Yonder Stands Your Orphan with His Gun: A Journey with Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

I was disturbed into loving my favorite song. I usually find that the things that repulse me initially, end up becoming the most important to me. My experiences with carrots and Vans sneakers are among the long list of hated items turned loved. Bob Dylan’s song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1965) is one of those things.

 From Dylan's Album "Bringing It All Back Home."

From Dylan's Album "Bringing It All Back Home."

I had never heard of Bob Dylan until my high school English class read a particularly harrowing short story by Joyce Carol Oates entitled “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The story was a dark coming-of-age tale featuring a self-involved girl named Connie and a forty-year old man disguised as a teenage boy. My troubled classmates and I were told that the story was dedicated to Bob Dylan, whose song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” inspired this story. Not only did this Dylan guy write a song that sparked Oates to pen such a depressing and horrifying story, but also, the story’s predator was described similarly to Dylan’s own appearance and mysterious character. The narrator repeatedly points out his “shaggy, shabby black hair” and his face covered by large, dark sunglasses, both of which were distinctive of Dylan’s image in the 60s.

I was curious about the influence of artist on artist, and how such a tragic story could come from a four-minute folk song. That night I curled up on my bed and played “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Up to that point, my adolescent ears had mostly feasted on cries of teenage angst and cheesy ballads sung by brothers whose last name was Jonas. Needless to say, I was disgusted by Dylan’s voice. His nasally tone seemed to assault my innocent ears, and the words he sang were nonsensical and frightening: “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun.”

It was so horrifying to me that I had to listen to it again. It was that repulsion that attracted me to it. The second time I listened to it, I did not hear such an ugly voice, but one that was raw. I became haunted by the call Dylan was making on my life through his strange lyrics. I played it again. It was clear to me that Dylan was doing something different in his music than anything I had ever come across—the Jonas Brothers had their own strengths, but they did not have what Dylan seemed to possess. I could not put my finger on it, but it captivated me and I found myself playing the song over and over, trying to train my ears to understand what exactly it was.

Oates felt it and she captured it as the loss of innocence and the pain that comes with moving forward. I felt it as permission to change. I was a country girl who had been transplanted to Fort Lauderdale beach that same year, and I had found myself caught between two lives, two selves. Dylan gave me permission to be someone new, someone I did not know I wanted to be, yet.

The opening line of the song is a command to the listener, “You must leave now…” His voice was weighted with sorrow, but a resolved sorrow as if he had come to terms with the blisters on his feet. He wailed of the “sky folding,” but immediately followed his warning with a phrase of resignation, “it’s all over now, baby blue.” I first mistook the urgency in his voice for regret, but after listening more intently it seemed the opposite. He was urging the listener to continue on, to “Strike another match/go start anew.” Despite the falling sky and the shifting floors, Dylan proclaimed it was time to keep going. The orphan was no longer an innocent child, but a soldier. The vagabond had acquired clothes and a house. The listener was no longer welcome in her old life, her old innocence.

Like Dylan reminding me it is time to move forward, Oates’ predator tells Connie in the end of the story, “It’s all over now for you.”