What Do the Lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” Mean?

It’s one of the most well-known and important rock and roll songs of the 20th century. And it’s one of Bob Dylan’s signature songs. It’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and it’s a song of recognition.

Let’s dive into the track’s meaning and history below.

The Quick Meaning
At its core, this song describes the process of “waking up” to society, if you will. Yes, there is a lot to love and to be thankful for when it comes to the Western way of life. However, there is also a story to the fabric of day-to-day life that isn’t always readily available.

When you stumble upon those truths, either by mistake or via some gifted wisdom, it can be jarring. Dylan knows this. He lived it, evidenced by the lyrics of this song. When you realize your diamond rings and status are all part of a bigger plan and are man-given, then you realize all that matters is your internal substance. If that’s not there, you can quickly feel hollow.

So, then what?

The Longer, Communal Meaning
That jarring feeling—the fall, the descent—is described in “Like a Rolling Stone” when Dylan sings,

Now you don’t talk so loud / Now you don’t seem so proud / About having to be scrounging your next meal / How does it feel, how does it feel? / To be without a home / Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.

What’s beautiful about this song is that it sets the scene nicely. The subject—who many believe is Any Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick—is described as someone who “dressed so fine,” and even “threw the bums a dime” on occasion. But something happened and it caused a fall from grace. That’s when you see who your friends are. That’s when you realize how small it can feel to be alive. But, yes, Dylan offers hope.

Once you are on your own, with no direction home / A complete unknown you are actually not alone. You are among a group of others, all of whom, like Dylan even, is a rolling stone. The song, in this way, comes around. It offers cold truth then it offers community—truly, the kind of community we all really want. Genius art friends!

The price, however, is uncertain. A constant roll. Can we handle it? Can our minds, used to so much stability, take it? Can you pawn your diamonds? That’s for each listener to decide. But we can thank Dylan for posing the question so artfully, some timelessly. He concludes,

When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel, ah how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

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