Dylan on the Economy: Some Insights

Last week I asked blog readers to suggest the Bob Dylan lyrics they would use to describe the economy — a task requiring both deep knowledge of Dylan’s music and of current economic conditions.

The intersection of economics and Dylan is bigger than you might think, and yields some terrific suggestions.

And judging by the lyrics suggested, the Dylan-o-meter suggests that economic conditions are pretty bleak.

I’ve listed my favorites below, along with the context that I think they really speak to. Beyond this shortlist, you might enjoy reading the full list of entries for some entertaining runners-up.

1. The tax rebate checks:

“Well, he hands you a nickel,

He hands you a dime,

He asks you with a grin

If you’re havin’ a good time.”

– From “Maggie’s Farm,” suggested by Dan.

2. President Bush meeting with Treasury Secretary Paulson:

“‘There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief,

‘There’s too much confusion; I can’t get no relief.’”

– From “All Along the Watchtower,” suggested by Lawrence S.

3. The housing bubble:

“Now the bricks lay on Grand Street

Where the neon madmen climb.

They all fall there so perfectly,

It all seems so well timed.

An’ here I sit so patiently

Waiting to find out what price

You have to pay to get out of

Going through all these things twice.”

– From “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,” suggested by Jeff.

4. And a suggestion that sounds like Robert Shiller (but more poetic):

“And so it did happen like it could have been foreseen,

The timeless explosion of fantasy’s dream.”

– From “Ballad in Plain D,” suggested by Andy.

Congrats to Dan, Lawrence, Jeff, and Andy. Your prizes are on their way.

Oh, and I saw Dylan on Friday in Philly — a terrific show.

Jack Tripper

What about:

"Don't reach out for me, she said, can't you see I'm drownin', too?"

-from High Water For Charlie Patton)

Bob Keyes

First, a note to Grant. I am a huge Bob fan (been going to shows for 25 years), and while I wasn't at the Brooklyn show and cannot comment on it, I disagree with your assessment that no one cares about Love and Theft. I care about Love and Theft, and I keep going back to his shows (55 and counting) because he continues to play new material. If he only played the old stuff, I would have bailed long ago. That would be way too boring for me -- and for him.

As for this blog entry: Brilliant. I wish I had thought of it myself.

Reuben Remus

No Cares about Love and Theft? Easy my friend. I care about Love and Theft:

Well, you bet on a horse and it ran on the wrong way

I always said you'd be sorry and today could be the day

Applicable to most anything we are seeing in this market.


Another late submission... The "green economy" is taking off, leaving local ecology in the dust. Partisan debate among the voting public has been reduced to a few diluted (deluded?) talking points for each issue. Can't we think for ourselves anymore?

I've heard you say many times

That you're better than no one

And no one is better than you.

If you really believe that,

You know you got

Nothing to win and nothing to lose.

From fixtures and forces and friends,

Your sorrow does stem,

That hype you and type you,

Making you feel

That you must be exactly like them.

(To Ramona, from Another Side of Bob Dylan. It seems every album from then on could have had the same title)

Jack Silverman

Grant - To quote Dylan himself. He not busy being born is busy dying.


Too late for the contest, but here "Inside Out" from his time with Traveling Wilburys. I think about it every time I read of people upside down on their mortgages, foreclosed homes with unwatered lawns, etc.

Look out your window

That grass ain’t green

It’s kinda yellow

See what I mean?

It’s so hard to figure what it’s all about

When your outsides in (inside out)

And your downsides up (upside down)



I think Bruce Springsteen lyrics are also up this alley with respect to the working man.


Here's one I'm surprised hasn't come up:

Well, you know, lots of people complainin' that there is no work.

I say, "Why you say that for

When nothin' you got is U.S.-made?"

They don't make nothin' here no more,

You know, capitalism is above the law.

It say, "It don't count 'less it sells."

When it costs too much to build it at home

You just build it cheaper someplace else.

Well, it's sundown on the union

And what's made in the U.S.A.

Sure was a good idea

'Til greed got in the way.

My favorite bit:

Democracy don't rule the world, you better get that through your head

This world is ruled by violence, but I guess that's better left unsaid.

The only proper epitaph for Bush. It's "Union Sundown", Dylan's great economy song. Written in the mid-'80s... the guy really is a prophet:



I just sat outside his concert in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn. I wish I had been inside (too expensive for a grad student), but he sounded pretty bad from outside. Also, he played wayyy too much new stuff.

C'mon Bob, no one cares about Love and Theft. Play "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" or something.


Uh, this one was really sitting out there, from Workingman's Blues #2

There's an evenin' haze settlin' over town

Starlight by the edge of the creek

The buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down

Money's gettin' shallow and weak

Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory

It's a new path that we trod

They say low wages are a reality

If we want to compete abroad


I love Dylan, but to call one of his contemporary shows "terrific" is crazy.


What about:

I'm tellin' myself I found true happiness

That I've still got a dream that hasn't been repossessed

From Love and Theft?

John Pilecki

To affect personification .... "Oh help me in my weakness, I heard the Drifter say, As they carried him from the courtroom, and were taking him away ..." Wasn't it around the time of the Enron scandal that the boom started to slowly unravel?


From The Ballad of Hollis Brown . . .

Hollis Brown

He lived on the outside of town

Hollis Brown

He lived on the outside of town

With his wife and five children

And his cabin fallin' down

You looked for work and money

And you walked a rugged mile

You looked for work and money

And you walked a rugged mile

Your children are so hungry

That they don't know how to smile

Your baby's eyes look crazy

They're a-tuggin' at your sleeve

Your baby's eyes look crazy

They're a-tuggin' at your sleeve

You walk the floor and wonder why

With every breath you breathe

and 8 additional equally depressing verses can be found at http://www.slopbucket.com/bob/lyrics/3ballad.html


Just tossing this out there, I knew I'd be able to find something good in Desolation Row:

Yes, I receiver your letter yesterday

About the time the door knob broke

When you asked me how I was doing

Was that some kind of joke?

Art Dodger

I love Dylan and his contemporary shows are terrific...He has had detractors who have complained about his live shows for more than 40 years...He doesn't do Gerde's Folk City anymore, people...If you don't like it, that's fine, but don't try to change his voice...It's his, and his only...H

Rebecca Albert

While some on principles baptized

To strict party platforms ties

Social clubs in drag disguise

Outsiders they can freely criticize

Tell nothing except who to idolize

And then say God Bless him.