Bob Dylan On The Rich and Poor

Bob Dylan2Have you ever noticed that some rich people like to say insulting things about the poor, and some poor people like to say some insulting things about the rich. Well, since this blog is all about insults, as well as respect, let’s see if today we can throw a little sunshine on this.

As followers of this blog know, from time to time, I enjoy selecting one of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour shows to help us with these kinds of endeavors. Today, we’ll be utilizing Bob’s “Rich Man, Poor Man” theme.

Bob’s Introduction

Time for Theme Time Radio Hour. This week we’re going to take a look at two different kinds of people, them that’s got, and them that needs. We’re going to talk about a dichotomy between the rich man and the poor man.

Poverty 2As soon as Bob finishes this sentence, we hear an audio clip from a movie I can’t quite put my finger on, “If you permit me to say so, sir, the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty, and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.”

Then, Bob’s voice returns.

Bob Miller

Bob Miller

Bob Miller wrote a song about both of them. He knew that poor people had something that no millionaire had–poverty. Here’s a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man steals a million from the bank that he controls, and the poor man steals a penny for a loaf of bread or a penny worth of rolls. One goes away laughing, while the other goes away in tears. The rich man gets an apology while the poor man gets ten years. All kinds of life lessons in this song with no crapola.

Then Bob plays Miller’s song, “The Rich Man and the Poor Man.” We get a pretty good sense of some of the resentment that poor folks feel in many societies from the opening lyrics:

resentfulThere’s just two kinds of people, the sinner and the saint;
There’s one that gets and always got while the other poor one ain’t.
Oh, the rich man drives his Lincoln past the red light with a grin,
And the poor man follows right behind in his little hunk of tin.
There’s a motorcycle copper following upon their trail;
Oh, the rich man tears his ticket, but the poor man goes to jail.

Here we get a pretty vivid sense of the resentment that can boil up within the hearts of many poor folks when they see incidents of being treated unfairly. This can lead some to start throwing around a few insults.

Bob’s Show Continues

After Bob’s introduction to his theme and his first song, he goes on to say:

That was Bob Miller, “The Rich Man and the Poor Man.” I’ve known both and there’s good in each.

Soon afterwards, Bob tells us about some people who have gone from rags to riches.

Little Richard

Little Richard

Some of the songs he subsequently plays are about the dreams some poor people have about becoming rich, including “Get Rich Quick” by Little Richard. Apparently, one day this guy he’s singing about dreams of going to the track with twenty dollars and coming home with twenty-thousand. And, of course, in his imagination, when this happens “every thing will be OK.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’ve read a few biographies and have come away thinking that for people who have gone from rags to riches, pure happiness doesn’t always come by quite so easily. Still, the rocking saxophones on that song makes it well worth a listen.

Next up, Bob plays “Charming Betsy” by the Farmer’s Boys.


Rich girl got married in a long white veil

Poor girl would like to have a train

My girl never said I do

But she does just the same

Here, I get the sense that the song writer, while recognizing that the poor may have the desire to have what rich folks have, if you have the love of your girl, well, in some ways it’s just the same.

Soon after the Farmer’s Boys song, Bob plays us another audio clip from a movie:

povertyYou see sir, rich people think of poverty as in the negative, as the lack of riches, as a disease might be called a lack of health. But it isn’t sir. Poverty isn’t the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, and contagious as cholera, with filth, criminology, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms.

Instead of Looking Down Their Noses At the Poor, The Rich Would be Wise to Remember How Easily They Too Can Become Poor

Although some of the rich may look down at the poor, Bob wisely reminds all of us that with a little twist of society’s fortunes, the rich can turn rapidly into the poor. Thus, he says:

stock market crashOn October 24th, 1929 the stock market fell. On Black Friday, many rich men turned into poor men. Suddenly many of them were on the street corners selling apples. Whether it was Black Friday or today, there are too many people out there who need to ask, Brother, can you spare a dime? Here’s Bing Crosby on Theme Time Radio Hour.

Here are some of the words from Crosby’s touching song:

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby

They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime
Once I built a tower, now it’s done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Say, don’t you remember? They called me ‘Al’
It was ‘Al’ all the time
Why don’t you remember? I’m your pal
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?

Shortly after the song, Bob provides us a quote from Confucius: “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of;  in a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Hmmm, I think this is Bob’s way of reminding people that sometimes the wealthy have some responsibility for working toward a well governed country that gives everyone a fair chance.

When the Wealthy Hold Down the Poor

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

When the show continues, we get to an uncomfortable situation, which Louis Armstrong emotionally captures in a song titled, “Hobo, You Can’t Ride the Train.” It tells about how the rich has put this middle class railroad brakeman in charge of making sure the hobos don’t sneak on the train. Let’s look at some of its words, sung in Armstrong’s familiar raspy voice:

Oh Hobo, hobo you know you can’t ride this train 
Now hobo now listen here hobo
I told you you can’t ride this train
You done forgot I’m the brakesman on this train boy, I’m awful tough I’m awful mad
I’m telling you (ha, ha, ha)
You gotta give me something boy oh yeah
Hobo you can’t ride this train
As I said before, hobo hobo 
You know you can’t ride this train
Ah hobo hobo you know what big boy I’ll let go
I’ll give you a break, you’re all right
Here we get a sense that the singer knows he’s getting paid to keep the hobo off the train, and he’s trying to be light about it. At one point he thinks, maybe he can get something out of the hobo, by saying, “You gotta give me something boy oh yeah.” But in the end, the singer decides to give the hobo a break.
Clark Gable

Clark Gable

In case we are too quick to think that hobos were just a bunch of rotten, no good folks who deserved to be poor, Bob tells us about a number of people who many of us have come to admire who had been hobos at various points in their lives–heavy weight champion Jack Dempsey, actor Clark Gable, singer Woody Guthrie, and writer Eugene O’Neill.


The next song Bob plays, Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi,” is very sad. It tells the tale of folks during the great depression trying to get to California to find a way to escape desperate poverty.

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie

Lots of folks back East, they say, is leavin’ home every day,
Beatin’ the hot old dusty way to the California line.
‘Cross the desert sands they roll, gettin’ out of that old dust bowl,
They think they’re goin’ to a sugar bowl, but here’s what they find 
Now, the police at the port of entry say,
“You’re number fourteen thousand for today.” 

Oh, if you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot
If you ain’t got the do re mi. 

The Perspective of the Rich

About halfway into the show, Bob say:

Bob Dylan on GuthrieWe’re talking a lot about poor people;  let’s go on the other side of the track. I like talking about the rich men a little better. They’re a little more happy go lucky. You know what’s better than a little money? A lot of money. 

Liliane Bettencourt

Liliane Bettencourt

The richest woman in America in 2005 was Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of L’Oreal founder. She’s worth around 16 billion. That’s billion, with a “B.” Wow! That’s a lot of bazoma! Another rich woman is Betty Nesmith Graham. She invented liquid paper, and when she passed away, she left her 50 million dollar estate to her son, former Monkey, Mike Nesmith. Gives new meaning to be rich on paper.

Back to the Other Side of the Tracks

MandelaQuoteBob only spends a few minutes discussing the rich person’s experience, quickly returning us to songs like Johnny Rivers’s popular “Wrong Side of The Track” and Emmylou Harris’s lovely “Hobo Lullaby.” I would have liked him to try to get more into why so many of the rich look down on the poor, but his sympathy clearly is on those less well off.

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

As the show begins to close, Bob tells us, “If you are poor, I hope you get rich, and if you are rich, I hope you get happy.” Finally, he says, “I’ll leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘He that is of the opinion that money will do anything may be suspected of doing everything for money.’ Thank you Ben. Peace out.”

And so, with those words, Bob ends his show. But before I sign off today, here’s a few parting words of my own.

Throwing insults at anyone, whether at the rich or poor, is not going to help anyone. If you experience a twinge of resentment over these types of issues, I can certainly understand that. But it is whether or not you can transform these twinges into something really positive that will determine whether you end up with just a bunch of awful feelings, or, alternatively, increase the respect you have for yourself.

Here’s one suggestion that has worked for me. When I notice this experience within myself, I find a time to sit for five minutes with my eyes closed. During these five minutes, I experience fully how this resentment is being expressed within my body. Maybe it is felt as a tightness in my chest, a wringing in the pit of my stomach, a clenching of my fist, or a crunching of my muscles around my forehead. I just fully observe these physical sensations for a full five minutes. Then I plant a seed by saying to myself, “I hope that at some point I can come up with a way to transform this experience into something useful and genuinely helpful.”

chinese-proverbAt one point, what came out of this experience is this idea that although it is certainly kind to give a hungry person a fish, in the long run it is even more kind to find ways to teach a hungry person to fish. With this in mind, I worked for many years in school systems doing my best to remove blocks that were getting in the way of students learning. And more recently, I have created this blog, “From Insults to Respect,” as a curriculum that is free to both the poor and the rich. It is designed to be a tool that can help people to learn some crucial skills for climbing the true ladder of success.

And with that, I hope you visit “From Insults to Respect” again real soon. Until then, as Bob says, “Peace out!”


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.










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About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. Thank you Jeff for your tip on being mindful of resentment. I think the tip is good for any negative feeling including anger, fear, anxiety, as well as resentment. If you stew too long in any of these emotions you can feel the poison seep into your life. However, letting the poison boil and bubble for a few minutes and then seeing what you can create from it can turn life into something flavorful.

    Rick Winter

    • Hi Rick,
      It’s good to hear from you. Much thanks for supporting the mindful suggestion I offered in the article.

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