#196 – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by Bob Dylan
– When this song was marching out of our AM transistor radios during the spring and summer of 1966 the deejays would announce the real title, but most of us referred to it as Everybody Must Get Stoned. It sounded like Dylan and his backup musicians were having a rollicking good time in the studio while once again throwing out confusing lyrics that we knew – somehow – had to mean something.
We just weren’t sure what that something actually meant.
When it was released as a single that March I was still a few months away from becoming a teenager. And as the result of growing up in a sheltered community in northern Ohio (we’re not talkin’ The Inner City Hood here folks!) the word stoned was a main source of my confusion.
Being that sheltered age in the baby boomer year of 1966 my knowledge of stoned only had two possible meanings. With the hindsight of decades, the first undoubtedly would’ve come from ancient Biblical stories we’d heard at Sunday School. People that crossed the powers that be were often stoned. We’re not talkin’ gettin’ high here folks. They were actually cornered or tossed into a pit and hit with stones and rocks until they were dead.
We’re talkin’ about capital punishment…
So why was Dylan singing about stoning people? With more hindsight on the composer and the era, it’s easy to follow in that direction. Dylan had been labeled a protest singer when folk singers were still the rage prior to The British Invasion in 1964. He had only gone electric in 1965 (with much protests from his dedicated followers) but still wasn’t a bonafide cover of Sixteen Magazine pop star like The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and other mid-60’s chart toppers. Dylan’s songs were much more complex than just wanting to hold someone’s hand or feeling glad all over.
So my original thought with Dylan still being a protest singer makes sense when listening to his lyrics. Racial tensions were high and ready to explode that summer with riots in cities across the U.S., so “Trying to keep your seat” could be interpreted as African Americans refusing to sit only in the back of a bus in a racist society. In the south they risked being dragged off buses, beaten and worse. As Dylan sang, “They’ll stone you.”
Dylan wrote protest songs against the growing war in Vietnam and against young American men being drafted to fight: “They’ll stone you and then say you are brave. They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.”
And as mentioned above, he caught a lot of flack when he ditched his solo acoustic sound and walked on stage with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965:
“They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar.”
For me the song took the ancient meaning of stoned, but made it more verbal, physical and even political abuse, rather than actually throwing rocks. And with hindsight, that’s not a bad lyrical translation from a sheltered preteen in 1966.
The second and lesser meaning involved alcohol – getting stoned. With all the laughing, yelling and general rollicking going on throughout the song by Dylan and his musical cohorts, it certainly sounded like they were drinking something stronger than water or soda. Some of the writings about this song say Dylan insisted they get drunk before recording, while others (and some of the musicians) deny this. And to prove they were sober, it’s pointed out there were other songs for Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album recorded during the same session and after Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 was completed.
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And again as a young preteen I had heard the word stoned referring to someone being drunk – and most likely heard it on television. Being sheltered I have no memories of being around any adults intoxicated enough to be called stoned. And on the rare occasion when there was an “adult party” (parents) with alcohol, I was relegated to one of the bedrooms with my cousins and friends to play board games until the festivities ended. This would usually only happen on New Year’s Eve, except I do have a memory of a Halloween party where we laughed at how silly the adults looked in their costumes, before heading off for a marathon game of Monopoly.
And of course the third definition would involve marijuana. Pop music fans all know about the importance of weed when it came to the 1960’s pop/rock stars. Supposedly Dylan turned on The Beatles during their first visit to New York City in 1964, though deep research by a favorite author turned up evidence the Fab Four may have toked a few puffs during their marathon sessions in Hamburg or Liverpool.
But playing the sheltered hindsight card again as a Midwestern preteen, I don’t recall ever even hearing the word marijuana before or during the time we were listening to Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. That mental enhancement didn’t find its way into our vocabulary until the rumors were written in reference to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band during the summer of 1967.
I never even smelled it until a Three Dog Night concert around 1969. I had to ask my best friend what was filling the air at Cleveland’s Pubic Auditorium that night and he said, “Pot.” Then I wanted to know how he knew that since he was as sheltered and naive as I was.
Turns out it was just an accurate guess.
It was no guess that Rainy Day, etc. was weeding its way through my mind the morning of May 30th. Yeah, I’m a Dylan fan and yeah, I had just heard it, so yeah – it goes into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.
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Another great thing about this rollicking (and I’ve never used that word to describe anything before this) song is remembering how it could irritate the older generation. That was important information during the days when the generation gap obviously divided the younger Dylan, Beatles, Stones teens and preteens from the oldster’s that demanded we cut our hair and turn down our music.
“They’ll stone you when you listen to ‘that noise’…“
While writing about an earlier song on this list I mentioned the novelty record They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Napoleon XIV (Jerry Samuels) that was riding the AM Top 40 charts during summer 1966. And as if that song wasn’t annoying enough for the older folks, the flip side of the 45 rpm single was the same song – only backwards.
For my cousin, best friend and myself (ages 15, 14 and 13 once I hit that magical teenager mark) a great summer adventure was when my mother would drop us off in a nearby city and let us find our own way back. It’s not as bad as it sounds – we weren’t being abandoned. We were just given the entire day to be on our own for exploring, shopping, eating, catching a movie and then buying a bus ticket to our home town. From there we’d walk to one of our houses to spend the night.
Remember, I’m talkin’ about the 1960’s – so think Ozzie & Harriett land.
During one of these adventures we stopped in a diner for lunch. We were kids among the old folks giving us the evil eye. You know, as in “Children should be seen and not heard, unless they’re teenagers and then we don’t even want to see them.”
So thanks to the bad vibes and if I remember correctly, not the best service from an annoyed server we used Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! and the flip side, !aaaH aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT (go ahead – I dare you to listen!) to let them know we were in the building. We shoved our quarters in the jukebox and played all three songs a few times while we ate our lunch and the older side of the generation gap simmered. For good measure we put in another quarter for three plays and punched in the same songs again before walking out the door.
Naw… we were good kids. But mischievous would be a better adjective. I’m sure we hit a matinee movie afterwards, each bought an album or single at a downtown record store, then made it to the bus station in time for the last ride home. These are lasting memories of growing up during an era when Bob Dylan could take a word give it enough worthwhile meanings that it still means something to all of us today.
Dylan never made an “official” music video for the song, so here’s an interesting live version performed with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for Farm Aid in 1986.
To purchase the classic double LP Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 visit amazon.com
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