Sunday, November 15, 2009

So Bob Dylan has been opening his shows on the current tour with the song "Change my Way of Thinking" and it has some interesting lyrics. Check it out here:

Click on the link to listen to or right click to download this song:

They are the modified lyrics from the Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan you can hear them as the last song on the following link. But they need some interpretation. What is the Welcome Table that is referred to? What is this thing about jumping on a Monkey's back? After reflecting on the lyrics I am ready to offer an interpretation:


Change my way of thinking

Title and first line of song

Metanoia (from the Greek μετάνοια, metanoia, changing one's mind) repentance and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged.

Make myself a different set of rules

New Worldview, New code of ethics after conversion.

I'm gonna change my way of thinking

Repeated for emphasis

Make myself a different set of rules

Gonna put my best foot forward

Turning away from the Dark Side to following the Lord.

Stop bein' influenced by fools

Changing my advisors.

Gonna sit at the welcome table

I'm as hungry as a horse

There is a Negro Spiritual that is called and references "The Welcome Table" The place you go when you first arrive in heaven. It is Widespread and much-collected. Sung by both Blacks and Whites (the Carter Family and others). Also known as "Down to the River of Jordan." In the Cleveland Index of Spirituals, it is catalogued under the name "Some of These Days," which is the title in Grissom, "Negro Sings a New Heaven," and "Some o' Dese Days," Johnson, "Green Pastures Spirituals." Here is verse four:

4. I'm a gonna eat at the welcome table
O yes, I'm gonna eat at the welcome table
Some of these days, halleluiah
Sitting at the welcome table
I'm gonna eat at the welcome table (2x)
Some of these days.

I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse

This is a man desperate to experience the good things offered at the Welcome Table

I'm gonna revitalize my thinking

Not only changing advisors, but revitalizing my whole way of thinking about things.

I'm gonna let the law take its course

This describes the "different set of rules."

Jesus is calling

He is going to come back. He is going to be coming a callin'

He's coming back to gather His jewels

Jesus has some precious items on earth to collect

Jesus is coming

Now the focus in back on his return

He's coming back to gather His jewels

The jewels are the "chosen few" referenced in Ring Them Bells:

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf,
Ring them bells for all of us who are left,
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,
For the child that cries,
When innocence dies.

Well, we live by the Golden Rule

The reality on earth is that the Biblical golden rule has been turned upside down.

Whoever got the gold, rules

The sun is shining

Ain't but one train on this track

This is a somewhat oblique/poetic reference to the "One Way" to Heaven

Reminds us of the Cover of the Slow Train Coming Album

The sun is shining

Ain't but one train on this track

I'm stepping out of the dark woods

I was in the darkness, but I am coming into the light.

Trying to jump on a monkey's back

Is this a funny throwaway line like: Saddle me up my big white goose?

Or more likely a reference to the difficulty
of jumpin' this one train bound for glory

Yes, I'm all dressed up

Are we changing to another subject now?

Goin' to the country dance

Dressed up for the country dance? What does this have to do with jumpin' the train bound for glory? I thought this was a metaphysical song about God and man and law?

We need to remember that these lyrics were rewritten as part of a contribution Dylan made to put his stamp of approval on the cover album known as "The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan." So the orginal context of these lyrics is smack dab in the middle of a fine collection of Gospel numbers. So I think we need to look in a Gospel direction if we are going to ascertain the significance of these modified lyrics.

I said I'm all dressed up

Possibly a reference to the sinners garb being removed so that he can be fit for heaven.
Zech 3:3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments."

Goin' to the country dance

The Wedding supper of the Lamb can be compared to a country dance.

Every day you got to pray for guidance

Good advice

Every day you got to give yourself a chance

You only have a chance if you are receiving some kind of divine guidance

There are storms on the ocean

This is a troubled world...the sea is a famous for it...remember the Edmund Fitzgerald?

Storms out on the mountain too

You can't escape this fallen world even up on the mountain

Storms on the ocean

repeat for emphasis

Storms out on the mountain too

Dylan has given eloquent and repeated testimony to his understanding of the fallen state of the world in songs like Everything is Broken but none better than in the 1981 Trouble where he declared to a chaotic and repetitious rhythm: “Since the beginning of the universe man's been cursed by trouble.” The universality of this fallen state is there beautifully described:

Trouble in the water, trouble in the air,
Go all the way to the other side of the world, you'll find trouble there.
Revolution even ain't no solution for trouble.

There is no way that man on his own can repair his fallen state:

Nightclubs of the broken-hearted, stadiums of the damned,
Legislature, perverted nature, doors that are rudely slammed.
Look into infinity, all you see is trouble.

Oh Lord

Oh, so this whole song is all a prayer..I get it.

You know I have no friend without you

Jesus what a friend for sinners...

I'll tell you something

Something I've learned, I will share

Things you never had you'll never miss

Don't try something just to try it. You won't miss it if you don't try it.
So for example if you don't smoke, don't start because if you do and quit you might miss it. Cocaine or Heroin -- same deal.

I'll tell you something

repeat for emphasis

Things you never had you'll never miss

This is the opposite of the message given by the serpent to Eve.

"When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" So "try it you'll like it," if not you can always put this Genie back in the bottle. But the speaker in the song warns...don't even try things that you might miss after you try to stop.
Take it from me the singer.. I have paid my dues on this one.

Tell you something else, a brave man will kill you with a sword

A coward with a kiss

Watch out! There are lots of Judas' out there; they will kill you with an unexpected weapon... of all things...a kiss.


  1. Ahhhh, OK, Doug .... thanks for 'splainin' that one to me..... I think?

  2. Interesting.

    In essence these are the lyrics from the re-recording he made for the CD "Gospel songs of BD" aren´t they? (Not sure if the country dance lines were there. I think not, on balance.)

    But, your failure to even address the "whoever got the Gold rules" line is very striking.

  3. Right Frank. These are the significantly altered lyrics not from the 1979 Slow Train album but from the 2003 "Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan." At that time - 2003 - the significance of the alterations didn't make sense to me, until I heard them again on this most recent tour. Then after I listened to them several times and meditated on them, and then did some google searches, finally I believe I have solved the puzzel by coming up with the interpretation offerred above. (And I didn't even have to buy a vowel to solve the puzzel).

  4. Thanks for this fascinating post, Doug. I like your blog and will be back.

  5. There is a very interesting change of lyric here even from even the modified and updated version of this song that appeared on the Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. It is the very last line of the song, instead of "Gonna Put my FOOT forward.... it has been changed to "Gonna Put my best FRIEND forward..." The people of China need to meet Bob's best Friend -- Jesus the Lord.

  6. 'Jumping on the monkey'a back' is connected to 'I'm stepping out of the dark woods'. According to 'Dylan, Depression and Faith', the dark woods stands for post-divorce depression in the 90's, which was a monkey on his back + stopped new material for 7 years. It's referred to on 'Narrow Way' on 'Tempest' - 'I'm going to walk across the desert until I'm in my right mind', and 'I dragged your plow, you broke my heart' - meaning his ex-wife.