I have been thinking about the government. Which reminded me of this song. Except I couldn’t quite remember the title and I pondered that as we drove (very slowly through almost bumper-t0-bumper traffic) the 60 miles from Cape Cod to home. Finally, I remembered “subterranean” and “blues.” I could remember half the lyrics, in pieces.

Well, you gotta hand it to Google. Type in a piece of the puzzle and it brings up the rest of the story. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was released by Bob Dylan in 1965. Bringing it All Back Home was his fifth studio album and has always been my favorite. I realized I no longer own a copy, so I ordered the CD from Amazon. It’s one of the basics.


If a song can be prescient, this is. Here are the lyrics:

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doing it again
You better duck down the alleyway
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coonskin cap
In the pig pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
But you only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed, but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don’t try no dose
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
By users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t want to be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
‘Cause the vandals took the handles.

Written by BOB DYLAN
Subterranean Homesick Blues lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO.

There’s a lot of history in this song. You can look it up if you’re curious. Or not. It was the leading edge of the social protest movement, and anti-Vietnam war movement, and the “youth against the rest of the world” movement — which, to be fair, is part of every generation except I firmly believe we had the best music.

I don’t think I’ve got anything to add to this. It sings for itself. And don’t forget, the singer and songwriter is now a Nobel prizewinner, even though he doesn’t have the time for a trip to Norway. It gives one pause for thought.


Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


  1. love it. Havent listened to that in ages, and it still rocks in four directions. I’ve been trying to get “Dust in the Wind” out of my head for days, and this might just do it. If anyone can clear earworms, Dylan can.


  2. This video even got airplay on MTV in the 80’s, because when INXS parodied this sketch in their video for “Mediate” in 1987, I knew exactly where they got it from. Not the name of the song, mind you…. Dylan ranks somewhere up there with Led Zeppelin for having the most song titles that you won’t find anywhere in the lyrics. It may be artistic to pull titles out of thin air like that, but that makes it awfully hard for us regular folk to remember what the songs are supposed to be called years down the road!


    1. You think you’ll never forget. I mean, how could you forget something you knew so well. But it was 50 years ago and a lot of stuff has happened since then. The memory fills up and all the things you figured you could forget, you forgot. It took me a while to remember anything. First, Subterranean, then blues. Never remembered the middle world. Turned out the combination of Dylan and Subterranean was enough.

      Also, he did a LOT of talking blues for a whle and it’s hard to remember which is which … IF I ever knew!


  3. Now don’t get me wrong. I like Bob Dylan, I grew up with him. So he wrote the lyrics, most likely and they are good. He wrote the songs, he sang them himself and now he get a Nobel prize for literature? Great, but no he has not got enough time or interest to go to Oslo to receive it. Perhaps he doesn’t own a suit for the job. Who knows, he does not have the time, although he definitely has the money. Sorry but I just cannot get this into my system. There are writers out there that would give their right arm for a Nobel literature prize, and also deserve it I am sure. Bob you are no longer my hero, I cannot be bothered either.


    1. Dylan has always been disagreeable. Always. Way back in the early 60s when he used to hang around Greenwich Village and the coffee shops, passing the hat with the rest of the hopefuls, he was known as an unpleasant asshole. I have met a fair number of well known artists and many of them are … well … jerks. Actors, writers, musicians … they aren’t necessarily nice people. Sometimes it’s better to not get too close or learn too much.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The only Dylan album I have now- on CD- is Nashville Skyline. A very traumatic time in my life when it first came out and listening to it still brings back those old feelings.


    1. There is a lot of music i don’t listen to because it brings up bad memories, but there’s a lot more that I DO listen to because it brings back good stuff. And, with the years, the painful memories aren’t so painful. Probably the one benefit of time’s passing.


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