I remember the firs time I listened to Blonde on Blonde. I'd been impressed by some of his songs, and lots of them I found weirdly artificial -- his pseudo-illiterate grammar no American ever used, his teenage-genius visions. he was somehing -- no doubt -- but I couldn't predict what. But hearing Blonde on Blonde I was sure I was listening ot one of the great works of art dcreated in my lifetime. Then came John Wesley Harding and I was astonished all over again. I've listened far less to the music he's done since -- though some of what I've heard almost matches those two albums.
ANd the Nobel gives me leave to reveal my long-ago-earned but so-far-secret knowledge of the import of one of his most teasingly obscure but actually quite obvious songs: All Along the Watchtower.
"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now - the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, and their foot-servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
The secret of the song is that it is a moebius strip. The last stanza is actually the beginning: the ladies on the watchtower observe two riders approaching. The point of view then shifts to the two riders: the joker and the thief. The hour is getting late for their arrival. But they can never arrive -- because they and their conversation have been put first, and when the last line as sung is reached, and the ladies see them in the distance, they must begin again. "There must be some way out of this," says the Joker -- but there isn't, despite the Thief's insistence that they've been through that (they have) and they should not talk falsely: the hour is getting late, but can never pass. The Joker has it right.
[BTW on a couple sites I read the words "barefoot servants too" which is absurd.]