What does Mr. Tambourine Man mean?

Search Login

Bob Dylan: Mr. Tambourine Man Meaning

Mr. Tambourine Man Lyrics

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Though I know that evenin's empire has...


    click a star to vote
    Mar 13th, 2008 3:35am report

    I think that before we say whether it is about drugs or not, we should define 'drug' These states of euphoria can be reached naturally or with the assistance of natural substances, but in either case an altered state of mind is where the beauty that he speaks of is coming from. Staying up all night around a fire or drum circle playing music can put you in the space, Love and meditation can do it, Mushrooms or DMT can do it, whatever road you take these experiences are the magic of life, and Dylan has caught this joy and love and brought it back to us in the form of lyrics. He refuses to give anyone a clear explanation because I think there is no clear explanation. Our society has no place for a shaman, so to get the message across one must me very creative. Well done Mr. Dylan

    ...And if you hear vague traces of skippin' reels of rhyme
    To your tambourine in time...


    click a star to vote
    Apr 24th, 2008 4:52am report

    He is a songwriter. He asks "play a song for me".

    A prayer for inspiration to the Muse. It's late, can't sleep and he has writer's block.

    3rd verse >
    Though you might hear laughin', spinnin', swingin' madly across the sun,
    "It's not aimed at anyone, it's just escapin' on the run
    And but for the sky there are no fences facin'.
    And if you hear vague traces of skippin' reels of rhyme
    To your tambourine in time, it's just a ragged clown behind,
    I wouldn't pay it any mind, it's just a shadow you're
    Seein' that he's chasing."
    >>>Apologizing for his artistic audacity.

    Last verse>
    "Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind,
    Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves,
    The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach,
    Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
    Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
    Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
    With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
    Let me forget about today until tomorrow."
    >>>Free me from all the worldly interferences and all my own physical and psychological impediments. "one hand waving free" alludes to inspired prolific writing and creating.


    click a star to vote
    Jan 15th, 2013 1:03am report

    Quote from observation of 20 August 2006 (above):

    "Tambourine man is not only an old fashioned term for a drug dealer, but also what they call the man that leads the funeral procession in new orleans"

    - It's a vision of mortality. It's about death. The tambourine man who leads the funeral procession, in a place where death is ambiguously treated both as a moment of grief and a crossing into another world, is a keynote figure.

    It's a vision which would not be out of place in the consciousness of someone who may be under the influence of a drug (trust me on this ...), or someone who is simply subject to extreme emotions like grief, sorrow, etc, with no immediately obvious relief in sight. The tambourine man is a deliverer, possibly even a religious figure.

    The destination, significantly, is the sea - Freud's image of the womb and in more modern times a place for the collective mind of the dead - the sea of consciousness - completing the circle of life ("in my end is my beginning"- TS Elliot in East Coker (Four Quartets) quoting Mary Queen of Scots). The sea is forgiveness, absolution, death and rebirth.

    Poetry and song are capable of a prophetic dimension - not always attained - in which the author expresses an insight in a form that makes it transportable over time and distance. It is a phenomenon so ancient that it predates the written word, and it is a facility or a component of human consciousness to which words do not always do justice - hence our struggle to interpret these things. It is a rare moment when a light shines through cloud and illuminates a reality so clearly.


    click a star to vote
    Dec 29th, 2012 12:12pm report

    I had a mean ass teacher in high school who called herself an old hippie and she played music that could have cost her her job, she threatened us not to tell anyone or she would be the bitch we all think she is. She told us to listen to Tamborine Man and what it was about, even the class stoners didn't know, she said it was obvious The Tamborine Man was his drug dealer...I didn't even know what weed was back then, now duh!


    click a star to vote
    Dec 3rd, 2012 12:12pm report

    im sorry but its about the "dope man" dope being heroin. if you have ever been a heroin user this song speaks volumes to you. dylan may not have been a smackhead and not every song is about drugs but dylan wrote this song when and where junk was king. this song is about copping some heroin from the dope man early in the dopesick morning imo.


    click a star to vote
    Aug 27th, 2012 8:33am report

    Bob has stated that this song isn't about drugs and the muse concept and the Bruce Langhorne concept interests me, but the dead give away line in this song is "MAGIC SWIRLING SHIP" and what do the bells on a tambourine look like? Flying saucer ring a bell?

    The narrator desires to go on a trip with mr tambourine man (song was written before Dylan dropped acid). If you see the magic swirling ship fly across the sun, it's not aimed at anyone (not a missile) it's escaping on the run for the sky there are no fences facing (leaving the planet). The narrator is ready to go anywhere.

    Also consider that THE BYRDS did a PARODY on this song called HEY MR SPACE MAN--"hey mr spaceman won't you please take me along, i won't do anything wrong, hey mr spaceman, won't you please take me along for a ride?"


    click a star to vote
    Jul 15th, 2012 7:45pm report

    The song is about intoxication: the means, not quite, important. It could be drugs, it could be love, and above all, it could be music. If taken literally, not going into unnecessary complexities, Dylan, tired and disappointed, longs to lose himself and reach a state of divine happiness, by the simple music of a tambourine man.


    click a star to vote
    May 17th, 2012 5:42pm report

    This is about tripping on LSD. When you take this drug you can't sleep for long periods of time. This was written in the 60's where lot of bands used drugs and current bands are no exception.

    "I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to."

    "My weariness amazes me, I've landed on my feet," Just another reference to visual hallucinations from tripping.

    "Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
    Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
    With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
    Let me forget about today until tomorrow."
    Drugs are an escape from those who have trouble dealing with reality. "LET ME FORGET ABOUT TODAY UNTIL TOMORROW" Tomorrow as when the drug stops working on the mind.

    I don't know how many people who wrote these articles have taken LSD. But for those who have can truly understand this song.


    click a star to vote
    Apr 13th, 2012 4:28pm report

    I've found through life that the people who always think that particular songs are all about drugs, are on drugs themselves.


    click a star to vote
    Apr 2nd, 2012 4:03pm report

    This could be the song he referred to in " when I paint my masterpiece" but then again not.


    click a star to vote
    Feb 25th, 2012 2:44am report

    Bruce Langhorne, a friend of dylans who played on "corrina corrina" from freewheelin' and on the bringing it all back home sessions, brought a giant tambourine to the studio at some point, and the image of the tambourine stuck in dylans mind.

    To me the song is in search of inspiration, love, or even disenchantment. At any muse you would like, God, drugs, or a woman. i dont think dylan could even answer who Mr. Tambourine Man is. in the verses he is pleading for the advice the muse could him


    click a star to vote
    Nov 25th, 2011 11:36pm report

    In the first verse I think the speaker had just come down from a drug trip..."evenings empire has returned into sand" means he has now returned to a normal state after a trip. Then "vanished from my hand," could mean he has no more drugs left and he is now looking for the Tambourine Man who is a reference for a drug dealer.
    The next verse starts out "take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship." This is pretty obvious as to what that means, he is going into another drug trip. He then talks about how his “hands cant feel” and his “toes are too numb to step,” which are the effects of whatever drug he took. “Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it," is definitely him asking the Tambourine Man for drugs.


    click a star to vote
    Nov 25th, 2011 11:17am report

    To me, this song is about escaping from reality and the horrors and struggles that we face in this world. There are many ways to escape reality, so drugs playing a role is these lyrics is entirely possible, but you could also argue that it is simply about wanting to go somewhere safe and happy. Perhaps a fairytale land... maybe even a personal heaven of sorts... That is how I prefer to see it.


    click a star to vote
    Oct 10th, 2011 10:03am report

    I have no doubt that the tamborine man was/is a real person, that Dylan actually knew but i think he has adopted the character to something or someone alot more significant.Perhaps drugs, in some instances it sounds like it:"Smoke rings in my mind",as if he was smoking something.But i am lead more towards him loosing himself in the hugeness and greatness of God,Jesus being the Tamborine man and Dylan following behind him chasing his shadow making rhyms to the Lords great Tamborine in time.Dylan seems to portray himself as being insignificant "A racket clown" but hes just being modest.


    Phil Broley
    click a star to vote
    Jul 1st, 2011 7:51pm report

    I feel its about change, bullshit, and life "I wouldnt pay it any mind" Seems to me to be the key to it. To change things you have to think differently, and Bob starts this song with the chorus totally busting song structure of popular music of the time he wrote it and even now, the mans a Legend any how, the peoples rapper ;O


    click a star to vote
    Jun 16th, 2011 6:08am report

    This is not a drug song. It is rather in the tradition of great Biblical laments. The person has traversed this "veil of tears" again and again and now seeks the serenity of peace. He's at the end of his rope---he is "branded on his feet" and can go no further. The "ancient empty" street which has ground down so many has no appeal. His own weariness, a companion of many years, is more enervating than ever and cannot be borne anymore. He seeks to look at the diamonded skies with the un-memoried clarity of youth and without the desolation and "foggy ruins" of misbegotten deeds that beseige his soul.
    It is as spot on as Job of the old testament.


    click a star to vote
    Feb 13th, 2011 2:09pm report

    I'm not sure what the song's meaning is but I know it's a deep exploration of human happiness from a 60's perspective. I don’t buy the idea that its about drugs. One of the early lines says he’s not sleepy. So he's not in a drug induced state. Thousands of words pour from his head - especially when he was young - without drugs.

    I'm a literal person and plenty of lines in the song are literal. Those lines are easy to understand.

    “I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.” I'm branded on my feet is just a wonderful – maybe manly – mood. I have no one to meet speaks of freedom from responsibility for that moment. Any responsible adult can understand that.

    Take me on a trip upon your majic swirling ship…could be about drugs. Wait only for my boot heels to wandering speaks to me of a lack of identity. But clearly the song is not about an identity crisis or insecurity. Its about a I’m caught up with my responsibilities, happiness. We can all read this song any way we want. As Robert Hunter says he didn’t like to write lyrics on album covers. He wanted the listenter to hear what ever they heard.

    But for the sky, there are no fences facing…Its free happiness expressed in a 60s, imaginative, way. You just wouldn't hear of a 50s song lyric about happiness expressed the same way.

    With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves let me forget about today until tomorrow. He’s living in the moment. He’s fearless of the moment.

    Does it tie back to the hypnotic quality of a tambourine part? I’m a drummer and remember how the Beatles – Ringo – used tambourine in the early songs to great effect. The part gave a subtle but hypnotic effect to the song.

    So I don’t try to figure out the far out stuff. It’s a very prolific wordsmith spouting out words like a fountain. I just try to understand the literal lines.

    Dylan has got a thousand of words the way Garcia had thousands of notes, or a great painter a thousand colors. All great musicians are prolific. I don’t’ think much about Dylan's far out lines - Gates of Eden is just crazy. I think he just loved throwing words out there without caring about their meaning. He liked their percussive juxtaposition. He liked collisions of sound. I think he was influenced by Picasso.

‹ prev 1234

More Bob Dylan song meanings »


Submit Your Interpretation

[ want a different song? ]

Just Posted

Magic AyubKhan
Lithium anonymous
All Apologies anonymous
All I Want anonymous
Almost Is Never Enough anonymous
New Flame anonymous
Give Me Love anonymous
Lost Boy anonymous
Stay anonymous
Temporary Bliss anonymous
White Winter Hymnal anonymous
Romanza anonymous
Dazed and Confused anonymous
Since I've Been Loving You anonymous
Rock With You anonymous

Get a weekly email update

(We won't give out your email)

Latest Releases

Middle Of A Memory
Cole Swindell
My Church
Mary Sarah
Finding Favour
Chance The Rapper
I'm Sorry
Adam Wakefield
THat Part
Schoolboy Q
Wherever I Go
Me Too
Meghan Trainor