Dylan and Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower

As PS launches, we will be looking more at the interaction between art and science. This article about a Dylan song, covered by Jimmy Hendrix, caught my eye.

The lyrics discuss the timeless story of liberation:

There must be some kind of way outta here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief
Business men, they drink my wine
Plowman dig my earth
None were level on the mind
Nobody up at his word
Hey, hey

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 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

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women 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

The article, I think, gets the interpretation correct. This seems like the song for our moment. I wonder if we are the thief: cast as the villains outside the gates, deemed enemies of the watchtower. We are approaching with a different set of values. We hope for a better way. Or are we really just a thief?

What do you think will happen when the two riders reach the Watchtower?


EDITING: not sure what I ended up with is on topic … I may delete.

… This new scene is populated with princes, women, and barefoot servants, establishing a time and place in the past, although again using enduring, archetypal figures. …

I’m not so sure Dylan was referring to the past. It seems to fit the political landscape surrounding the Vietnam war, and today’s politics too. There is no shortage of princes, or servants in poverty.

American Pie references the Jester, probably another reference to Dylan.

The Jester? Jack Flash? What do American Pie's lyrics mean?


Part of the poetic genius was to use archetypal figures (princes, servants, thief, jester) with enough details to ground them in reality. This makes the story timeless, but also real. We know the story is of the past, the present and the future.

The theme of Rock and Roll is liberation, the move from oppression to freedom. Oppression arises again and again. Part of the Fallen world is to be trapped in this cycle. The move to authentic liberation is always risky. The move to authentic liberty simultaneously goes against the nature of society, and affirms the deepest reality of who we are. The wildness of the wildcat’s roar is worthwhile, even if freedom can only be temporary in a fallen world.

Two true masters of the arts collaborating on one of my all-time favorites. I appreciate the analysis of the lyrics, it goes beyond what I’d considered before.

As far as PS, I think we are a bit joker, as well as a bit thief. There has certainly been some confusion (necessary or not) between popular interpretations of the Bible and scientific evidence that we have waded through for a long time.

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There are other opinions on what the lyrics actually are, notably this:

Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth

That, at least, has what I’ve always heard Hendrix to be saying.

Those are the lyrics I remember, too. Apparently, there are at least two versions? The lyrics in the linked video are the same as in the OP.

As Hendrix said, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy”.

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I always thought it was “Princess Mandy, drink my wine, come and dig my herb” :blush: So thanks for posting this lol. Never know what you’re going to learn here. Interesting piece! For me also a favorite I never really thought about before. Maybe I should have listened to the Dylan version more :slight_smile: