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Thin Man

Ballad Of A Thin Man /  Highway 61 Revisited / 1965

you walk into the room with your pencil in your hand you see somebody naked and you say "who is that man?"

Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 14:51:41 -0700 From: amitava biswas (ami@TIAC.NET) Subject: Re: Huey P. Newton and Mr. Jones (sadiejane) wrote: > My buddy bobinetta in berkeley CA sent me this query: > > >So: I went to see an amazing performance last night. "A Huey P. > >Newton Story". There was a great part in it where the performer asks > >if we wanted to hear his definition of a "geek." Of course, being in > >the profession (computer-related), that most often gets compared to > >the circus chicken-head biting people, I knew what he was going to > >say. He went through the whole deal, down to that the geek saves a > >bone to give to the audience, who are the real freaks. Then the > >music comes up. Ballad of the (a?) thin man. And there it is! The > >same story. I'm sure this is Dylan 101, but my question is: did > >Dylan cop the story from Newton, or was it the other way around? And > >what is the accepted analysis of "Thin man?" > > I have no idea who this Huey P. Newton is - but she is very excited > about a possible connection to Bob.... Huey Newton was one of the founders, along with Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers, the most famous militant (and I might add armed) black-power movements of the 1960's. A good friend of mine recently told me of Newton's interpretation a verse from Ballad of a Thin Man: 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.... Newton apparently felt that this was an excellent description of race relations in the US, with the Thin Man being the average upper-middle-class low-level white collar petty-bourgeois person (white, of course), and the geek being the black man. A geek, as mentioned above, was a circus performer who bit the heads off live chickens, but more to the point is that the geek doesn't really have any particular talent. Anybody can bite the head off a live chicken. The geek is the only one desparate enough to do it, and so what Mr Jones is paying for is to marvel at someone's desperation. And therefore, he is the real freak. Somewhere, subconsciously, he understands this, but he really can't figure out a way out of this "impossible" situation. Anyway, Newton did get the analogy from Dylan. I'd be interested in interpretations of the other verses of the song, if anyone has any. Aside from the one mentioned above, there are two others that I think I understand: You have many contacts among the lumberjacks To get you the facts when somebody attacks your imagination But nobody has any respect, anyway they already expect you To just give a check to tax-deductible charity organizations. The lumberjacks are the workers, while Mr Jones is the petty-bourgeois, who feels he has a feeling for the plight of the world, but in reality, nobody is really fooled by him and his self-serving guilt-assuaging charity. The verse about the professors and F. Scott Fitzgerald's books is also fairly straightforward. Mr. Jones comes up fairly often. John Lennon considered him to be suicidal in Yer Blues ("feel so suicidal, just like Dylan's Mr Jones"), and the Counting Crows even wrote a whole song about him ("I wanna be Bob Dylan, Mr. Jones wishes he were a little more funkier...") Looking forward to responses, Ami

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