“Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan 

If you think Bob Dylan’s 21st century pieces are challenging to decipher, he was really wild for the night back in the day, such as on this song (“Shelter from the Storm”), which he dropped in his early 30s. Indeed it can be said that lyrically, Dylan is more of a poet than a musician per se. That’s basically another way of putting forth that he can take his songs in whatever lyrical direction he wants to.

So with this piece for instance, we have some analysts arguing that the vocalist is taking on the role of Jesus himself. Others are putting forth that this song doesn’t actually have any true meaning. But perhaps the most reasonable explanation is that “Shelter from the Storm” is multi-subjected. 

Again, Dylan is a songwriter who is free to do whatever the hell he wants. Or rather, let’s say he actually possesses the skill to diversify a song in such a manner if he so chose.

Bob and Sara Dylan

So for instance it is quite reasonable to conclude that the first eight verses may well be speaking to, poetically, the deteriorating relationship between Dylan and his first wife, Sara. Most analysts have concluded that said event, understandably, played a role on the composition this song. Bob and Sara did not divorce until 1977, but it was during 1974 that their marriage, according to the former, “started breaking up”.

But that said, it isn’t like this is a diss track or even critical. Instead, it is the female character who is giving the vocalist “shelter from the storm”. And as for who the narrator actually is, he takes on a number of different roles and characteristics. But they all ultimately point to the concept of the world being a less-than-ideal place, due to one reason or another, for him to be in. Such adversities are what “the storm” represents. And again, it is this female character who is providing him relief from hardship.

It is during the fifth verse and especially the sixth where it is first really implied that said female may be a romantic interest. In that latter passage, the vocalist alludes to ‘taking too much for granted’ in their relationship and subsequently messing it up.

“Shelter from the Storm” is a love song?

Based on the above, it is very much possible that this is by and large a love song. But it isn’t one of those where a vocalist is gushing over his lover’s qualities or what have you. Rather, what this narrator is most appreciative of, in terms of his ex really, was the fact that her love sheltered her from the cold, cruel world. And when you think about it, that’s sorta like a basic romantic sentiment, but one that obviously requires a skilled poet to compellingly put into song.

The “Crown of Thorns”

It is also during the fifth verse that the singer mentions his “crown of thorns”. That of course is an allusion to Jesus and may be why some have hasted to label this song as being religious in nature. But more pointedly, what the “crown of thorns” represents is Jesus’s suffering, i.e. his crucifixion. 

So in proclaiming that the female character ‘took his crown of thorns’, that’s basically a fancy way of saying that she eased the vocalist’s suffering, as argued earlier.

Even More Deep Lyrics

Later in the ninth verse, which is the penultimate stanza, the vocalist definitely takes on the role of Jesus (as well as arguably, to some degree, in the first verse). Here, when also taking into consideration the fifth verse, it can be contended that the female character is a personification of death. In other words, the suffering Jesus endured during his torment was alleviated when he passed away. So during that episode, he experienced relief or “shelter from the storm” upon expiring.

Meanwhile, the final verse reads as if the vocalist is lamenting a lost love. Yes, he uses very weighty lingo to get that point across, but that ultimately seems to be what he’s saying, that he made some type of mistake with a woman in the past and now has no choice but to look to the future as far as romance is concerned.

In Conclusion

It wouldn’t be out of the way to say the main inspiration behind this piece was a troubled marriage.  But Bob Dylan, being who he is, wasn’t just going to come out and just say it like that. Furthermore, whatever it is he was going through made him think of the creation narrative and Jesus.

As far as the former goes, harping back to the beginning of Genesis – if you will – is something we often do in trying to make sense of romantic relationships. Also as far as Jesus is concerned, it’s obvious that the vocalist perceives himself as someone who is suffering unjustly – a sentiment which may be expected of an individual whose marriage is suddenly falling apart. 

Or rather, let’s say that as presented, the world we live in is such that many suffer therein, in various ways and even from birth, as noted via the observation of ‘wailing newborns’. But it was the love his significant other which offered the narrator true “shelter from the storm”, at least for the time in which their relationship lasted.

So if the female character is meant to represent Sara Dylan, it is obvious that even upon breaking up Bob appreciated the role she had played in his life – offering “shelter” to a battered warrior and meaning to a person who was still lacking form.

Lyrics of "Shelter from the Storm"

When was “Shelter from the Storm” released?

“Shelter from the Storm” is a track that officially came out on 17 January 1975. It is a part of “Blood on the Tracks”, Dylan’s 15th studio album, which is a product of Columbia Records. 

It doesn’t appear that this song was ever issued as a single. However, it is considered a Dylan classic, having for example been included on a number of his compilation and live albums. In fact Dylan laid down this piece within five takes, and the ones that didn’t make the cut at first were eventually put into circulation also.

Shelter from the Storm

More Facts

“Shelter from the Storm” made it onto the soundtrack of a few movies, including Jerry Maguire (1996) and Steve Jobs (2015). Furthermore, it has also been featured on quite a few TV shows.

The original recording of this song took place in September of 1974, at a NYC studio called A&R Recording.

As expected a few artists have covered “Shelter in the Storm” throughout the years. Interestingly, one of the most notable names on this list is fan-favorite comedian Bill Murray, who did so on his 2014 film St. Vincent. Additionally, Chris Martin of Coldplay fame laid down his own acoustic rendering, via Saturday Night Live, in early 2020 (while actually ‘sheltering’ during the COVID-19 pandemic).

The working title of this song was actually “Up to Me”. And that earlier version did go on to be recorded and released, under that very name, by Roger McGuinn in 1976.

And as to how Bob Dylan eventually settled on the title “Shelter from the Storm”, he derived it from a Creedence Clearwater Revival track entitled “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” (1970).

Stephen King is on record as having quoted this song in The Stand (1978), one of his most famous books. 

Public Enemy, the rap group, also referenced it on their 2007 track “Long and Whining Road” which actually served, in part, as a tribute to Dylan.

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