Monday, July 22, 2019 11:47

Ballad Of A Thin Chuckle

At some point in the past, I read somewhere that Bob Dylan never liked to do more than a few takes on any song he cut in the studio. He would “coach” the musicians as to what he wanted and they would just play the track. Whatever they ended up with was what ended up on the album…and given the incredible nature of his performances, once can’t say that Dylan’s output suffered from a lack of polish.

The first verse of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” (probably Dylan’s greatest tune IMO) begins thusly:

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man ?”

Right when he begins to sing
You try so hard

He chuckles. You could easily imagine someone in the studio distracting him as he sang that line. He quickly regained his composure and completed his masterpiece. Most artists would have gone back and done another take to fix the “error” (and likely most would have stopped right after the flub)…but Dylan not only continued all the way through but decided the cut was good enough for the album.

The way I look at it, the chuckle wasn’t a flub; it greatly enhanced the vocal. The song is a scathing social commentary on a person (Mr. Jones) who might be smart and cultured but can’t comprehend the scene that he’s trying to be a part of. The lyrics are biting; the vocal is scathing; and Al Kooper’s wonderful organ part adds some serious gravity to the tune.

But, the chuckle is the strongest indictment of the character that Dylan is singing about. I have to assume that Dylan didn’t plan to chuckle during the vocal but ultimately liked the effect. It wasn’t enough for Dylan to ridicule Mr. Jones by singing about his plight…Dylan momentarily left his role of singer/ tale teller, mocked Mr. Jones by laughing in his face, and returned to completing the tune. The laughter is like a momentary soliloquy where instead of sharing personal insight (which is typical of the Shakesperian soliloquy), Dylan is letting the listener know that “Oh by the way, Mr. Jones is a most pathetic person worthy of your perpetual scorn”.

If your “creator” thinks you’re really pitiful, you must really suck :.)

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