Bob Dylan Countdown #129: “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

No one else has ever made a series of calamities sound so alluring in song as Bob Dylan. While you sympathize with his characters in songs like “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” you also can’t help envy them their experiences, as damaging as they might have been. Anyway, these harried individuals lived to tell the tale, so it couldn’t be all bad.

It helps that the music that carries the guy along in this Highway 61 revisited classic is so elegantly sorrowful. It floats along on a bed of tinkling pianos and watery guitars, and that irrigation is definitely necessary because this guy sounds parched after his time in Juarez, Mexico. Not so much physically parched, since he makes clear in the last verse that he uses alcohol to get him through his hard times, but spiritually parched, for sure.

And what are the things that can bring a guy like this one to such a sad state? Women like Saint Annie and Sweet Melinda, mysterious enough to draw you in and cunning enough to leave you helpless, voiceless, and in need of medical assistance. Once you get by them, there are a bevy of schemers and rounders in positions of authority with no sympathy for an out-of-towner invading on their turf.

In the last verse, Dylan’s metaphorical card game turns up a hand almost as bad as aces and eights. What he draws leaves him with nothing left to do but turn tail and head back to the Big Apple. It’s hard to say whether all of these calamities befell him over the course of a year or a day, but it is certain that the scars will last for quite a while.

Still, the mischievous sense of humor suggests that this guy might not be all that bad off after his Mexican holiday. I always get the feeling listening that he’d jump right back on a plane if he had the chance to do so. Dylan clearly had this in mind with “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” These blues are so romantic, you’d sing them in a heartbeat if you could.

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