Originally Published: 24 July, 2012.
One of the most beautiful Dylan songs is ‘To Ramona’. Ironically, given the song is firmly rooted in the Folk tradition stylistically, it can be seen as being Dylan’s kiss-off to the Folk Protest Movement. ‘To Ramona’ is widely believed to be inspired by Joan Baez and to reflect Dylan’s relationship with her. The song contains such evocative romantic imagery as ‘Your cracked country lips, I still wish to kiss, As to be under the strength of your skin.’
Dylan begins the song by planting it firmly within the Folk tradition of the ‘Silver Dagger’-style ballad with, ‘Ramona, Come closer, Shut softly your watery eyes’, capturing brilliant the inviting entreats of a lover.
The songs mournful lyrics and dark images of nature, such as ‘The pangs of your sadness, Shall pass as your senses will rise, The flowers of the city, Though breathlike, Get deathlike at times’ are reminiscent of traditional folk ballads such as ‘Silver Dagger’ and ‘Wildwood Flower’, songs closely associated with Joan Baez. ‘To Ramona’ contains some of Dylan’s most romantic imagery with lyrics such as ‘Your magnetic movements, Still capture the minutes I’m in’ and the focus on lips, eyes and kiss. Dylan suggests the lost pastoral world captured in traditional folk ballads which many in the Folk Circles wished to recreate is a lost cause; ‘But it grieves my heart, love, To see you tryin’ to be a part of, A world that just don’t exist, It’s all just a dream, babe, A vacuum, a scheme, babe, That sucks you into feelin’ like this’.
The theme running through the song is that of a narrator seeking to persuade his lover that the causes she is working for are hopeless and that she is being mislead by others. This appears to an allusion to Dylan’s growing disdain for the Folk Protest Movement which Joan Baez was so closely involved with, and he was the reluctant spokesman of. Even in his earliest Protest Songs, Dylan took a more nuanced view than his contempories, such as Phil Ochs, and by 1964 when ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’ was released, his move away from the Folk Protest Movement was becoming increasingly apparent.
This song seems to be a forerunner of Dylan’s later individualistic view and disdain for Protest with lines such as ‘Everything passes, Everything changes, Just do what you think you should do’. For the most part the song deals in a gentle way with his disdain for the apostatizing of the Folk Protest Movement leaders. However the famous Dylan vitriolic can be seen in ‘I can see that your head, Has been twisted and fed, By worthless foam from the mouth’. This is remnisicent of the lyrics, ‘In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand, At the mongrel dogs who teach’ in ‘My Back Pages’, on the same album. ‘My Back Pages’ deals with similar themes of estragement from the Folk Protest Movement but in a more vitrolic way. Therefore ‘To Ramona’ and ‘My Back Pages’ can be seen as harbingers of Dylan’s famous decision to go electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
Joan Baez, with her constant support for the underdog, comes to mind in the lyrics, ‘I’ve heard you say many times, That you’re better ’n no one And no one is better ’n you, If you really believe that, You know you got, Nothing to win and nothing to lose’. Dylan appears to allude to the pressures brought upon by the Folk Circles and also from fame with ‘From fixtures and forces and friends, Your sorrow does stem, That hype you and type you, Making you feel, That you must be exactly like them’.
The song ends on a note of classic Dylan ambiguity as there is little resolution of the narrator’s relationship with Ramona. Dylan concludes with the tender lines, ‘I’d forever talk to you, But soon my words, They would turn into a meaningless ring, For deep in my heart, I know there is no help I can bring’. Dylan ends by cleverly switching the opening image to have the narrator rather than Ramona crying; ‘And someday maybe, Who knows, baby, I’ll come and be cryin’ to you’.