Bob Dylan: Man In The Long Black Coat Meaning
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Man In The Long Black Coat Lyrics
(Words and Music by Bob Dylan)
1989 Special Rider Music
Crickets are chirpin', the water is high,
There's a soft cotton dress on the line hangin' dry,
Window wide open, African trees
Bent over backwards from a...
anonymous Oct 24th, 10:04pm report
Everyone misses two extremely important symbols in this story. Yes it is a story. The soft cotton dress represents the former life and possibly innocence. The second is the old dance hall on the outskirts of town. Now, dance hall is American folk vernacular for brothel. And “dance”... well, you get the picture. Then, we need to ask ourselves if she is leaving her life at home for a life of prostitution, or perhaps more interestingly did she leave her life at the brothel with the man in the long black coat? Did she escape disaster and ruin that was headed for her. (The coming storm that levels the trees from the beginning of the song and leaves their roots upturned). The man in the long black coat may very well be her savior.) He didn’t dance with her, so he wasn’t a mere john. There was dust on him and he had a poker face about his reasons for being there. I believe the dance hall is the only location at all referred to in the song.
anonymous Jan 27th, 2018 1:08pm report
This is not my interpretation, it is something that I read, perhaps in Chronicles. I can't confirm whether it was Dylan who said it first hand or if someone else was recalling a conversation with him.
This is a response to House Carpenter, a song that Bob recorded for his debut album but it was not released until years later as part of the Bootleg Series. House Carpenter was based on the the Traditional Scottish Ballad The Daemon Lover. In it, the Devil courts a married woman who has three children to leave her husband and children. He promises her the world, it ends as you would it expect it to, not well.
Apparently the narrator of the The Man In The Long Black is the Husband that the women left when she ran off with the Devil. He was a Preacher, the "sermon" isn't really a sermon, it is him questioning everything that he stood for, that despite trying to live righteously a vile and depraved conscience can be swayed by the Devil.
anonymous Aug 23rd, 2017 8:43pm report
Hades or the Angel of death.
considering his friendship, respect for and the music they were playing around the time of this song's writing; the song could only be about Johnny Cash. sometimes you don't have to dig into what Dylan is hiding in a line of one of is songs. many lines are just inserted because he needed a line that rhymed with the previous line. that's why he changes lines so often. in Simple twist of fate, he does this, but in tangled up in blue he must have had a 1/2 dozen jobs that we have heard, add to that the number of jobs he had in unreleased versions of that fantastic song alone !
anonymous Nov 2nd, 2013 11:40am report
Dudes, the man in the long black coat is DEATH...
anonymous Oct 26th, 2010 10:13am report
Man In The Long Black Coat
The instrumental intro to this song induces an ominous mood. You feel immediately that something creepy is going on. Makes you freeze in the hot southern night.
The first verse fully meets the expectations of the intro. Dylan's voice, low and foreboding, paints a landscape, frozen, stiffened, fixed in eternity, nothing moves. A hurricane has passed but all is still now. Even the dress on the clothesline hangs down. A man has lost his woman. The man seems powerless. How can you compete with "a man in a long black coat"? One associates to something demonic, even the Devil himself. Or at least a hired hand from some spaghetti-western. What can anyone do when a creature like that invades your backyard? Nothing, so it seems.
Second verse sets up a contrast between our narrator and the mysterious stranger. The stranger not excately acts but he is where it's at. Ready to take what he's offered. The narrative voice on the other hand is one of self-defeatism, whimpering. You already now suspect that his description of the stranger is an attempt to demonize what he himself is not.
BUT, the real counterpart to our anti-hero is the woman. She acts. She's the one who turns to the mysterious stranger. She's the one who leaves her old man behind. Without explanation, she doesn't even try. She knows he will never understand.
In the third verse Dylan lets a preacher confirm the rather trite notion that "every man's conscience is vile and depraved". How can you trust your conscious mind when your conscience is mixed up with emotions and feelings you cannot control. Things may not at all be like they are experienced. Maybe the stranger is not at all the villain he seems to be. And maybe our narrator is not at all so righteous as he deems himself. We may ask if he has done any effort to prevent what has happened, or to win the lady back. Doesn't he just comfort himself with the thought that he is a victim of someone else's ill-doing? Blinded with the tears of self pity and envy.
The bridge: Mr D. Himself seems to sneak in a good word here. He says that some people say that nothing is your own fault; that one is guiltless due to the fact that one is unable to control one's own mind. Wrong! Life is not a thing that's just there and then you die. You are the only one responsible for your life. If you disregard that responsibility you do nothing but float.
The fourth and last verse repeats the creepy mood from the first verse. But something has happened. The scenery is at the first glance as lifeless as before. The smoke on the water has lain there for a long time, but something is indeed moving. A force of nature or God or the Devil vibrates the air and rumbles in the ground, and thus intensifies the feeling of fatal doom. And who is that someone who beats a dead horse? Your guess can be as good as mine. And our narrator still whimps and whines and shows no sign of being able to take his life in his own hands.
Don't get it wrong. There are no raised fingers here. Dylan neither sneers nor condemns. But he is certainly pointing out that merely to sit down and watch them days go by is a no go. It won't make you happy.
The song is stuffed with visual elements and the producer Daniel Lanois makes the picture clear and audible for all to hear. You hardly need the words at all. I am happy, though, they are there.
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