Meaning of Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan & Story

When Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, a flurry of criticism fell upon the Swedish Academy. Representatives of the committee explained that the musician was awarded the prestigious award for “creating a new poetic language within the great American song tradition,” but many of their arguments seemed unconvincing.

Can it be argued that there were more deserving candidates? Maybe. Let’s not delve into the motives that prompted the Academy to give the award to Dylan. He is indeed a great poet, who composed many thoughtful and original works, which for several decades determined the direction of development of author’s song.

More than convincing confirmation of this is the composition Tangled Up in Blue, to which the article is devoted.

The story of creation and the meaning of Tangled Up in Blue

According to writer and journalist Ron Rosenbaum, Dylan told him that he wrote Tangled Up in Blue after listening to Joni Mitchell’s Blue album one summer in Minnesota one summer in 1974.

The source of inspiration for the author was the difficult relationship with his wife Sarah, which eventually ended in divorce, and the changes in his life. So the song is apparently based on personal experience.

True, Dylan later writes in the Chronicle book:

I even recorded an entire album based on Chekhov’s stories. The critics thought it was autobiographical, which is great.

Chronicles Bob Dylan

Dylan scholars also believe that he wrote the song as a result of being inspired by Norman Raenen’s art classes that Bob attended in New York.

Dylan never clarified the meaning of the name Tangled Up in Blue. It is most logical to assume that the word blue in this context means sadness, a depressed mood. To many Dylan fans, this interpretation seems too simple and superficial. Fans point to many other possible meanings: the aforementioned Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, cubism, heroin, and so on.

The text is told without chronological order.

The author described a similar style of presentation:

Its peculiarity is that there is a code in the words. Also, there is no sense of time. It is not recognized. You have yesterday, today and tomorrow in the same place, and you can imagine almost anything.

Rolling Stone 1978

Dylan also said:

I was just trying to make it look like a painting where you first see the individual parts and then you also see the whole thing.

Synopsis for the Biograph album

When introducing the song live, Bob Dylan said that it took him ten years of life and two years of work to write Tangled Up in Blue. Performing the composition live, the musician often changed different lines.


Dylan recorded the original version of Tangled Up in Blue in New York in September 1974. On December 30, he re-recorded the song at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In Minnesota, guest guitarist/singer Kevin Odegard suggested some changes to the piece:

On the second night, December 30, we started with Tangled Up in Blue. She was good in the key of G. After writing it down, we sat down for a minute. Bob lit a cigarette, turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” […] I said, “Go.” He said: “Will it go? What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, I think it would be great if we all went up from salt to la. I think she would become more powerful, determined and tense. He looked down for a minute and my heart almost stopped. In the end, he said, “Let’s try.”

This version was included on the album Blood on the Tracks.

Release and achievements

In January 1975, Tangled Up in Blue was released as a single. On the Billboard Hot 100, the song peaked at number thirty-one.

Rolling Stone included it in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Watch the music video for Tangled Up in Blue – Bob Dylan.

Cover versions

The composition was performed by many famous musicians. Let’s listen to some cover versions. First Tangled Up in Blue by Jerry Garcia.

Tangled Up in Blue by Joan Osborne

Interesting Facts

  • The song was featured on the soundtrack of the 2012 movie People Like Us.

Tangled Up in Blue Lyrics Bob Dylan

Early one mornin’1 the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
tangled up in blue

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 walking away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened 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 saw a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
tangled up in blue

She was working in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept looking at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in the back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered something underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe2
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century3
And every one of them words rank true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you4
tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air5
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

So now I’m going back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
tangled up in blue


  • Early in the Morning – an old folk song about broken love
  • A hint of drug use?
  • Dante Alighieri and Beatrice?
  • A reference to the song The Beatles – From Me to You?
  • A reference to The Beatles’ Revolution?
  • An allusion to Geoffrey Chaucer’s story about the unfaithful carpenter’s wife? A synonym for the phrase “Christ’s bride”?
  • A reference to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?


Bob Dylan Tangled Up in Blue Lyrics Alternative

One early morning the sun was shining.
I lay in bed
Wondering if she’s changed even a little
Does she still have red hair?
Her relatives said that our life together,
Of course it would be hard.
They never made their own dresses like my mom did.
And my dad’s bank account wasn’t big enough.
And I was standing on the sidelines
Under the pouring rain
Heading East.
God knows, along the way I paid for everything,
Caught up in the blues.

She was married when we met
But soon divorced.
I helped her get out of trouble
But I overdid it a little.
We drove in a car
Leaving her somewhere in the West.
On a sad dark night we parted
Agree that it would be better.
She turned around and looked at me
When I was leaving.
I heard her words thrown after me:
“Someday we’ll meet on the avenue”
And bogged down in the blues.

I took a job in the great forests of the North
Where he worked as a cook.
But I never really liked it
And one day my patience ran out.
I headed to New Orleans
Where did I get a job
On a fishing boat
Right next to Delacroix.
But all the time I was alone
The past was behind me.
I have seen many women
But she never left my mind, and I still
Got stuck in the blues.

She worked at a strip bar
Where did I go for a beer?
I kept looking at the other side of her face
That was so clearly lit.
And later, when the crowd thinned out,
I was about to do the same.
She was behind me
And she said, “I don’t know your name, do I?”
I muttered something holding my breath.
She peered into my features.
I must admit I was a little embarrassed
When she bent down to tie my shoelaces
Caught up in the blues.

She lit the stove burner
And offered to light a pipe.
“I thought you would never say hello,” she said. –
“You sound like a dumbass.”
Then she opened a collection of poems
And handed it to me.
It was written by an Italian poet
Thirteenth century.
And they all sounded sincere
And they burned like a burning coal.
They poured from all pages,
Like they were written in my soul for you
Stuck in the blues

I lived with them on Montague Street
In the basement under the stairs.
At night, music played in the cafe,
And revolution was in the air.
Then he began to deal with slaves,
And something inside him died.
She was forced to sell everything she owned
And she fell into a stupor.
In the end, when everything collapsed,
I became unsociable.
The only thing I could do
It’s moving on like a bird in flight
Caught up in the blues.

And now I’m going back
I need to see her somehow.
All the people we knew
They became an illusion for me.
Some are mathematicians
Others are carpenters’ wives.
I don’t know how it all started.
I don’t know how they spend their lives.
But I, I’m still on the road
I’m heading to another place.
We shared the same feelings
But they looked at life from different points of view,
Caught up in the blues.

Song Quotes

The most dazzling text ever written, an abstract relationship story told in a formless mix of first and third person, mixing past, present and future…

The Telegraph

… nothing less than a masterpiece of music and poetry … one of the greatest works of art of the modern era.


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