May 11, 2009

"Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that."

Bob Dylan explained "Blowin' in the Wind" back in 1962:
There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind — and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some… But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know… and then it flies away I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many... You people over 21, you’re older and smarter.
I read this today, as American Songwriter reaches #1 on its list of greatest Bob Dylan songs.

29 comments:

Eli Blake said...

I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.

Which has been true for many centuries, and sadly is still true.

Bissage said...

I’m sure it must be a fine song. I don’t doubt that. It’s been celebrated for decades now. But I was quite young when I first heard it and I recall vividly how it struck me as disagreeably preachy, smug, wimpy and shapeless all at the same time. It’s a song about nuclear fallout, right?

Eli Blake said...

Bissage,

It was an anti-war song, which became a huge hit during the Vietnam war protests, especially as sung by Peter, Paul and Mary.

John said...

I made the mistake of going to the article for the #3 song "The Times They are a Changing" only to be greated by a portrait of Dearly Beloved Leader. The vomit impulse was almost too big to stop.

I would disagree with that song being number 1. I think Dylan's protest songs need to be downgraded a tiny bit because he never meant a word of them. He was just writing words and doing what he had to do to get ahead. I would put Blowing in the Wind and Times in the top 10 but not top 5. I would reserve that for Visions of Joanna, Blind Willie McTell, Like a Rolling Stone, Forever Young, and Highway 61 Revisited.

L. E. Lee said...

I own a couple of coffee shops so I employ a fair number of young people. Over the years I have found that they play Dylan on our computer/store sound system more than anyone. His music has definitely transcended generations.

On the other hand, the Beatles have slowly become a quaint relic of that now distant decade.

Robert Cook said...

I wouldn't even characterize it as an anti-war song, particularly, but a song lamenting the violence and injustice and foolishness of humankind's ways over the eons. That's inclusive of anti-war sentiments, to be sure, but it's broader than that.

Diamondhead said...

The idea that Blowin' in the Wind is Dylan's greatest song is preposterous. Most famous, maybe, but nowhere near greatest. That list is full of head-scratching choices. Is Masters of War really better than Tangled Up in Blue? Is Isis better than Brownsville Girl? Is Rainy Day Women better than I Want You? I guess all these lists are subjective, but give me a break. And whoever chose the songs seems to think Dylan did nothing worthwhile between 1976 and 2001.

John said...

Is Masters of War really better than Tangled Up in Blue?

Hell no

Is Isis better than Brownsville Girl?

NO

Is Rainy Day Women better than I Want You?

No.


Music critics always under estimate Dylan's later work. I think it is because they are lazy and haven't bothered to listen to it since it doesn't get played on the radio much. I would definitely put a song like Every Grain of Sand or Thunder on the Moutain ahead of all the songs you list.

Eli Blake said...
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Eli Blake said...
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Eli Blake said...

On the other hand, the Beatles have slowly become a quaint relic of that now distant decade.

What? You mean with Paul McCartney's divorce all over the gossip columns and Ringo and his band, "Ringo and the Starrs" doing one night stands at obscure casinos on Indian reservations?

Then again, Elvis at least has lots of impersonators hanging around in Las Vegas.

Ann Althouse said...

@ Eli The PP&M version came out in June 1963. It's popularity was not tied to Vietnam War protesting. You've got the chronology wrong. The Civil Rights Movement and Ban the Bomb are more apt.

molly said...

On the other hand, the Beatles have slowly become a quaint relic of that now distant decade.

Honestly, I don't know anyone my age (early 20s) who listens to the Beatles devoutly and hasn't experimented with psychedelics. But still, their influence is palpable in so much rock music after the 60s!

phx said...

John said:
"I would disagree with that song being number 1. I think Dylan's protest songs need to be downgraded a tiny bit because he never meant a word of them."

That's just ridiculous. You really shouldn't believe everything Dylan tells interviewers about his songs or songwriting - if that's where you're getting that silliness from.
But it should be patently obvious to everyone with even a passing interest in Dylan's work that he feels pretty deeply about what goes into his best songs - even if the feeling eventually passes (we all change).
I like your song preferences however!

Jeremy said...

Bissage said..."I’m sure it must be a fine song. I don’t doubt that. It’s been celebrated for decades now. But I was quite young when I first heard it and I recall vividly how it struck me as disagreeably preachy, smug, wimpy and shapeless all at the same time. It’s a song about nuclear fallout, right?"

In one fell swoop you've branded one of our country's greatest poet/songwriters as being preachy, smug, shapeless...and a wimp?

And you think the song was about nuclear fallout?

Good lord...

Diamondhead said...

John, I think the conventional wisdom - that Dylan's '80s albums are uneven - is fair. But individual songs - Every Grain of Sand, Jokerman, Gotta Serve Somebody, I&I, Brownsville Girl, and several that Dylan perversely left off of albums (Blind Willie McTell, Foot of Pride) definitely belong in a list like this.

Palladian said...

Gene Olson is capable of being an abrasive, obnoxious douche-bag about any subject! I'm always surprised by the breadth of his ability to be an asshole.

Pogo said...

I thought the answer was 42.

Palladian said...

"I thought the answer was 42."

Yes! I had forgotten!

John Stodder said...

You can't argue against the importance of "Blowin' in the Wind" as a song. I see it as a song that transcends the protest genre, which is what makes it so wonderful. The lyrics aren't pointed at a particular war or 1960s issue, but on the eternal question of injustice. That's actually how I read the best of Dylan's protest songs. They fit in a protest rally, but they aren't stuck there. There is man's injustice and there is the injustice of fate or God. "Blowin' in the Wind" says, in essence, you can't know how, or when, or why. It's not knowable.

That said, I think this list is impossible until music audiences can process the quality of songs off Dylan albums that came out after 1974. In particular, you've got some amazing songwriting on "Oh Mercy," "Time Out of Mind," "Love and Theft," "Modern Times" and even his new one, "Together Through Life." I still play his 60s and early 70s albums all the time, but no moreso than the recent stuff. A song like "What Was It You Wanted," or "Standing in the Doorway," or "Mississippi" or "Thunder on the Mountain" might eventually be seen as fully equal to "Blowin' in the Wind" or "Like a Rolling Stone," even though they didn't have the same initial impact. I certainly don't discriminate. As time goes on, Dylan becomes more essential to me. The Beatles and most of the other classic rock groups of the 60s -- I admire their genius and love their work, and still listen to it all the time because there's so much pleasure to found in it; but the sense of discovery is over. The other exceptions that come to mind are Ray Davies/The Kinks and Van Morrison who still seem to open up with repeated listenings. But Bob Dylan towers above them all.

Simon Kenton said...

You know how some alcoholics will tell you about their first drink? How from the moment they took it, they knew, knew absolutely, "This is IT. This is ME."

That's how Beetles songs felt when they met their first elevator.

rhhardin said...

Early Joan Baez was the one I liked in the 60s.

Chiefly attracted by the vibrato free (comparatively) voice; I guess Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins later shared that feature.

I met her in a campus snack bar one day.

William said...

I suppose it's the vagueness of his lyrics that give them the elasticity to stretch around different eras.... It's a different journey with different questions at different stages of your life. The song follows you along.

traditionalguy said...

That was the first Peter Paul and Mary hit and came out during the civil rights movement, prior to there being a war to protest.

Henry said...

Genghis Khan
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep
We'll climb that hill no matter how steep
When we get up to it
Whoo-ee! Ride me high
Tomorrow's the day
My bride's gonna come
Oh, oh, are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair
!

One of my favorites. Originally released by The Byrds in their great Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP.

matthew said...
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matthew said...

Simon Kenton,

I hate to point it out, but I think you got the wrong band. As John Lennon said about the name the Beatles - 'It came in a vision--a man appeared in a flaming pie and said unto them "From this day on you are Beatles with an A." "Thank you, Mister Man," they said, thanking him'

I like the 'Beetles' as well. Their song Letter B on Seasame Street is actually quite good.

Old RPM Daddy said...
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Old RPM Daddy said...

Genghis Khan
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep
Maybe it would work better for me if I could hear the tune.