Bob Dylan Countdown #127: “Queen Jane Approximately”

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.”


4 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #127: “Queen Jane Approximately””

  1. wardo says:

    I want to like this song more than I do. Ultimately, that horribly out of tune guitar is just too jarring. The version on Dylan & The Dead is one of the redeeming qualities of that particular collection.

  2. diana says:

    This is one of my all time favorite Bob songs. I don’t really hear it as a broken heart/relationship/unrequited love song though. experience the narrator as a confidant- closer than a “best friend”- to Queen Jane who is or will be troubled by the betrayals, abandonments and traumatic disappointments of life- as we all are.

    Here is someone who is basically saying “I’m here for you- I know what those clowns are like- I know how- if given the chance- bandits will rob you of your very self when you are kind to them-and when that happens-come see me- I’ve been in that crucible and there is comfort (?) here.” In a way it reminds me of “To Ramona” though the feel of Ramona seems more romantic.- Also “I’ll Keep It With Mine” comes to mind though the tone of that one is not so far reaching into the depths with its offer of shelter. It seems more impersonal- but I love that song as well for its good intentions and kindness- and Bob’s vocals on the outtake are just fantastic.

    Anyway I digress… Jane, the character can be seen as a lover, ex or otherwise, a good friend or even as a part of the self that is the experiencer in the world- the part of us that forgets “who we are” what we are doing in the world and occasionally gets drawn into situations and relationships that are either inappropriate or even destructive to our being-ness, The narrator then can be seen as the inner witness or the internal core that wants to lead us back and make sense of the ugliness and injustices we’ve experienced- and worse have been complicit in the perpetration and perpetuation of. Also- ALL of the characters and the narrator can all be seen as archetypes of inner internal facets of the self of Jane- in a Jungian kind of way.

    On the other hand- perhaps Mr D. is really saying- hey- when this crap goes down come see me- listen to my songs- recognize your self and experiences and take heart.

    And isn’t that the enduring beauty of Bob and his work? We each hear our own self experience in his songs- no matter what he “meant”. We each experience our own inner AHA of meaning according to our own inner life of the moment- and almost unbelievably 20 or 30 or 45 plus years later the same song- a song we may have heard hundreds of times opens up a new place in us.
    Bob said in an interview once that words change, they don’t mean the same thing they did years ago. We experience life and we change and thankfully so do Dylan’s words… whatever he meant is less important than what we hear/experience.

    Thanks for the work you do with these songs. I read them but rarely comment. Queen Jane is a favorite and you got me inspired! I haven’t written in my blog for over a year. Hope you don’t mind but I’m going to cross post this to my blog. (Not that I have any readers at this point! lol

    • countdownkid says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words and the insight. The best thing about wriitng this is hearing from fans like you who care just as much about the music as I do. It’s funny you should say “when this crap goes down” in reference to this song, because I almost referenced “When The Deal Goes Down” when I wrote the entry. Hope you keep reading and commenting, whether you agree or disgaree.

  3. I agree with the vocal on the out-take… the sutained ‘arrgh, arrgh’ – sounds so much like the narrator is in empathy, feeling someone elses pain.

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