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1.06-JUST LIKE TOM THUMB'S BLUES (Bob Dylan)

Bob Dylan

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When you're lost in the rain in Juarez
And it's Eastertime too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don't pull you through
Don't put on any airs
When you're down on Rue Morgue Avenue.
They got some hungry women there
And man they really make a mess outta you.

Now if you see Saint Annie
Please tell her thanks a lot.
I cannot move
My fingers they are all in a knot.
I don't have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor
Won't even say what it is that I've got.

Sweet Melinda
The peasants call her the goddess of gloom
She speaks good English
And she invites you up into her room
And you're so kind
And careful not to go to her too soon
But she takes your voice
And leaves you howling at the moon.

Up on Housing Project Hill
It's either fortune or fame.
You must pick one or the other one
Though neither of them are to be what they claim.
If you're lookin' to get silly
You better go back to from where you came
Because the cops don't need you
And man they expect the same.

Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost.

I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff.
Everybody said they'd stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to bluff.
I'm going back to New York City
I do believe I've had enough.


Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is a song without rhythmic variation, no chorus, no B section. The title suggests that the poet feels like Tom Thumb; that is, too small in front of huge forces, and the cute plaything of religious women (Saint Annie, Melinda “the goddess of gloom”, and Angel--though the gender of Angel is debatable because Angel is a hipster name in general, frequently used by coast to coast travelers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg). A number of Dylan biographers have suggested that the song's title makes reference to Arthur Rimbaud's poem My Bohemian Life (Fantasy), in which Rimbaud refers to himself as "Tom Thumb in a daze, sowing rhymes” into the immensity of the universe. The poet in the song is visiting an urban environment somewhere outside of the USA, beginning in Mexico, then perhaps in France (Rue Morgue), and wants to get back to New York City.

The poet is ill throughout, suffering paralysis, delirium, and drunkenness. It is implied that he suffers from an STD that no one will speak about. He’s expecting rebirth (it’s Eastertime) through negativity; that is, by refusing bromides: “it’s either fortune or fame / you must choose one or the other one / though neither of them are to be what they claim.” This particular bromide may be pointing back to America, since it seems related to “Housing Project Hill”…dressing up perhaps “the house on the hill”, the kind of mentality he had wished he could escape. “Housing Project hill” was mentioned as the place Lazarus had a bike wreck in Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels (p. 164).

The poet cannot turn to authority figures for assistance in his distress (‘the cops don’t need you and man, they expect the same”) nor friends (“there was nobody even there to bluff”). But he’s yet to get the answer he needs and appears to be returning to the USA in defeat: “If you’re looking to get silly, you better go back to from where you came.” The poem seems to imply that the various sordid illnesses of humanity need to be dealt with in America first because things are even worse elsewhere. For Dylan, counterculture consciousness seems to have become an American ideal.

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