Friday, November 28, 2014

Two Novel Interpretations of Dylan's She Belongs To Me

The other day when I wrote about this song I had some additional thoughts I'd wished to share but felt it would be a dilution to throw too many disparate elements together in one blog account.

In his recent book The Dylanologists, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Kinney identifies various classifications of Dylan fandom, from memorabilia collectors to those who follow his concerts to the lyrics dissectors. Followers of this blog know that I occasionally dive into the dissection of lyrics and have even been occasionally reprimanded by some who consider it a useless pursuit to try and explain what everything he's written means. Sometimes these folk may be right.

Nevertheless, holding a magnifying lens over various passages of poetic verse is a difficult habit to break, especially when it often yields surprising rewards. At times it can be a stimulating form of entertainment.

One of the websites I return to now and then is It's a site where people share their insights and interpretations of songs from popular culture. In some respects it's a form of crowdsourcing. You have a particular perspective on something and then go here to discover ten other ways of looking at the same picture.

But it's not the only source of ideas for interpreters. Here are two interpretations of "She Belongs To Me" that I found especially intriguing, notably because of their novelty.  The first here is by lyrics dissecter Tony Atwood.

It's About His Little Girl

Never has a 12 bar blues sounded so beautiful, so relaxed, so warm, so kind. Perhaps a listener who is in his 20s smoking dope might not find it so, but anyone who has a daughter instantly sees it, feels it, warms to it.

If the lyrics don’t convey the message then the music and the accompaniment does. The most famous version of course is on Bringing it all Back Home, but there are also examples on the curious Self Portrait album, recorded at the Isle of Wight, and a truly lovely version on “No Direction Home”. This last version is perhaps the earliest attempt by Dylan to have an instrumental break without a lead instrument – something that he worked on over and over again in the concerts and recordings of the late 90s and early 21st century.

The girl in the song has everything – she never stumbles, she has an Egyptian ring, she’s got everything she needs…

Of course it is a child – the child who can play forever with the simplest toys, who can paint or crayon a picture and make it exactly what she wants it to be. She is the girl you idolize, the girl you bow down to, the girl whose birthday you make into the biggest occasion in the history of the world. The girl to whom you want to say, “I made you, you are everything, this is the world I give you.”

And of course you buy her toys.

How he got this from the song is explained when you read the rest his blog entry at Tony Atwood's Untold Dylan blog. Bookmarking recommended.

It's About The Catholic Church

Here's another interesting interpretation that doesn't immediately jump out at you, but it struck me as intriguing for reasons I will explain afterwards.

This song is about the Catholic church
“But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole down upon your knees” refers to the confessional
“She never stumbles” refers to the church’s infallibility
“She’s nobody’s child” refers to the Jesus being the son of God (and not of man)
“She wears an Egyptian ring” refers to the Papal ring
“Bow down to her on Sunday (weekly mass), Salute her when her birthday comes (Easter)
For Halloween buy her a trumpet (All Saints’ Day, which is the day following Halloween)
And for Christmas give her a drum (nice interplay with the song Little Drummer Boy)”

What's cool about this interpretation is that it's not entirely impossible that even though the song itself is a completely different story, the inspiration (or catalyst) for this song could have conceivably been germinated by something Dylan had read about the Church, with a capital C.

I say this because my own recently published story A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd was itself a veiled re-telling of a wholly unrelated workplace incident that took place two decades ago. When you read the story you have no clue whatsoever that we're talking about a corporate environment and a lesson derived from that culture. Yet the story is not about corporate culture at all. The lessons it teaches have to do with self-esteem and courage.

This is the way creativity works. Someone sees an article that triggers a memory of an experience which becomes a catalyst for something wholly other, such as Yertle the Turtle or Frozen.

This is all hypothetical, of course. It may simply have been what it appears to be. But then, that would be so un-Dylan, wouldn't it? Or would it?

* * * *

EdNote: A Remarkable Tale is now in print, available at both Createspace and Amazon, the latter possibly with a Black Friday deal.


Dorothy said...

Here's why it’s the USA:
She’s got everything she needs - the flag is a she, the USA is freedom - and a superpower

She’s an artist, she don’t look back - we created our own democracy and our own constitution, but fail to look back on it's high principles

She can take the dark out of the nighttime - light up the sky with blaze of warfare weapons
And paint the daytime black - what the atom bomb did

You will start out standing, Proud to steal her anything she sees - saluting the flag and patriotically go along with all the crap the military government wants to do

But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole - Watergate, etc.

She never stumbles, She’s got no place to fall - internationally and geographically

The Law can’t touch her at all - The Presidential ability to suspend the right of habeas ..

She wears an Egyptian ( the pyramid) ring (on the dollar bill) that sparkles before she speaks - money talks.

She’s a hypnotist collector , - wake up, people!
You are a walking antique - your asleep

Bow down to her on Sunday - now remember at the time this was written, "good people" always went to church on Sunday.

Salute her when her birthday comes - the 4th of July
For Halloween give her a trumpet - (need help here. Angels & Demons?)
And for Christmas, buy her a drum - Parades

The title, She belongs to me refers to the esoteric truth of conspiracy theory: "they" are "we" . We all participate in this and need to take personal responsibility. Or, it's my country, but nah - that's too simple.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting suggestions. It's an amazing song not least because, given the repetitions, it's so short and yet there's so much that needs saying about it. I like the Catholic Church interpretation (but, as you say, it must be about more than that. I'm not sure what, though.) Here are some random thoughts some of which might support that view. The opening line, 'She's got everything she needs' invites the response 'What is it she's got? And what does she need it for?'. And that in turn perhaps implies that it's something it would be better to deprive her of. One thing that seems clear is that the 'woman' is being praised for things which are quite reprehensible; an artist who paints the daytime black would seem to be one who makes something good seem bad (and that might well represent a cynical view of the Church). The association with Halloween also suggests she's evil, particularly since it's made to seem appropriate to celebrate a day associated with evil spirits by giving her a present. 'Trumpet' might suggest the last trumpet (as in 'fore Gabriel blows his horn'). It's going to enable her to gather those she's hypnotised. On the Catholic Church interpretation it might suggest that the eventual end of the world and the last judgment are things the Church needs to be taking more seriously. The narrator seems in thrall to someone he - one would think mistakenly - thinks is self-sufficient. This, including the fact that he'll steal for her, makes him come across as untrustworthy. And that she's evil is reinforced by there being no hint that she tries to prevent him stealing for her. In fact she remains aloof, happy with having hypnotised him and adding him to her collection.

Anonymous said...

If "She Belongs To You," written in 1965/66 is about Watergate, its the story of the year.

Ed Newman said...

Anon: Yes, that would be the story of the year. I think "Dorothy" was just funnin' with us.

When one considers the range of interpretations for this song with its seeming straightforward convolutedness, and then you move to the truly surreal material Dylan has penned, it's no wonder some Dylanologist lyrics analysts have had such endless entertainment.

Larry fyffe said...

S/he who searches for a tight answer to what a Dylan song means is already lost. Orpheus looked back to see if Eurydice it was still there, and she's lost forever.

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