Bob Dylan – “Workingman’s Blues No. 2”

 (Above: Happy Labor Day! Bob Dylan’s tribute to Merle Haggard and the working man.)

Bob Dylan – “Workingman’s Blues No. 2”

By Joel Francis

Merle Haggard was on a roll in 1969. In just three years he had racked up seven No. 1 hits and released eight albums. Haggard’s days digging ditches and toiling in prison were finally receding, but he refused to forget the unlucky people he labored beside for so long. “Working Man Blues” was Haggard’s tribute to his fans and his roots.

More than 35 years later, Bob Dylan turned Haggard’s tribute into a personal homage. Abandoning the Bakersfield sound that Haggard helped popularize, Dylan’s “Workingman’s Blues No. 2,” is a nostalgic ballad, introduced by a piano and accented with touches of violin.

Haggard’s “Working Man Blue” is a blazing portrait of a hard-workin’, hard-drinkin’ man with nine kids struggling to make ends meet. In the prime of his career, Haggard’s hero might “get a little tired on the weekend, but “Monday morning, I’m right back with the crew.”

Dylan catches up with a similar blue collar man thousands of shifts later. Worn by hard work and tight budgets, the place he loves best is a “sweet memory.” Too tired to get his boots and shoes, all the weary man can muster is to try “to keep the hunger from creeping its way into my gut.”

Dylan matches Haggard’s detail, but also pulls the camer back a bit, opening with a portrait of “an evenin’ haze settlin’ over the town/starlight by the edge of the creek.” Doubling the number of verses and tripling the song’s length also gives Dylan to explore the weary worker’s love life. The nine kids have moved out and the wife is gone, leaving the fatigued to wonder “am I wrong in thinking/That you have forgotten me?” and imagining his love returning to lead him off to dance in a new suit and a world where he doesn’t have to live on rice and beans.

“Workingman’s Blues No. 2” is less a celebration of the working man than a compliment to Haggard, who toured with Dylan shortly before the sequel was written. At the time it was rumored Haggard would return the favor by penning “Blowing in the Wind 2.” That song hasn’t come to light, but pair of “Working Man” songs provide a perfect Labor Day soundtrack. Play Haggard’s at the outdoor cookout while clutching a cold one; save Dylan’s for some midnight, pre-shift soul searching.

(Below: Merle Haggard’s original “Working Man Blues.” Kick up your heels before the whistle blows.)

5 thoughts on “Bob Dylan – “Workingman’s Blues No. 2”

  1. Hey! Really like the way you write about these songs (and I love Workingman’s blues #2). Good work. Will be checking out your blog some more.

  2. Sorry but i don’t think there is a connection, Mr Dylan’s song is a song about more than just kith and kin, it is about all working people and i think it is also about those who buy all that Bob Dylan puts out, a thank you song to those who stood by him and accept him warts and all, as he him self has stated, the press and media make him out to be more than he is.
    Probably his greatest wish some days is just to be able to be seen on the street, recognized, nodded to and past by just like you or i.

    1. Thanks for reading, Ray. I couldn’t agree with you more that Dylan just wants to be treated like anyone else on the street. I bet he loved not being recognized by that New Jersey police officer.
      Your interpretation is very interesting; you may be onto something there. One of the elements I enjoy and appreciate in Dylan’s lyrics is that they are rarely that easy to pin down. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective.

  3. Mr Francis,
    Really ?! Did you mean what you wrote ? I hope so. Still, I can’t believe you believe what you wrote!

    In the song Dylan is clearly talking to the worker, not speaking for the worker. He is Dylan in the song as he has always been. ” My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf..” Indicate he is not a protester any more. ” You are dearer to me than myself , as you yourself can see.. ” expresses the love he’s always had for the humble. ” I can see for myself that the sun is sinking, how I wish you were here to see..” He foresees a dark time approaching. and how he wishes the worker could be in his privileged position as a philosopher , thinker to appreciate with his clarity of thought what is really ” going on ” ” tell me now am I wrong in thinking that you have forgotten me?” Has he been forgotten by the hard worker, now a new generation ? and what about ” Well, I’m sailin’ on back, ready for the long haul
    Tossed by the winds and the seas
    I’ll drag ’em all down to hell and I’ll stand ’em at the wall
    I’ll sell ’em to their enemies “?
    Here he is ready for the long haul ( final days of Bob ) He will drag them to hell and sell them to their enemies. Here I think he is talking hatred maybe referring to the ” masters of war. ” They worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret , them I will forget but you I’ll remember always.” He doesn’t care about the wealthy or powerful that stressfully worries, he cares rather about the worker. they waste your nights and days , they lay you low”. In you my friend I find no blame, wanna look in my eyes please do”: With you I can open up and speak my mind, leave the mysterious Bob Dylan who shuns away from public characters, press or powerful characters like Obama, with you, my friend I can be open, I ‘ll let you in!, furthermore my proverbial sharpness and wit was NEVER employed in my songs to hurt you: ” No one can ever claim that I took up arms against you “. Even though he never wanted to become part of anything, religion, etc.. he was always with the working class. Apparently, though, he is a little resentful about the booing or rejection he may have suffered in the past from blue collars cause he is a little condescending in the tone here, an ultimatum before the final hour, now that he is down Bob demands support in his final act: “Now I’m down on my luck and I’m black and blue
    Gonna give you another chance
    I’m all alone and I’m expecting you
    To lead me off in a cheerful dance”. Definitely a master piece and honest and straight forward after all.

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