Bob Dylan Countdown #127: “Queen Jane Approximately”Posted: February 13, 2012
Perhaps you’ll note that I have this song just two spots ahead of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” on the countdown. It’s no accident; I’ve always heard these two tracks from Highway 61 Revisited as very close musical relations. The tempo is the same, the piano is the prominent instrument each time, Dylan’s voice has almost the same tone, and his harmonica solos punctuate both.
The lyrical dexterity is just as accomplished in both, and both keep their true meanings shaded in the evocative language. Pressed to separate them, I went with “Queen Jane Approximately” because it has a bit more emotion behind it than the shaggy-dog troubles found in “Tom Thumb.”
Many people hear “Queen Jane Approximately” as an accusatory song of sorts, Dylan dressing down this girl surrounded by deceptive sycophants and self-interested suitors. I hear an expression of love from a kindred spirit. Even as the narrator performs a pretty trenchant character study on this almost-but-not-quite queen, he ultimately, genuinely wants her company again. Kind of like the Don Henley song “Boys Of Summer,” this guy will still be here after all the pretenders are gone.
Of course, there’s no assurance in either song that the girl will eventually make it back to the guy who has her best intentions at heart. Therein lies the heartbreak of “Queen Jane Approximately,” and of many relationships of that ilk: Not only is damage done to the one who has loved and lost, but damage is being done to the one who is poised to end up with the wrong companion.
Again, it’s always fun to play Guess Who’s Who with Dylan songs, trying to match up his real-life acquaintances with his song’s characters. (Dylan threw all the speculators a curve ball in an interview once when he suggested that Queen Jane was actually a man.) Playing such games, however, usually leads you down a fascinating but futile rabbit hole when analyzing his songs.
The main thing that I take away from “Queen Jane Approximately” is that this guy is steadfast in his devotion, even if it is not returned. Advisers, clowns, bandits, family members, and flower ladies come and go, but he’ll be there, awaiting her return. If she doesn’t come back, he can always sing “Tom Thumb’s Blues.”