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A study of the famous Bob Dylan song "Mr.Tamborine Man".

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A study of the famous Bob Dylan song "Mr.Tamborine Man".

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  • March 15, 2003
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Why Mr. Tambourine Man is A Modern Classic

The most obvious and popular interpretation of Bob Dylan'sMr. Tambourine Man is that the song is about drugs. This makes sense, as it was against the law to write songs about drugs in the 1960s when 'Mr. Tambourine Man' was composed. The metaphors are simple: 'Mr. Tambourine Man' is the drug-dealer. "Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship..." is asking the drug-dealer for the drugs, and then the lyrics go on to describe the physical effects on the body after consuming hallucinogens:

"My senses have been stripped

My hands can't feel to grip

My toes too numb to step. . ."

Another obvious reference to drug-taking comes from the fourth verse, "Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind..." The smoke rings relating literally to drugs being smoked, and the last line of the last verse, also if taken literally, relates to escaping from the realities of life by using drugs: "Let me forget about today until tomorrow". However, this interpretation does not explain some of the vivid imagery used throughout the song where it is not easy to draw parallels between drugs and the image, for example, "The haunted frightened trees". This phrase could be written about the emotional state of the drug user, and by embuing those emotions onto something else the surreal atmosphere already invoked in the earlier passages is heightened. In the second and third verses there are several lines expressing suprise at feeling fatigued: "My weariness amazes me" and how the body is also tired: "my toes too numb to step."

Bob Dylan said himself "Drugs never played a part in that song... '...disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind....', that's not drugs, drugs were never a big thing with me." This leads me to believe that the song is indeed about something other than drugs. Some analysts have written about the song as an expression of freedom. One clear example of a phrase that expresses a sense of freedom...