the most important event of his life… [Rick] Danko plays [bass] as if he knows that all his life this song has been waiting for him to complete it, and that he will be given only one chance.”
– Michael Pisaro


  • I’m Not There (soundtrack) (2007)
  • The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete (2014)


Things are crashing down
She’s all too tight
In my neighborhood
She cried both day and night
I know it because it was there

It’s a milestone
But she’s down on her luck
And the day makes her lonely
But to make it hard to buck, now and then

I believe that she’d stop him
If she would start to care
I believe that she’d look upon
His side that used to care
And I’d go by the Lord
Anywhere she’s on my way
But I don’t belong there

No I don’t belong to her
I don’t belong to any body
She’s my Christ-forsaken angel
But she don’t hear me cry
She’s a lone-hearted mystic
And she can’t carry on
When I’m there, she’s all right
But she’s not when I’m gone

Heaven knows that the answer
She don’t calling no one
She’s the way, forsaken beauty
For she’s mine, for the one
And I lost her, hesitation
By temptation as it runs
But she don’t holler me
But I’m not there, I’m gone

Now I’ll cry tonight
Like I cried the night before
And I’m knees on the hassle
But I’ll dream about the door
It’s so long, she’s forsaken
By her faith, worse to tell
It don’t have contonation
She smiles, fare thee well

Now when I treat to leave ‘er
I was born to love her
But she knows that the kingdom awaits
So high above her
And I run a better race
But it’s not too fast still
But I don’t perceive her
I’m not there, I’m gone

Well it’s all about diffusion
And I cry for her veil
I don’t need anybody now
Beside me to tell
And it’s all affirmation
I receive but it’s not
She’s a lone-hearted beauty
But she don’t like a spot
And she calls

Yeah, she’s gone like the rain
Below the shining yesterday
But now she’s home beside me
And I’d like her here to stay
She’s a lone, forsaken beauty
And it don’t trust anyone
And I wish I was beside her
But I’m not there, I’m gone

Well, it’s too hard to stay here
And I don’t want to leave
It’s so bad, for so few
See, but she’s a heart too hard to need
It’s alone, it’s a crime
The way she mauls me around
But she don’t fall to hate me
But tears are gone, a painted clown

Yes, I believe that it’s rightful
Oh, I believe it in my mind
I’ve been told like I said one night before
Carry on the cryin’
And the sole gypsy told her
Like I said, carry on
I wish I was there to help her
But I’m not there, I’m gone

Liver versions / other notable versions

Dylan has never played this song live, but there is one fine cover version.

Sonic Youth (from the soundtrack):

Check out:



7 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs: I’m Not There (1956)”

  1. Thank you Egil for posting the lyrics – these are the most complete lyrics of this song I have seen. I do feel like I am in a trance when I hear this exceptionally beautiful song. The Nobel should have been awarded years ago! I just hope he goes!LOL! L

  2. What an amazing song! This is such a captivating listening experience, it’s such a mysterious song. I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but at the same time you can feel and sense the emotion of what he’s singing about. This is definitely one of those lightning in a bottle type of songs for Dylan, I’m just so glad they were able to record this masterpiece! Great add to your list man!

  3. Quite a mysteriously amazing effort by Dylan, then in his mid-20s, to come to terms with grief of loss. Like a trance, as Grail Marcus has already noted. Thanks for posting the song, it suits me well today, in my very late 60s.

  4. No, no he can’t go – to pick up the prize – I guess he has more important things to do – we must realize. Life goes in circles and his is small – soon there will be no fans at all. What a snob, it’s come to that, anyway, I never like his hat!

  5. The date of 1956 in the Title is a typo. Maybe should be: 1965. This first known performance seems to be from:
    West Saugerties, New York
    May-October 1967

      1. I also read that he wrote it when he was 15. I love this song and the lyrics fascinate me. I listern to it and I feel so much love, but I feel like I am missing something. It’s so beautiful!

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