Bob Dylan Countdown #125: “You’re A Big Girl Now”

When Bob Dylan famously said that he couldn’t understand how anybody could enjoy Blood On The Tracks because he couldn’t see people “enjoying that kind of pain,” “You’re A Big Girl Now” was probably the song that was foremost on his mind. (“Idiot Wind” likely was a close second.)

The immediacy of that pain is startling to hear, made plain when Dylan yelps out “oh, oh” in the middle of each verse. Those cries are part primal scream, part anguished howl, but they are all unfettered emotion. No hiding behind wordplay or imagery here; it’s all laid bare. As a result, those guttural sounds are some of the most affecting moments on an album full of them.

They also come out of nowhere, rising from the nondescript melodic opening lines of each verse. The sudden outbursts are definitely symptomatic of a “pain that stops and starts” and are the aural equivalents of “a corkscrew to my heart.” As soon as he lets out those yells, a spent Dylan can hardly croak out the remaining lines of each stanza.

The titular phrase is both a statement of fact and a melancholy affirmation of the separation between the narrator and the girl. He’s not necessarily saying that she has grown in terms of maturity, but he is definitely saying that she has grown apart from him. That becomes even clearer when he reveals the final cut:  “I know where I can find you, oh,oh/In somebody’s room.”

“You’re A Big Girl Now” ranks among the rawest musical moments in Dylan’s storied career. He has denied that the song was about his wife Sara, not that he would ever admit to it anyway. As ever, the identities behind the songs are trivial compared with what those songs reveal about the performer and evoke in the listener. It may be hard to hear them, but those cathartic cries convey a lifetime’s worth of emotions without ever forming a word.

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3 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #125: “You’re A Big Girl Now””

  1. wardo says:

    The Biograph version (aka the New York version) is just plain stunning. I can’t say I enjoy his pain, but I could relate. And that’s what makes him so good.

  2. By the way. I really like the concept of this blog. I love the Hard Rain version. The song works on two levels for me. The personal and on the general level of sexual politics… The sexual political movements of the seventies emphasising challenges to the nuclear family and monogamy… indeed, these ideas were generally a part of the California cultural milleau. It’s teh era of swinging and wife swapping that Dylan rails against only a few years later on most of the Slow Train songs ~ “You’ll say ‘everybodys doin it/So I guess it can’t be wrong'” and “Pormography in the schools” “When you’re tired of miss so-and-so I got another woman for ya”


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