How Bob Dylan Accidentally Made A Marijuana Anthem

Bob Dylan is known for his lyricism that oftentimes reads like a 13th-century poem filtered through the prism of modernity. With lines like, "Hunted like a crocodile ravaged in the corn" and "From the fool's gold mouthpiece the hollow horn plays wasted words proves to warn," one can spend hours pondering the allegorical themes forged into the songs. "Just talking to somebody that ain't there," the folk singer once said about songwriting (via AZ Quotes). "That's the best way. That's the truest way. Then it just becomes a question of how heroic your speech is. To me, it's something to strive after." 

Dylan's melodies and words are exceptionally profound, and he's often been called the greatest songwriter to ever live. In October of 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (per Human Rights Watch). However, art is far too often misinterpreted. The true meaning behind a song can easily be misconstrued as something else, especially when it's delivered through Bob Dylan's quirky metaphors and ominous phrasing. 

When he released "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" in 1966, marijuana enthusiasts thought that they finally had the magnum opus of herb anthems. Over and over again, the track declares that "everybody must get stoned." It's almost like an R-rated nursery rhyme for potheads. Surprisingly though, Dylan revealed that the song has absolutely nothing to do with reefer and that people have misunderstood it for decades (per Song Facts).

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 isn't about marijuana

"I have never and never will write a 'drug song,'" Bob Dylan once said. Apparently, his quintessential "drug song" is the farthest thing from a drug song. True, the track bears all the makings of one. It's got a certain daze about it and doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. Dylan can actually be heard chuckling throughout as he almost aimlessly chants about "getting stoned" in various scenarios, so it's no wonder ganja gurus often think it's about smoking the devil's lettuce. All the same, that interpretation of "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" goes up in smoke (per Song Facts). 

The truth of the matter is that the song likely has a far more literal and harrowing meaning. Once upon a time, Bob Dylan allegedly read a disturbing article about women getting stoned to death in Islamic countries. He's never been one to shy away from heavy topics and larger commentaries about the world, so it's only natural that he'd have a few things to say about this issue. Most reports claim that Dylan used this phenomenon as a metaphor about trial and error in relationships while also shedding light on the brutality of Middle-eastern execution methods (via Song Facts). 

The song also has Biblical meanings

A common Biblical saying is "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (via Bible Hub). Bob Dylan is known for certain Biblical allusions and scripture renditions in his songs, so this certainly isn't out of character for him. "These are people that aren't familiar with the Book of Acts," he once told Rolling Stone while talking about those who generally understand the song to be about sparking up a joint.

But what's the title all about? It seems a little arbitrary, doesn't it? The general consensus about how "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" got its name is that two women (12 and 35 years old) walked into the studio while Dylan and his band were recording the song and he correctly guessed their ages. The fact that if you multiply 12x35 you get 420 certainly doesn't help shake the green stigma that the song has harbored for decades (per American Songwriter).