Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”
Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”
The 1960’s will be forever remembered as the era of youthful protest against governments, conflicts, hunger and war. Known as the hippie subculture, these protesting movements quickly gained popularity, and spread around the world. These “hippies” rejected established institutions, criticized middle-class values, opposed nuclear weapons, and detested the Vietnam War. Famous singer Allen Zimmerman, also known as Bob Dylan, belonged to this counterculture. Dylan’s music did not only amuse listeners, but it also contributed to their reflections about existence, meaning of their being, earthly goods, sense of conflicts, and human ignorance. One of his most popular and influential protest songs is “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Those who listened to this song were able to connect their everyday problems, which were characterized by the political turmoil of the decade, to Dylan’s wise words.
Bob Dylan is arguably one of the best singers/songwriters of the 20th century. He has been an intricate element of American rock music for six decades, and was the very first musician of his genre to win the Pulitzer Prize. Sig Gissler, who has been the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes since 2002, stated that he was awarded the prize "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power" (Bob).
After his high school graduation in 1959, Dylan enrolled in the University of Minnesota, but never graduated. Instead, he started playing guitar in nearby coffeehouses, and was quickly taken in by the artistic community. There, he introduced many soon-to-be-famous musical artists, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Lead Belly, Roscoe Holcomb, and the great Woody Guthrie, to all of his listeners. These musicians influenced Dylan to blend blues, rock 'n' roll and folk musical styles together in all of his music. He soon realized that if he wanted to make something of himself, he needed to get to New York City. This was something that he had been thinking about for a long time.
One morning, with nothing but his guitar and suitcase in hand, Dylan left his home to make that fateful journey. Several months later, he arrived in New York, accompanied by a friend who knew the city well. The two immediately took a subway to Greenwich Village, where Dylan once again fell in love with the artistic community. He soon began taking everything in and blending it with his own musical background. Back then, musicians stuck to singing one type of music. In other words, if an artist sang folk music, he wouldn't have also sung rock 'n' roll, and vice versa. Dylan helped to change all of that. "If I liked a song, I would just learn it and sing it the only way I could play it,” Dylan once said (Bob).
Dylan released his first album in 1962, just before his 21st birthday, and it sold over 5,000 copies. Very little of the music on his first album was actually written by him, mainly because very few people wrote their own songs back then. Around the same time, Dylan was starting to find his songwriting voice, and his second album, “The Freewheelin’,” consisted of all but two songs that were written by him (Dylan).
Dylan was a mastermind at creating commanding and inspiring songs that were anthems of his era, which are still used today to promote peace. Dylan’s hit “Blowin’ in the Wind,” off of the 1963 album “The Freewheelin’,” was one of his superlative works. It raises questions about war, peace and freedom, while proving his insightful talent of songwriting firsthand. It was first written in 1962, and was recorded, as well as released, the following year. The song “Blowin’ in the Wind” became, and still remains, the fastest-selling single in Warner Brothers’ history (Dylan).
The first performance of this song was on April 16, 1962, in the midst of the Vietnam War. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a perfect song for that time. The song was very thought-provoking, raising questions of morality in the world, the importance of war, oppression, and human rights. It also, like many of the songs that Dylan wrote, had direct relations to the Bible that can be found in almost every line. Many people, particularly hippies, felt a personal connection to this music, and so they began to make the song very popular. As shown in The 60’s Movie, this artist and his songs were very important to the hippie subculture.
The first line of the song (“How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man”) raises the perpetual question of how much sorrow one should go through before he is given respect. Essentially a protest song at heart, this refers to the protesters of the time and how much they went through, trying to gain respect and equality from the public. Initially, most of the public viewed the hippie movement in a negative way, and did not have an open mind toward their ideals. This attitude is still reflected in today’s society.
The next line of the song talks about a white dove sailing the seas. A white dove is a well-known, universal symbol for peace. Dylan is asking how long the bird must be flying before it can rest and not worry about war. This can be connected to the Bible; Genesis 8:8 speaks of Noah sending a dove to find calm waters. The dove found none, which led it to become tired and rest on the ground. The everlasting flood, which was caused by sin, was still upon the earth, and consequently gave the dove no rest (Skylar 8). This symbolic reference allowed for Dylan’s listeners to connect with him, in that his underlying ideas are communicated through the metaphorical imagery which he provides.
The next line of the song poses the question, “How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they’re ever banned?” Dylan’s lyrics in this line simply ask how many people must die before the world can cease its need to have wars. The final line of the verse tells the audience the answer is “blowin’ in the wind.” Dylan implies the answer can’t be seen, and society just needs to know it’s there and we need to find it.
The second verse starts off with the line, “How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky?” Dylan asks how many times the world can look at war and realize it’s not worth the loss of life. The next line of the song is “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?” Another Biblical allusion can be found in this line. In Isaiah 6:9, it is said that those who reject Jesus Christ will basically be deaf to the world, but if they find Jesus and open their hearts, then they shall hear. Isaiah responds to this by saying, “Lord, how long?” It is generally the same question Dylan asks in that line of his lyrics (Skylar 7).
The next line of the song is an obvious anti-war statement. The number of deaths of soldiers in Vietnam was growing exponentially, and the protesters wanted a pullout of troops to save lives. After this last line of the verse, it goes into the chorus of the song, saying that all the answers to these questions are, again, “blowin’ in the wind.”
The third and final verse starts off with the line, “How many years can a mountain exist, before it’s washed to sea?” This is a metaphor that delivers a warning to the world: if we continue to wage war against each other, just how long will it be until we’ve destroyed ourselves? The repetition of almost every verse starting with “how many” pushes the urgency of change on the audience. Another reason for this is to show how tired his generation was of the Vietnam War.
The next line says, “How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” This is another anti-war metaphor. Dylan is saying that the government has been sending people off to war to fight for too long, instead of allowing them to do what they please. The line that follows this is, “How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he doesn’t see?” which is, once again, an anti-war line. The government turned their heads on the casualties of the war in Vietnam and continued to fight a losing fight.
Dylan answers all of his questions with the repeated phrase, "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind." “Blowin’ in the wind” simply means that the answer is there, and we know that it is there; we can feel it, but we just can't see it. We have to believe that it’s there. "Blowin' in the Wind" is definitely a provocative song. However, the message behind it is clear. Dylan is not afraid to give his true outlook concerning the Vietnam War. How long must we go before there is equality and justice for all? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
With this song, Bob Dylan tries to get the main government figures of the time to realize that they are overstepping their boundaries. Through this series of rhetorical questions, he tries to send his message, which is a call for freedom, to the President and his followers. He questions all human behavior. This theme was ever-present in the sixties, especially during the time of the Vietnam War.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine placed Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” at number 14 on their list of the “Top 500 Songs of All Time” (Bob). It wasn’t placed there for the technicality of the music, or the catchiness of it. It is there because Dylan’s songwriting ability gave the world an anthem during a time when people truly needed it. “Blowin’ in the Wind” never references a certain event. That has helped the song live on through the decades to continue to be a strong protest song for all generations.