Five minutes and fifty-eight seconds: This is “Ballad Of A Thin Man” by Bob Dylan. I wanted to post it partly so I could reprint this great Frank Kogan exegesis from an obscure comments box on one of my other blogs (bold mine, italics his):
“The moral force of the song comes from Dylan’s contention that Mr. Jones could know what’s happening but chooses not to. Jones walks into the room with a pencil in his hand, see’s somebody naked and says “Who is that man?” So something is being opened up for him, is standing before him bare, and Jones fends off understanding and identifying with what he’s seeing, the pencil being a tool he uses to ward off experience. Another song I liked at 16 and 17 was Jefferson Airplane’s “The House At Pooneil Corners”: “You say you don’t see and you don’t/You say you won’t know and you won’t.” And Jones’s problem isn’t that he tries and fails to understand what’s in front of him, but rather that he tries so hard but just doesn’t understand what he’s gonna say when he gets home. He’s not committed to what’s hitting him between the eyes but rather to fitting it into someone else’s experience back home. And Dylan very much isn’t offering himself as a guide, since this journey to knowledge, to self-knowledge, is one that Jones has to take for himself. Jones hands in his ticket to go watch the geek (he’d never realized that he shouldn’t let other people get his kicks for him), and the geek in effect holds up the mirror, asks Jones “How does it feel to be such a freak?” And Jones says “Impossible!”.”
I still think that “Ballad” works as a kind of epitome of hipster spite but Frank’s reading is richer and truer.
How does the song use its almost six minutes? Sheer force: layer upon layer of awful judging force bearing down on Mr Jones. Those mocking, rolling pianos, halfway between boogie-woogie and Max Martin pop bludgeons, and Dylan’s voice at its most biblical - my god! Something I keep reading about Dylan is that he’s a poor interpreter of his own material, better as a songwriter than a singer. He can be an excellent songwriter but honestly, who could ever have done a better job at singing this?
What 5’58” track would you have chosen?