On Dylan’s “Mama You Been On My Mind”

Mama You Been On My Mind

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Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’
The crossroads I’m standin’ at.
Or maybe it’s the weather or somethin’ like that.
But, mama, you been on my mind.

I don’t mean trouble please don’t put me down or get upset.
I am not pleading or saying I can’t forget you.
I do not pace the floor bowed down and bent but yet,
Mama you been on my mind.

Even though my eyes are hazy and my thoughts they might be narrow
Where you been don’t bother me or bring me down with sorrow.
I don’t even mind who’ll you be waking with tomorrow.
Mama, you’re just on my mind.

I’m not askin’ you to say words like yes or no.
Please, understand me.
I have no place I’m callin’ you to go.
I’m just whispering to myself so I can’t pretend that I don’t know.
Mama, you been on my mind.

When you wake up in the mornin’ baby look inside your mirror.
You know I won’t be next to you. You know I won’t be near.
I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind.

This is one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs. It provides a rich and moving glimpse into a relationship that is at a “crossroads”– forced to pivot into a new phase by some unnamed force. It’s a love song that is not cut from a clean template. It’s not about love sought or love achieved or love betrayed or any of those timeless motifs that abound across musical genres. It’s about something subtler and more complicated. It’s about a love that burns but does not consume; love required to exist in ambiguity.

To my mind, the song is doubly tender– tender in its show of affection, and tender in its show of restraint.

Dylan doesn’t say “I need you” or “you complete me” or “baby come back” or anything like that. Instead he sings “I’m not asking you to say words like yes or no, please understand me / I have no place I’m calling you to go … Mama, you’re just on my mind.” It’s a kind of half-hearted resignation. It’s both childish and mature, and ultimately just genuine. And beautiful and tragic.

It’s a song about love that should be acknowledged but not manifested for the time being. It’s about love that should be seen but not touched, like a painting. A song about love differed. I have long been enchanted with the way the words fall together in every verse, and the honest, instantly intimate scene they create.

CC BY-NC 4.0 On Dylan’s “Mama You Been On My Mind” by Dustin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.