Bob Dylan, Clothes Line Saga

When talking about a Bob Dylan song, I’m not one of those guys who’s going to analyze the lyrics and tell you that “the plowman” was really Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Agriculture and “the senator” was a reference to Barry Goldwater. The songs generally leave enough ambiguity for many interpretations. 

The song “Clothes Line Saga” is from the Basement Tapes album recorded in 1967. I still think it’s funny, like when I first heard it 35 years ago. 

The first verse is about a family hanging just-washed clothes on the clothesline outside. The second verse starts with:

The next day everybody got up
Seein’ if the clothes were dry
The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed
Mama, of course, she said, “Hi!”

The singer’s tone might suggest that he's resigned to the fact that Mama will always be the most sociable one in the family. Then the part that got me when I first heard it:

“Have you heard the news?” he said, with a grin
“The Vice-President’s gone mad!”
“Where?” “Downtown.” “When?” “Last night”
“Hmm, say, that’s too bad!”
“Well, there’s nothin’ we can do about it,” said the neighbor
“It’s just somethin’ we’re gonna have to forget”
“Yes, I guess so,” said Ma
Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

On one hand, the news story is remarkable. On the other hand, the folks in the song accept it stoically and go back to chores. In the third and final verse there’s some small talk and the singer brings the dry clothes into the house. And every day for two years now I keep thinking “Well, there’s nothin’ we can do about it, it’s just somethin’ we’re gonna have to forget” and I do the laundry.

Lyrics copyright © 1969 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1997 by Dwarf Music