"Tangled Up in Blue", originally on Dylan's Blood on the Tracks classic, is one in a number of Bob Dylan songs that can be classified as "narrative", meaning that the song itself is actually a story, albeit wrapped around a melody; it is one of several well-defined songs in this classification that includes "Black Diamond Bay", "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts", and "Romance in Durango", to name a few.

To begin, these are the official lyrics, from the Bob Dylan website -- although even they differ slightly from the version on the album:
Lyrics removed per E2 Copyright Changes :(

Lyrics can be found here: http://bobdylan.com/songs/tangled.html


In addition, "Tangled" is an excellent primer for trying to understand how Dylan tends to weave his tales, keeping them fresh by making lyrical changes, to give a different direction or feel to the story. He does this in several other non-narrative songs too -- most notably in "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". However, his ability to do it within the narrative is striking. We'll start below with two versions of the second verse, from two different recordings From the original 1974 Blood on the Tracks release:

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess,
But I used a little too much force.
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best.
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin' away
I heard her say over my shoulder,
"We'll meet again someday on the avenue,"
Tangled up in blue.

Here is a version from 1984's Real Live. Note the drastic differences, with regards to timing and circumstances of events, not to mention rhyme scheme:

She was married when they first met
To a man four times her age
He left her penniless in a state of regret
It was time to bust out of the cage.

An' they drove that car as far as they could
Abandoned it out west
Splitting up on a dark sad night
Both agreein' it was best.
She turned around to look at him
As i was walkin' away
Sayin' "I wish i could tell you all the things
That i never learned how to say''
He said "That's alright, baby, i love you too''
But we were tangled up in Blue.


In this song, Dylan has also been known to use redirection to change who is speaking, or to whom he is speaking, sometimes several times during the song. In addition to the obvious location and occupational changes, listed in the third verse(s) below, note the change from first person narration to third person: The first is from Blood on the Tracks:

I had a job in the great north woods
Workin' as a cook for a spell
But i never did like it all that much
An' one day the ax just fell
So i drifted down to New Orleans
Where I was lucky 'nuff to be employed
Workin' for a while on a fishin' boat
Right outside of Delacroix

But all the while i was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind an' i just grew
Tangled up in blue.

This second one is from The Bootleg Series Volume 2, Also circa 1974, it is a Blood On the Tracks outtake.

He had a job in the great old north woods
Workin' as a cook for a spell
But he never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So when he drifted out to L.A.
Where he reckoned he'd tried his luck
Workin' for a while in a airplane plant
Loadin' cargo onto a truck

But all the while he was alone
The past was close behind
He seen a lot of women
But she never escaped his mind an' he just grew
Tangled up in blue.

In addition to these, there are plenty of other permutations out there, with different locations (Such as "Santa Fe", rather than "New Orleans" in The Bootleg Series Volume 5) and occupations. Perhaps the most striking change to this verse, however, is on the Real Live rendition, which ends in the following manner:

But all the while he was alone
The past was close behind
He had one too many lovers and
None of them were too refined all except for you
But you were tangled up in blue.

In the above selection, the verse is redirected at the very end -- although the listener is not necessarily "you" in this case -- thus redirecting the conversation (and "affliction") to a different character than who was illustrated throughout the rest of the verse. Now, a prima facie consideration of this change might not lead the listener to notice any big difference, but upon closer examination, one will note that the redirection gives a radically different perspective on the story.

Finally, while much of this writeup has noted that lyrical variation has allowed Dylan to tell alternate versions of stories, it is quite possible, as well, that the different variations give accounts from other perspectives of the same tale. First, examine this version of the sixth verse, from Blood on the Tracks

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs,
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air.
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died.
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside.
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn,
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
Tangled up in blue.

Here, we see some reference to "slaves", but we really don't know any specifics of these dealings. Now, compare this to the version, once again on Real Live, which might give us a little more insight:

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was snow all winter an' no heat
Revolution was in the air.
An' one day all of his slaves ran free
Something inside of him died
The only thing i could do was be me
An' get on the train an' ride.
An' when it all came crashin' down
I was already south
I didn't know whether the world was flat or round
I had the worst taste in my mouth that i ever knew
Tangled up in blue.

While there is no guarantee or assurance of this interpretation, it is definitely possible to consider both of the versions above as synoptic perspectives on the same event.

In the end, Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" comes across as a richly-woven song that can have many different meanings, audiences, or perspectives, depending on which version a listener hears, and is a good example that demonstrates what Dylan does best.

See also: The E2 Bob Dylan Literary Analysis Project



Some assistance for lyrical approximations from:
http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/tangled.html
http://homepage.mac.com/danielmartin/Dylan/html/songs/T/TangledUpInBlue.html
"Tangled Up in Blue" is (c) 1974 Ram's Horn Music

Note: In the above examples, as well as in the reference URLs, some text may be approximated, as there is no authoritative source for all variations of Dylan lyrics.

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