Man In The Long Black Coat

Album: Oh Mercy (1989)
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Songfacts®:

  • "Man In The Long Black Coat" is a mysterious song, even for Dylan. He intended it to be so. In his autobiography Chronicles, Dylan compares the song with "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash, which Dylan describes as "a song I'd always considered to be up there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time."

    The song details an unnamed man in a long black coat who enters a village and seems to sort of float around, eventually catching the attention of a woman who later leaves with him. The man seems supernatural or even paranormal, but nothing's ever specified. There are also religious overtones in the song, but nothing specific as far as that goes. The story is emotionally punctuated with one cryptic verse:

    There are no mistakes in life some people say
    It's true sometimes you can see it that way
    But people don't live or die people just float
    She went with the man in the long black coat


    Of the song, Dylan explained, "The lyrics try to tell you about someone whose body doesn't belong to him... someone who loved life, but cannot live, and it rankles his should that others should be able to live."
  • Dylan recorded the song on March 29, 1989 at The Studio in New Orleans. He composed the song entirely in the studio, which isn't normal for Dylan.
  • The cricket sounds in the song came from the sound database of Brian Eno, who'd initially recorded them for the Neville Brothers album Yellow Moon, released earlier in 1989.
  • The Oh Mercy album was produced by Daniel Lanois, who had recently worked on U2's The Joshua Tree and Peter Gabriel's So albums. In a Songfacts interview, he said: "'Man In The Long Black Coat' was very much an example of how inspired we were in New Orleans making that record. If I have this right, Bob wrote that song in New Orleans. The record started developing a 'nighttime feeling' as we went along, to the point where Bob said, 'We're only going to work at night on this record.'

    'Man In The Long Black Coat' has little bits we all came up with. Like, we might run away with the circus, and you might just find a new life if you flip up the switch. So, running away with the circus always had that in it.

    The character in the song is looking for reinvention and some way of going someplace else and running away from convention, and she decides to do it with a man in a long black coat. I think it's not specifically about the man in the long black coat, but it's about that inclination that we have to find something new."

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  • Hey from Otherwise,usoutstanding on every level
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