70. "To Ramona" (1964)
Jackson Browne: There's not a word about the Civil Rights movement in this song. But to me, it's about that as clearly as a James Baldwin novel. I've always seen Ramona as a young black woman at some New York party where she doesn't feel comfortable, and there is Bob Dylan giving her emotional contact. He's specific about the erotic, her attractions. I see that woman's beautiful black face, her "cracked country lips." He's describing her in terms that take us past this scene.
It is a song imbued with the struggle for personal freedom and the perpetual trap of co-dependence. This was a moment when people wanted a leader and spokesman. But in this song, Dylan dismantles that: "I'd forever talk to you/But soon my words/They would turn into a meaningless ring." He's always an advocate for finding your own way.
The problem with any kind of polemic is that it's too rigid for what life really is. That is at the heart of Bob Dylan's elusiveness. He tells Ramona, "You've been fooled into thinking/That the finishin' end is at hand." But it's not. These battles will go on.