The 30 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs: #15, “Just Like A Woman”

-

“Nobody feels any pain, tonight as I stand inside the rain…”

“Just Like A Woman” is one of those Bob Dylan songs that gets under your skin. The chorus’s connotations are a puzzle we all must figure out for ourselves, be we male or female. The verses are tinged with sadness and a need to strip away the layers of artifice surrounding the hungover singer and the girl he can now see clearly. If nobody feels any pain at the beginning of the song, by the time we get to the bridge, the pain must be dealt with. The sad facts are these: baby can’t be blessed, the ribbons and bows have fallen from her curls, and one thing is clear — “it’s time for us to quit.”

Many have speculated that Blonde On Blonde’s iconic single “Just Like A Woman” is about Dylan’s relationships with Joan Baez and/or troubled starlet Edie Sedgewick, who was fond of amphetamines and was also known to emit fog (not really).

Allmusic Guide: “Please don’t let on that you knew me when/I was hungry and it was your world” certainly seem to make the case that the lyrics deal at least in a small part with Dylan’s relationship with Joan Baez — who was a successful folksinger before Dylan was.

However, there’s a fallacy in flat-out stating that any Bob Dylan song is based on any particular person, if Dylan never said it was so. Just because it could apply, doesn’t mean it does. Songs are art, the only autobiographical parts necessary are the feelings behind it. Maybe “Just Like A Woman” is a song about a transgendered person. It probably isn’t, but it could be.

(Or is it about something else entirely? See an alternate take at the bottom of the page.)

The other question “Just Like A Woman” always drudges up — is it misogynistic? It feels like it, on its face. But that’s only if you take it as a grand statement from the Voice of his Generation, and not a song aimed at one specific person.

The last verse is a kind of callback to one of Dylan’s finest songs from his folk music days, “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Met).” Only this time, he’s not asking to be acknowledged. He’s praying for the opposite.

When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.

The studio recording captures another spontaneously brilliant performance from the Blonde on Blonde band, from the insistent drumming and warm organ to the goose bump-inducing guitar figure, which gets us ready for each new verse. The instrumentation conjures the rain-drenched landscape the song is set in. Another thing “Just Like A Woman” has got going for it is the emotionally charged bridge, which Dylan can write like no other (see “Ballad of A Thin Man,” “Temporary Like Achilles,” “I Want You,” “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”). The way it spills out into the final verse (“ain’t it clear, that I…just don’t fit”) is masterful.

That bridge would give Richie Havens a leg up — in his version, he adds a lightning-fast series of strums on his acoustic guitar to amp up the tension. It’s now one of the things he’s best known for, his signature move.

Throughout his career, Bob Dylan has pursued a secondary path as songwriter for the stars. “Just Like A Woman” is one of his most covered works, and has been recorded by such artists as Jeff Buckley, The Byrds, BB King, Stevie Nicks, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Nina Simone and David “Fathead” Newman. Also, RL Burnside, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Roberta Flack, The Hollies and John Lee Hooker. Manfred Mann rode it to #10 in the UK charts in 1966; Dylan himself took it to #33 in the states.

Bonus reason for inclusion on this list: It’s the only Dylan song mentioned in a Woody Allen movie. How great is it when two geniuses meet and one genius pisses all over the other genius? “You catch Dylan?” Allen is asked by a Rolling Stone reporter (played by Shelley Duvall) while the two are on a date. His answer: “Me? No, no – I couldn’t make it. My raccoon had hepatitis.” Guess Woody Allen prefers Simon and Garfunkel.

And now, as previously mentioned, this fascinating alternate explanation to “Just Like A Woman,” which an astute commenter posted here.

* * * *

maine character: It gets to me, as well, whenever anyone gets down on this song for being against women in some way. It also amazes me when people take the song literally. ‘Cause the song is not about a woman, but about a drug. You can hear this most clearly in the “Before the Flood” live version, where he’s speaking from further down the road.

The album starts off with “Rainy Day Women,” which is about the biblical version of getting “stoned,” but is also tongue-in-cheek about getting high. A “Rainy Day Woman” would be a joint saved for a rainy day.

That sounds like a stretch, but Dylan uses “rain” for drugs often. Like a couple songs later, he’s hanging out with friends in a loft at night and “Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it.” Passing him a joint as he sits there, writing about what he sees and hears as the visions conquer his mind.

A couple songs later “the rainman gave me two cures,” and “it strangled up my mind” and “I have no sense of time.”

Later on we have him asking, “Where are you tonight, sweet Marie?”, looking for someone to bring him a bag, just like in the album before this he says that he’s tired of himself and all of his creations, and so “Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?”

So there you have Marie and Jane – Mary Jane. One is sweet and one’s a queen. And he goes to the queen when “you want somebody you don’t have to speak to.” Meaning a drug, not a woman. It’s a theme that repeats in “Empire Burlesque,” and it’s all through this song.

First it starts off letting you know he’s stoned – “Nobody feels any pain / Tonight as I stand inside the rain.” He’s enthralled by the drug, how she takes him in and embraces him, but then the high drops and “she breaks just like a little girl.”

Then you have the drug imagery of “her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls,” (referenced in U2’s song of heroin abuse, “Running to Stand Still”) and then it’s back to the rain: “It was raining from the first,” and he goes for it, and while “your long-time curse” of addiction hurts, “what’s worse / is this pain in here.”

Again he tries to get off it, saying, “Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit.” And knows that he’ll be at a party or backstage somewhere and someone will offer him something – “When we meet again / Introduced as friends” – he doesn’t want anyone to know how strung out he was: “Please don’t let on that you knew me when / I was hungry and it was your world.” Meaning the drugs made over the world, and that was all he saw.

Almost forgot, there’s also this line in the song: “Queen Mary, she’s my friend.” So there’s Queen Mary and Queen Jane, and for a while they inspired him like no woman before.

* * * *

Heavy, man.


Comments

comments

4 COMMENTS

  1. The fact that you can interpret this song and so many of his others pretty much anyway you want is What makes Bob Dylan so cool.

  2. The latter bits of the drug argument sound shaky at best. If anything – and I think this is a real possibility – Dylan was using the drug references to illustrate the qualities of the song’s woman.

  3. It should also be noted that, in the drug analysis of “Queen Jane Approximately,” he’s got the person the lyrics refer to backwards in every case. It’s not that HE is tired of himself and all of HIS creations, or that HE wants someone HE doesn’t have to speak to. And he doesn’t go to HER. She comes to him when SHE feels these thnigs and needs him. Which further weakens the argument, I think.

  4. I heard that “Just Like a Woman” is about Dylan’s relationship with Edi Sedgewick, a model discovered by Andy Warhol in the 1960s. She got really hooked onto drugs and Dylan tried to help her. She ended up dying young at like age 29 or something like that. I also heard that “Like a Rolling Stone” might also be about her. The movie “Factory Girl” talks about their relationship and after seeing it I think this is probably true.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Popular Posts

Railroad Earth Share Story of Survival on the Road in “It’s...

No one would know all the tribulations that influenced “It’s So Good,” the latest track from bluegrass rockers Railroad Earth upon first...