Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower Meaning
Song Released: 1968
Covered By: Jimi Hendrix (1968)
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All Along the Watchtower Lyrics
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
anonymous Nov 11th, 2017 11:19pm report
Dylan masterpiece lyrically, Hendrix masterpiece musically.
Thanks be to God
Jimi Hendrix fully understood the meaning of this song and exalted it into the position it deserves in the musical community.
It must be frustrating to write as Dylan does and to have such straightforward lyrics so misunderstood; probably why he does not like to comment on them.
Seems obvious if you read the Bible; old and new testament.
The song is a conversation between Jesus and the devil.
Jesus is the thief, the devil is the joker
There must be some kind of way out of here said the joker to the thief, there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. business men they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth, all of them along the line don't know what any of it is worth.
the devil is complaining to Jesus that there must be some way out of here, here being earth, he cannot get any relief, no satisfaction from the humans who use his earthly domain... all along the line refers to the human generational line since Noah, guess the devil expected more exaltation and credit than he has been getting..haha
No reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke, there are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke, but you and I we've been through that, and this is not our fate. so let us stop talking falsely now, the hour's getting late.
The thief is Jesus. Mark chapter 13, watch I shall come as a thief in the night, the Joker is the devil. It is a conversation between the devil and Jesus. Jesus tells the Devil... stop getting excited you are not gonna sway me or get any symapathy. many on earth think life is a joke, one big party not taking their life or what came before or after them serious. The devil thought he made a good deal getting domain of the earth and Jesus did not take him up on the deal when he rejected the devils offer to have all the earthly materials and domain if He rejected his Father when he was tempted on the mount. So Jesus reminds the devil that this is not our fate, you made your deal there is no way out of it or here, so stop talking falsely, the devil is the master of lies and the hour is getting late is reminding the devil that his time of earthly domain is not going to last too much longer before Christs return to take back the earth through the promise of the Lord.
All along the watchtower princes kept the view, while all the woman came and went, barefoot servants too, outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl, two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl
This lyric refers to the watchers of Christs return, the Princes keep a vigil while the people come and go on their daily business protected by those who keep the Lords watch. barefoot servants represents a humbling due to an arrogant nation and people.
Two riders represent the start of the Apocalypse as told In Revelations of the great battle against the anti Christ (the devil) and Christs return to take dominion of his people and the Earth and to fulfill his Father's the Lord's promise.
the devil knows his time is short and Jesus is not letting him out of the deal.
Nobody could have written this so simply and clearly in my opin as Mr. Dylan
Thank you Mr.Dylan
anonymous Nov 22nd, 2011 11:18am report
As the song opens, the thief comforts the Joker by telling him that, while many people think that life is but a joke, he and the Joker know that it is very wrong to consider life to be nothing more meaningful than that. So the first 'puzzle' in the song is: Why does the thief think that the Joker would find it revolting to equate life with jokes? Don't Jokers like jokes?
Who is the Joker, anyway?
In Tarot cards, the Joker card represents Jesus Christ, holding him up to ridicule as a fool. This corresponds to those who mocked Jesus before and during his crucifixion.
As the song begins, Jesus is on the cross next to the 'good thief' who recognizes Jesus as the Savior. Jesus is suffering his moment of doubt, talking about a "way out of here", "too much confusion", and complaining about the unworthy people he is about to sacrifice himself for ("Businessmen" who "drink his wine", "plowmen" who "dig his earth", and others who don't know "what any of it is worth".)
The thief reminds Jesus of their fate, using religious language ("Let us not talk falsely now"). He says that "the hour is getting late", that is, they are near death, but a death that will lead to resurrection and Judgment Day.
The final stanza shifts the scene to a city guarded by prices in a watch tower. To understand the song, it is necessary to understand the reference to the ancient city of Babylon (whose name means "confusion").
Babylon has long held a place among many religions as a symbol of excess and immoral power. Many references are made to Babylon in the Bible, both literally and allegorically.
The people in Babylon had believed that they were safe from attack because the city was protected, according to the historian Herodotus, by two sets of inner and outer walls. The fall of Babylon came suddenly when the Medes and the Persians overran the city in a night attack in 539 B.C., attacking during a festival celebrated by the city's lords, so that the normal watch kept on the walls was not observed.
The imagery in the song's final stanza regarding the "Watch Tower" and the "Princes" come from a biblical reference in Isaiah to the fall of Babylon:
"Prepare the table,
watch in the watch-tower,
Arise, ye princes,
and anoint the shield."
So, putting it all together, we have this:
Christ (mocked as a 'Joker' by unworthy people) and the thief are dying on the cross. After their death and Resurrection, Judgment Day is at hand, as intuitively sensed by nature itself ("A wildcat did growl. . .The wind began to howl"). Christ and the thief symbolically return ("Two riders were approaching") and destroy the city of man in an Apocalypse for its worldly excesses. The song is a parable, a warning, about the type of life we choose to live. That choice, often made thoughtlessly and treated lightly, is not a joke; instead, it is the most serious decision we have to make.
Some puzzles in the song remain. Note that the Joker (the Christ figure in my analysis) is speaking the language of a street person ("I can't get no relief") and is very agitated, while it is the thief who is "kindly", and who is talking in religious language (talking about "fate" and saying things like "let us not talk falsely now"). The identities of the Joker and the thief appear to be reversed. Perhaps this identity-reversal is part of the "confusion", or perhaps Dylan is saying that even a "common thief" can understand the righteous true path of God, something that totally eludes the "elite Princes" in society.
By the way, it is worth noting that in the version of this song recorded by Jimi Hendrix, Hexdrix musically depicts the death and resurrection after the second stanza by a falling and then rising guitar sound (it sounds like a metal spring dropping down and then bouncing back up). Also, in the Hexdrix version, as the Apocalypse takes place (after all stanzas have been sung), Henxdrix plays a rising scale, culminating in a single high note played rapidly and repeatedly. This provides a "picture", in music, of the Apocalyptic events taking place, without having any explicit description of it in the lyrics.
So, Dylan (the Joker) and Albert Grossman (his manager, the Thief) are in a car heading to the Columbia business offices in Rockefeller Center for new contract talks. Dylan can't stand the situation. He feels unappreciated and misused by the CBS bureaucracy.
"There must be someway out of here", said the Joker to the Thief. "There's too much confusion. I can't get no relief. Businessmen they drink my wine; plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
His manager calms him down: "No reason to get excited", the Thief he kindly spoke. "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I we've been through that and this is not OUR fate. So let us not speak falsely now, the hour is getting late."
Then the scene shifts to the offices where they're expected, filled with junior execs, secretaries, etc. and the sirens of the city streets can be heard outside.
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, while all the women came and went, their foot-servants, too. Outside in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching. The wind began to howl.
anonymous Nov 29th, 11:23pm report
Nope. All wrong. It’s about the cloning centers in the underground DUMBS. Dylan was clear on a video that he had sold his soul to the devil for fame and fortune. Selling your soul means half of your life is spent at these horrifying underground places. The sleeping half. These centers are everywhere. The celebrities all go to a particular center where the royal family of England presides. What goes on there is horrible beyond your wildest dreams. This is the price for fame and fortune and no one—NO ONE—achieves success without signing up for this. Many celebrities ( especially rappers) have talked about it. How do I know? A relative got sucked into this nightmare and talked about it 25 years ago. He was dead shortly thereafter at age 40 of nothing.
anonymous Oct 18th, 10:10pm report
Here's my take. …. The song I think is about a joker and a thief talking but also is a larger metaphor about birth and death.
“There must be some way out of here” is a statement about the current predicament of being a part to a robbery and also is a greater statement relating to days before and to life in general. “Said the joker to the thief” both a joker and a thief are outsiders in a society. A joker takes in the society and pokes fun at it and a thief steps apart from society to form their own rules. “there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief” just going into what he's going to be talking about but also is a statement about the time, the sixties. “Business men – they drink my wine” business men are greedy and live the life they live. “plowmen dig my earth” poor people work away and have their own perspectives. “None of them along the line” “Know what it is worth” No body from the poorest person to the richest person has any idea of the true worth of things, of life, of ideals.
“No reason to get excited” “The thief – he kindly spoke” The thief is responding by kindly saying that he doesn't need to worry, the situation of the robbery it well be OK and so well life in general. “There are many here among us” the other people of this world and of the robbery “who feel that life is but a joke” the idea that life is but a joke is a point of philosophy by people like Allen Watts, popular in the sixties. By making this statement the thief is responding to the jokers statement about all the confusion and of the state of things. “But you and I we've been through that” “And this is not our fate” The thief is making a statement of their shared level of realization. “So let us not talk falsely now” when you know a truth and recognize that another is not yet there often it is the case that it is more helpful to make small nudges as apposed to telling the full truth because often what happens if instead the full truth is shared then it in its totality well be rejected because the other person simply isn't ready for it; for this reason, quite often when someone is not at the same level of realization it can become helpful to talk in half truths. For the joker and the thief what is being said is that they are on the same level and the thief is suggesting that they go talk directly about the state of things. “The hour's getting late” they left the robbery, nothing happened, and they went to talk late into the night about deep thoughts that not all would understand.
“All along the watchtower” I'm a bit uncertain about the last eight lines of the song but it may be a statement about it all. The watchtower could be heaven looking down. “Princess kept their view” princess could be like permanent (meaning they no longer reincarnate to earth) astral beings such as angels, and kept their view could refer to them not getting involved in the drama outside of heaven. “While all the women came and went” “Bare-foot servants too” similar to the beginning of the song it could be a contrast between two classes but each, as in the beginning of the song, still only possess an equivalent amount of knowledge/ignorance and so they came and went, where reincarnated back to earth again and again until one day they well reach higher levels of realization to break free of the cycle of Earthly birth and death. “Outside in the cold distance” outside of the watchtower/perhaps heaven, meaning earth; in the cold distance is a statement about life on earth. “A wild cat did growl” a statement about the wild nature of the world, rules of the jungle. “Two riders were approaching” painting a scene which involves the listener, tieing in the human element. “And the wind began to howl, hey” and the drama of Earthly life continues.
Dillon says the women came and went instead of the men and women came and went simply because he doesn't have to because the first and final verse relate to one another in that they talk about the states of different classes of worldly people, and the first verse is all mescaline and the final verse is all feminine so he is really talking about men and women in both verses.
anonymous Feb 20th, 2019 2:07pm report
The two riders are Jesus and death. They have both “been through all that” and “this is not OUR fate.”
They are the riders of the apocalypse (death rides a pale horse) Jesus laments the fate of mankind “there must be someway out of here” Death reminds, “there are many here among us who feel that LIFE is but a joke.” There are no other characters, there is no scene change. The narrative is just out of sequence like a Tarantino movie.
The Joker (Jesus) speaks with death (the thief) as they ride toward the the watchtower (humanity).
They are not on the wall of the watchtower they are the riders that are approaching.
anonymous Sep 16th, 2018 9:11am report
You are all interpreting the song wrong. It's purpose is to ridicule Jesus for the glory of the synagogue of satan so they can rejoice.
To the jews, Jesus is a bastard, product of a whore and a roman soldier. It's just like the american flag that 'must' be shown in every film but you brainwashed people do not realise yet WHY.
anonymous Jun 9th, 2018 6:10pm report
All of the previous are bullshit maan. EOS
anonymous Jul 29th, 2017 7:26pm report
Let's get this out of the way right up front: anybody who thinks they can actually analyze Dylan lyrics with absolute certainty is either a liar or a fool. So, given that fact, I will now humbly take my shot at what I think this song is about.
The song is from John Wesley Harding, Dylan's first album after the motorcycle crash in 1966 that nearly killed him. One would imagine that Bob, stuck in his hospital room, spent a lot of time thinking deep thoughts. Thought not necessarily a man of faith at that time, surely religious matters worked their way into the mix.
The overall theme is Biblical in nature. I've read a lot of interpretations, and most agree that it has to do with Jesus and the two thieves hanging on the cross. But from there, they go off in all directions.
Several say the verses are deliberately out of order. The third verse should begin the song, followed by the first and second. This nicely sets up the “Two Riders” as the Joker and Thief, who come into town and get crucified.
Nice idea, but why would Dylan do that? No one has a good reason, instead resorting to the usual “Bob messing with our heads” excuse. He certainly was known to do that, but it's a cop out. With the right interpretation, the verses make perfect sense just as they are.
The song collapses the story of Christianity, past present and future, into a single scene. Jesus has been crucified, man has forsaken God, and Judgment Day is coming.
There must be some way out of here
Said the Joker to the Thief
The Joker is Jesus. Dylan was fond of card imagery, and the card usually represents a mysterious character (an image used again in Highway 61 Revisited)
Speculation: Why the Joker? Is He the wild card? Does His role change depending on the game?
Two thieves were crucified along with Jesus; one chose redemption and the other did not. We assume Jesus is talking to the "good" thief.
Jesus wants to get off the cross. What's the reason? He's not satisfied with the job He did. He knows what's coming (see last verse), and He wants to save these poor sinners while there's still time. He can't rest until his job is done. Hence:
There's too much confusion,
I can't get no relief
Businessmen they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
But none of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth
The Catholic holy sacraments, His blood and body, are used for mundane purposes. The wine (blood) is just a refreshment for businessmen. Wheat, the ingredients for the wafer (body), is grown by simple farmers for their own sustenance. This is a nice contrast: from the rich (businessmen) to the poor (plowmen), all ignore His message.
No reason to get excited
The Thief he kindly spoke
There are many here among us
Who think that life is but a joke
What an irony. Instead of the other way around, the Thief is telling Jesus to keep the faith. He admits that most of the population don't appreciate the holiness of life.
Why do the words "Joker" and "joke" appear so close in the song? Is there a connection? Maybe, but it could just be Bob reaching for a rhyme.
But you and I we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late
The Thief, being a mere mortal, may not really "get" Jesus. He thinks Jesus is afraid he'll be branded a sinner and punished. He tries to reassure Jesus that they'll be ok, because they'll be saved. But Jesus had better hurry up and get Himself straightened out, because they know what's coming.
All along the watchtower
Princes kept their view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too
Man thinks he rules the world. The people should look to The Princes for protection, not God. The Princes control both the good and the evil. "All the women" are the prostitutes, who represent evil (sexist, but it was 1967, after all). The "barefoot servants", i.e. humble servants of The Lord, are the pious, and the Princes think they control them as well. Why, just look how they took care of that troublemaker Jesus.
Outside in the distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl
But trouble, Big Trouble, is on the way. Jesus' Daddy is coming and boy, is He pissed.
Things are getting ominous out there (the wildcat's growl). God's messengers, the Two Riders, come into view. The wind starts to howl. Judgment Day is at hand.
A note: in The Bible, God is never seen. Because His presence can not truly be comprehended by Mortal Man, He represents Himself by unusual occurrences of natural phenomena. A classic example is Moses and the burning bush. I mention this because God's voice is commonly described as emerging from "out of a whirlwind". Ending the song with the wind is a very nice metaphor. You Know Who is coming.
So that's about it. He packed quite a bit into those three little verses, didn't he?
A final disclaimer: This is Bob Dylan we're talking about, so what do I know? Maybe it's about baseball.
anonymous Mar 20th, 2016 3:41pm report
It's a song about Victor Frankenstein and his creature...the joker and the theif. Theme: don't play God.
anonymous Jul 20th, 2014 7:43am report
The Joker is Dylan as an entertainer.The thief is time. Businessmen are the producers and all people who are making money off of his work. Common man are the fans who pay to see him entertain.The thief/time tells him stop talking falsely or stop complaining because he has becoming famous and immortalized. His songs will live for ever. But his time is running out the hour is getting late . Watchtower is the system. Princes is the government. Barefoot and pregnant are single or widowed women. Servants are the working poor. Wildcat roaring is the alarm
For the end of everything.The 2 riders; Death is coming and Hell shall follow.
anonymous Sep 24th, 2012 9:43am report
Its a play using spectacular imagery creation [ my favourite on a bob song ]on the interprtive nature of religious belief. It uses biblical imagery or sentences that are to those from historically judeo-christian backgrounds likely to conjure images of the horsemen of apocolepse, jesus and the thief on the cross, the scene immediatly after the crucifiction etc etc.
Beyond this simply my own interpretation is that It references the in justices of western society in which we live, the injust authourity of the powers that be in the watchtowers, the expliotation of the people by those with power in princes and businessmen. The forced acceptance of life as a joke in the face of these expliotations and religious or otherworldly influence we cant understand. However justice is in the western religious tradition in hand with the writers who come to analyse this situation, the bad cat growl omen and the horsemen of the apocolepse.
I think it reflects bob at this time studying judeo-christian tradition and wanting to believe in something and truly believeing in some coming justice but not being truly convinced of the christian interpretaion.
but primarily as an image inducing poem it produces for me haunting biblical and apolcoliptic imagery.
anonymous Mar 12th, 2012 3:39pm report
The wild cat would be satan. The two riders would be jesus, and the thief heading for paradise
while all the Religious comments have merit, i was at a dylan concert in1991. it was in Danbury,Ct. on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Dylan was more talkative then i have ever heard before or after. Maybe it was because it was outdoors and the smell of burgers, etc, and a few illegal cigarettes made him talk. when the band started playing the intro Dylan said, this next song is from my prison years. it seemed to me that he was referring to the years when he lived in Woodstock, NY and fans would walk up to his door and start talking to him. the watch tower might have referred to the added security that would be needed until he moved the family back to NYC and they started pouring through his garbage. the joker is Dylan see American pie, and the thief were the press and fans who would follow him around like fleas on a dirty dog. He later sang another prison song "I shall be released" later in the show , introducing it as another prison song. as great as he is, the one thing he can never attain is privacy so in effect his whole life since '63 has been a prison for him
The Joker and the thief are the same person, who sees things from two different perspectives: 1) one who sees the absurdity of our system, totally corrupt and misled, wasting resources in a system that's run on greed, politics, nepotism and wastefulness, and 2) one who realizes that the system is all there is and like it or not, he has a stake in it and must use it to get what he can for himself and those he supports.
The princes keeping the view are those who own the most and have it under control, watching two characters; probably the joker and the thief approaching the storehouse of their wealth.
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