On Your Knees Supplicating to a Woman

‘She Belongs to Me’ was written by Bob Dylan and it came out on his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home.  John Cale of the Velvet Underground said that this song is about the German supermodel Christa Paffgen, who went by the name of Nico.  She was the femme fatale of Andy Warhol’s Factory and he introduced her to the Velvet Underground.  Nico met Bob Dylan in 1964 when she was 26, and she treated Dylan to a meal at her flat and then they commenced a brief affair while travelling across Europe together from Paris, France to Vernily, Greece, which resulted in him writing a song about her called ‘I’ll Keep It with Mine’.  The title ‘She Belongs to Me’ seems ironic as the lyrics seem to state that Dylan belongs to the woman, as he puts her up on a pedestal and worships her.

In this song, Dylan sings, “She don’t look back”, and Don’t Look Back was the title of his 1965 movie where he toured the United Kingdom at the age of 23, and director D.A. Pennebaker was allowed behind the scenes to provide one of the most intimate glimpses of the private and frequently cantankerous songwriter.  The film chronicles Dylan’s concert appearances, hotel room conversations, and transportation downtime, pulling back the curtain on the folk messiah at the end of his relationship with Joan Baez and on the cusp of his creative shift toward rock music.

The line “Don’t look back” is featured prominently in the Greek myth Orpheus, which has nothing to do with this song, but it is related to music, so I am gonna go for it.  Orpheus is the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope and he became such a great musician that when he played the lyre everybody and everything became enchanted.  Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice a woman of unique beauty, and they decided to get married.  Hymen the god of marriage ceremonies who was also a son of Apollo blessed their marriage, but he predicted that their union was not meant to last.  On their wedding day, she was bitten by a viper and died of its venom.  When Eurydice dies, Apollo advised his son to go visit her descending to the dark Underworld.  Orpheus managed to charm Cerberus, the three headed dog that guarded the gate of the underworld with his music and he was allowed entrance.  Orpheus then met Hades god of the Underworld and his wife Persephone.

His music moved Hades so much, that Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice back with him to the world of the living where there was light.  Hades set the condition that both Orpheus and Eurydice were forbidden to look back.  Orpheus led and Eurydice who was now a mere shadow of a woman followed closely behind him.  They headed out of the cave to leave the Underworld where she would become whole again.  Only a few feet away from the exit, Orpheus lost his faith and turned to see if his wife was still following him, looking back a moment too soon, he watched Eurydice fall back to the Underworld, and her beauty was now lost forever.  This story is also very similar to that of Abraham’s nephew Lot where he and his family were allowed to escape Sodom as long as they did not look back.  Lot’s wife was curious and she did look back at the destruction of Sodom and she was turned into a pillar of salt.

The woman in this song is able to bring gloom out of Dylan’s life because she has these supernatural God-like powers, “She can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black.”  She’s also an artist, which makes her a creator this being another God-like quality.  Since she is able to “take the dark out of the night time and paint the daytime black”, maybe she created the universe, saying, “Let there be light” and she made the world revolve so people would have night and day.  A further indication that she might have some Devine powers is that she never stumbles because her being infallible, “She’s got no place to fall”.  Another line in this song says, “The Law can’t touch her”, and here ‘Law’ is capitalized which may to refer to the Law of Moses.

This song could also be about Suze Rotolo, who was an American artist and author and she was also Bob Dylan’s girlfriend from 1961 to 1964.  The English artist, journalist and political activist Caroline Coon said that Dylan wrote the song about her.  You never know what to make out of any Dylan song, as even after a thorough dissection of his lyrics, it usually ends up as a useless pursuit of trying to explain something that is much more enjoyable if you just listen to it.  The girl in ‘She Belongs to Me’ has everything and she “wears an Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks”.  I guess that every supermodel has everything that they need, because men want to give them everything, bow down to them and make their birthday’s special.

I enjoy trying to analyze lyrics and there is nothing more challenging than Bob Dylan songs.  I will take a stab at, “steal her anything she sees”, meaning that he desires this woman so much that he is willing to do anything for her.  The line “peeking through her keyhole”, could mean that he wants to see her naked.  “She’s a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique”, probably means that she has him mesmerized and he feels that he is too old for her.  I could be wrong about all of this, but I enjoy trying to guess anyway, although I am not going to try and analyze the trumpet and the drum line at the end of this song, however if somebody has an explanation, I would love to hear it.  Everyone seems to rave about the symmetrical 12 bar blues lines in this song and Bob did explore the blues in more creative ways in his younger days than he does now.

She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist
She don’t look back
She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist
She don’t look back
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees
But you’ll wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees
She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall
She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall
She’s nobody’s child, the Law can’t touch her at all
She wears an Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks
She wears an Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks
She’s a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique.
Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Arms/Elbows/Knees/Legs.

13 thoughts on “On Your Knees Supplicating to a Woman

  1. Bravo on your write up on this song, Jim. I enjoy your trying to decipher Zimmy’s lyrics, and you’re right, your guess is as good as anyone’s. What I see is that he worships her from a casual (emotional) distance at first, then really falls under her spell. She, she’s used to being a goddess. With the two lines at the end, he’s hoping she says something real to him as if he matters to her. Alas, these types of relationships always fizzle, as neither one is fit for a relationship… How’s that for an interpretation?

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  2. p.s. the drum is a metaphor for the heart. Also, I liked your interjection of the Orpheus story, it was a perfect complement to it. What a sad sad ending. He almost got her out 😦

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    1. Thanks and I can see that the drum beats like a heart and maybe the trumpet is there, because he blew it with their relationship. I don’t think that the Lot story ended any better, so it is probably not a good thing to look back when you are told not to do that.

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  3. Many times just a line will attract me to a song… She can take the dark out of the nighttime, and paint the daytime black
    Did it for me. Some of his songs were really simple but the meaning could be so much…or nothing at all.

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